French denial bill

For months, the media has been stirring with reports and editorials about the French government’s proposed genocide denial bill. There are a few things that have been relatively under-reported about this bill, primarily because the focus has centered on the Turkish and Armenian communities.

If you have read any of the articles you would likely assume that the new legislation is designed to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide and nothing else. The truth is the legislation does not mention any specific genocide. The Sénat posted the commentary for the proposed law which reads:

La présente proposition de loi a pour objet de punir d’un an d’emprisonnement et de 45 000 euros d’amende, ou de l’une de ces deux peines seulement, ceux qui auront publiquement fait l’apologie, contesté ou banalisé des crimes de génocide, les crimes contre l’humanité et crimes de guerre, tels que définis aux articles 6, 7 et 8 du Statut de la Cour pénale internationale, à l’article 6 de la charte du Tribunal militaire international annexée à l’accord de Londres du 8 août 1945, ou reconnus par la France.

Translation (my own):

This bill aims to penalize with one year imprisonment and a fine of €45,000, or one of these two penalties, those who have publicly made an apology, trivialized or denied the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in Articles 6, 7 and 8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal annexed to the agreement in London on August 8, 1945, or recognized by France.

The bill itself (Assemblée Nationale and Sénat) would add a line to Article 24 of the Law of 29 July 1881 on Press Freedom, which would make it an offense to “downplay…one or more crimes of genocide as defined in Article 211-1 of the Penal Code and recognized as such by French Law.”

The second addition would be a line in Article 48.2 of the same law that applies to criminal procedure. The phrase would read “…or any other victim of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or crimes of collaboration with the enemy.” The interesting thing about this section is that genocide is the only “category” that was not already present in this Article; the reason being that the bill is expanding on the previous Holocaust denial language that used the terms war crimes, crimes against humanity, and collaboration, based off the original Nuremberg court rulings.

Would this criminalize Armenian genocide denial? Yes, as France has previously passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide as such.

The bigger question, and the one that I am actually addressing here, comes from the January 31 decision to send the bill to the Constitutional Council who will determine if the law would be constitutionally sound. If they do rule for this it will likely leave the Holocaust denial portion (war crimes, crimes against humanity, and collaboration) intact.

How then does this impact the survivor communities living in France? Even excluding the Armenian communities, the French government would still be feeding into a schism, which already exists in public perception, whereby the victims of the Third Reich are set apart from those of other genocides.

How do you reconcile these two issues? It becomes even further problematic when you begin to examine the issue from the perspective of Rwandan survivors, who have been attempting to deal with the pains of reconciliation with a country that has been less than forthcoming in their handling of events in 1994 and beyond.

Turkish Coalition sues over website

The University of Minnesota is currently facing a lawsuit from the Turkish Coalition of America. According to the Minnesota Daily, the University is facing seven charges related to freedom of speech, due process, or defamation.

The University of Minnesota faces a federal lawsuit after displaying on one of its websites a list of sources deemed “unreliable.”

Until Nov. 18, the list of sources, designated “unreliable” because of their views on the Armenian Genocide, could be found on the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Web page. The Turkish Coalition of America was the first site on the list.

The real crux of this problem is how it might shape academic discourse. Even putting aside the troubling ramifications for the Armenian genocide, scholarly debate should be proven through convincing argument of facts rather than lawsuits.

A similar case was brought against the Massachusetts Board of Education for not including Armenian genocide denial sites on its list of recommended websites. The suit was eventually dismissed, finding that the Board of Education had the right to judge what was appropriate for the State’s curriculum.

Hate groups on Facebook

Daniel posted a comment today which I felt should be upgraded to a full entry. It concerned a Serbian nationalist hate group who are using Facebook to advocate anti-Muslim views and genocide denial.

Reuters’ reported the story earlier this week:

The group, created on Monday under the name “Close Group Noz Zica Srebrenica,” alerted administrators about the language of hatred against Muslims on the site.

“Administrator, we ask you to close the group ‘Noz, Zica, Srebrenica’, which glorifies the acts of genocide that took place in Srebrenica, where 8,000 men and boys were murdered,” read the Bosnian group header on Facebook.

“In addition, this group propagates hatred to all Muslims,” it said. Muslims or Bosniaks account for nearly half of the population of Bosnia, which they share with Roman Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs.

Like many sites of its kind, Facebook does have an extensive Terms of Use policy, which states that the user must agree not to:

*upload, post, transmit, share, store or otherwise make available any content that we deem to be harmful, threatening, unlawful, defamatory, infringing, abusive, inflammatory, harassing, vulgar, obscene, fraudulent, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable;
*intimidate or harass another;

Even though the story was published four days ago, the group remains active on Facebook. While it’s likely that none of the administrators can actually read the posts in Noz, Zica, Srebrenica, you would assume a different stance when it comes to American hate groups, particularly considering the above mentioned “Terms of Use.” Yet, after only a few minutes of searching I easily uncovered four active hate groups[1] on Facebook — American Vision, League of the South, The Knights Party (Ku Klux Klan), and multiple variations of White Pride.

