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.