Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Germany is courting a row over freedom of speech as it seeks to clamp down on those who deny genocide or mass murder

Clare Murphy:

Before its six-month spell at the helm of the EU is up, it hopes to push through measures which would criminalise, and possibly imprison, not just those who downplay the Holocaust but also those who belittle genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"Historically proven facts must not be denied," said German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries in a radio interview this week.

"When an international court determines that such crimes have taken place, then you should no longer be able to say: 'You're making that all up.'"

It is a proposal which Germany sees as part of its historical responsibility to fight racism and xenophobia.

But it has drawn fire from those who prefer to put up with Holocaust deniers than relinquish freedom of speech, and others who worry historians will stop researching mass murder, for fear of prosecution if they come up with the "wrong" conclusion.

Criminalising those who deny the murder of six million Jews in World War II has long been a fraught issue.

The EU has been thwarted in its efforts to do this in the past. An attempt two years ago was rejected by Italy, but Berlin hopes that with a new centre-left government in Rome, it can breathe new life into the measures.

Yet the conviction of British historian David Irving in Austria last year for Holocaust denial sparked an intense debate about freedom of speech in several member states.

Some of his most ardent foes expressed their discomfort with jailing him for his views, however unsavoury they might be.

In Italy, nearly 200 historians have signed a manifesto against criminalising Holocaust denial.

But a string of European countries already ban it, including France, Belgium, and Poland, as well as Austria and Germany, arguing that such views have no place in societies which reject outright the crimes of the Nazis.

Indeed it is the genocide denial aspect of the package which looks set to draw the most consternation.

"With Holocaust denial, there are some cases where the justice system is the only way to stop it pervading society, where public debate isn't enough," says Stephane Bruchfeld, a researcher at Sweden's Uppsala Programme for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

"But we have immense difficulty defining what constitutes genocide. Observers, scientists, historians, they need the freedom to research, to debate. These discussions are incredibly important - any attempt to stifle them is very worrying."

The deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians during World War I is a case in point. Some countries have declared that a genocide took place, but others have resisted calls to do so - and in Turkey it is even a crime to give the killings that label.

Holocaust denier launches public appeal for cash

Vienna Jewish school expels children of rabbi who attended Iran Holocaust summit

'Genocide denial laws will shut down debate'

Court orders removal of Holocaust-denial material


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

View My Stats