We’ve known for years that the Internet gives hate groups and deniers the same exposure that non-profits and grassroots organizations have experienced. It does, however, raise questions about how they should be dealt with as well as how social networking spaces will ultimately be managed.

You can read Daniel’s full entry at his Srebrenica Genocide Blog.

[1] As defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Denial in policy making

In 1994, I can clearly remember watching State Department spokesperson Christine Shelley standing behind a podium and addressing a room full of reporters. It was the usual State Department briefing, and with the Rwandan Genocide being in the news, one reporter asked, “How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?”

It may seem like a strange question, but two weeks before, during a similar briefing, Mike McCurry, another State Department spokesman, was asked: “has the administration yet come to any decision on whether it can be described as genocide?” McCurry responded:

I’ll have to confess, I don’t know the answer to that. I know that the issue was under very active consideration. I think there was a strong disposition within the department here to view what has happened there, certainly, constituting acts of genocide.

Two weeks later, when Shelley got the clarification question, about how many acts of genocide it takes to make a genocide, she responded, “That’s just not a question that I’m in a position to answer.” When the reporter then asked if she had “specific guidance not to use the word ‘genocide’ in isolation, but always to preface it with these words ‘acts of’?” she responded:

I have guidance which I try to use as best as I can. There are formulations that we are using that we are trying to be consistent in our use of. I don’t have an absolute categorical prescription against something, but I have the definitions. I have phraseology which has been carefully examined and arrived at as best as we can apply to exactly the situation and the actions which have taken place.

The simple fact is, despite all of Lemkin’s hard work, the genocide convention has always been a faulty mechanism, which is backed by sovereign powers only as needed to excerpt policy forces where they’re advantageous. As Jonah Goldberg reported in the Los Angeles Times recently, this type of political maneuvering has recently reared its head in Russia, where the lower house of parliament passed a resolution stating that the Ukrainian famine wasn’t genocide.

Virtually no one, including the Russians, disputes that the Soviet government was involved in the deliberate forced starving of millions of people. But the Russian resolution indignantly insists: “There is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines.” It notes that victims included “different peoples and nationalities living largely in agricultural areas” of the Soviet Union.

As Goldberg points out, the distinction the Russians are attempting to make (which many others have attempted to make in the past), is that the victims of this genocide were not an ethnic or religious group, but simply a bunch of people who happened to be living in an area that was decimated by a violent act. He goes on to explain that Lemkin made a number of concessions in order to get the convention passed, after years of fighting for its adoption.

The Russian’s argument, of course, like Turkey’s anti-Armenian lobby, is nothing but a semantic dodge. It’s the same kind of dodge Mike McCurry and Christine Shelley made in order to keep the Clinton Administration shielded from having to take action in Rwanda. And while I agree that this is a loophole that needs to be closed, I can’t help but notice that the United States and her sister nations have plenty of other excuses to ignore genocides, including, unfortunately, those that are currently unfolding.

Denial is endemic

While Holocaust denial gets the lion’s share of press when it comes to the subject of “genocide revisionism,” it’s certainly not the only case. In fact, in recent years, as the United States has contemplated recognizing the Armenian genocide, the voices of angered Turks has been added to the cacophony of those who strive to paint history in a different light.

In fact, Gregory Stanton (the president of Genocide Watch) included Denial as the eighth, and final, stage of genocide in the briefing paper he presented to the U.S. State Department in 1996:

Denial is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. There they remain with impunity, like Pol Pot or Idi Amin, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established to try them.

The best response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators punished. Tribunals like the Yugoslav, Rwanda, or Sierra Leone Tribunals, an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and ultimately the International Criminal Court must be created. They may not deter the worst genocidal killers. But with the political will to arrest and prosecute them, some mass murderers may be brought to justice.

While Stanton was primarily speaking about “active” cover-ups immediately preceding a genocide, its fascinating (and depressing) that such acts quickly move from action into mainstream discourse. Even when trials have taken place, evidence has been presented, and testimony has been gathered, the crime is still an on-going source of controversy years after the fact.

David Irving is no doubt one of the better known Holocaust deniers, but he’s only one example of the plethora of those who seek to diminish the crime through the guise of scholarly debate. As academics and researchers alike begin to dig deeper into the origins and events of other modern genocides (Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, et al.), a stream of fresh deniers are following along with their own versions of what happened in each of these cases.

For example, it was recently announced that one such group of deniers (called negationists by allAfrica) are heading to a conference later this month — The Media and Rwanda: The Difficult Search for the Truth. The event is being sponsored by Les Editions les Intouchables, who published a book by Canadian Politician Robin Philpot entitled Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali (“It did not happen like that in Kigali”). Based on the reported speakers, the sphere of discourse is going to be largely limited to those who are attempting to revise as they revisit what took place in Rwanda.

Even though Stanton did an excellent job of outlining the various stages of genocide, it seems like the eighth needs to be expanded beyond the immediate vicinity of the crime. As denial is constantly expanding with the pace of scholarship, and it often grows rather than diminishes over time, it seems apt to address the problem, particularly considering the rate at which the information age has accelerated the course of such specialized revisionism.