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Senate must reject Armenian Genocide law, says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 19 January 2012 - The adoption of a law criminalising any denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide would be in conflict with France's obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression under international law. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Senate to reject the draft law.

On 22 December 2011, the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, approved a draft law criminalising public denials of the genocide committed by Ottoman Turks against ethnic Armenians a century ago during and after World War I. The draft Law provides for a one-year prison sanction and a 45,000 Euro (58,000 USD) fine.

Genocide-denial laws, including the draft Law, are unnecessary interference by the state with the right to freedom of expression and information, in violation of international standards.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that by passing the draft Law the French State will elevate history to ideology and assign state institutions with the task of promoting and defending one particular view of historical facts. As repugnant as the atrocities against ethnic Armenians were, it is undesirable for States to interfere with the right to know and the search for historical truth, especially when those events took place in another country. One of the longest-lasting arguments in defence of the right to freedom of expression is based on the importance of open discussion and the discovery of truth, including the truth about historical personalities and events. In the case of Chauvy v. France,[i] concerning the conviction of the applicant for defamation in relation to statements in a book in which he questioned the “official version” of the history of the French resistance during the Second World War, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) stated that “it is an integral part of freedom of expression to seek historical truth” and has recognised the right of individuals to be informed of the circumstances of historical events.

Imposing criminal sanctions for denial of the genocide committed against ethnic Armenians is anti-democratic. Prohibiting false arguments inevitably affects historical debate as well as the ability of historians to establish the truth. Such prohibition presumes that States are better placed than historians to discover the truth, as well as an 'assumption of infallibility' on the part of States. As academic communities have their own procedures in place to establish the truth, for example via peer review of articles or books submitted for publication, there is no need for State control over academic expression. Therefore States should refrain from interference with debates relating to historical events and personalities.

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