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.

Obfuscating on genocide

STAND posted a message today reporting that Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are sponsoring new legislation that calls for “the development of an interagency genocide prevention strategy.” The bill’s short title reads:

Recognizing the United States national interest in helping to prevent and mitigate acts of genocide and other mass atrocities against civilians, and supporting and encouraging efforts to develop a whole of government approach to prevent and mitigate such acts.

The emphasis is my own and was added in order to draw attention to the soft wording. If you read the entire resolution you will see that it carries no force and effect; rather every subsection begins with urges, encourages, affirms, or supports which leaves it fairly toothless. Compare this to S. 1067 (Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009) which was also sponsored by Sen. Feingold:


(a) Requirement for Strategy- Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall develop and submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a strategy to guide future United States support across the region for viable multilateral efforts to mitigate and eliminate the threat to civilians and regional stability posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

As you can see, S. 1067 has a defined action required within a specified timeframe.

From the proposed language, it’s difficult to see how this will change the government’s approach toward genocide. While Feingold’s efforts on this and past legislation should definitely be applauded, true progress in preventing genocide is only going to come if we make combating it a priority rather than a sound bite.

Darfur Peace and Accountability Act

After swapping some language and dropping an amendment, the Senate (and House) passed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (HR3127) this week. The bill was originally passed by the House in April but stalled in the Senate when the dropped, which would have protected States from lawsuits if they divested from companies who do business with Sudan, became a sticking point.

The National Foreign Trade Council, a business organization with more than 300 member companies, lobbied against the provision because it has recently sued the state of Illinois, charging that Illinois’ divestment law is unconstitutional. The trade group’s president, William Reinsch, said the provision would have interfered with the organization’s case against Illinois, although he also said the group would have opposed divestment in the absence of an existing court battle.

“The president of the United States gets to deal with foreign policy, and the governor of Illinois does not,” said Reinsch, who worked with congressional and executive authorities to have the provision stripped from the bill.

How a state or individual’s right to divest from a particular company falls under the umbrella of “foreign policy” is murky at best, and at least one Congresswoman is determined to patch the gap. Rep. Barbara Lee (Oakland) stated that the debate concerning the bills interference in pending court cases was a smokescreen.

“Concern about the constitutionality of state divestment campaigns is just a smokescreen to cover for efforts by the financial services industry to quietly kill a divestment movement it sees as an inconvenience,” said Lee, who introduced new legislation late last week to make another attempt at providing divestment protection for states.

The bill in question is H.R. 6140 (Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act of 2006). Whether of not this bill makes it out of the House, the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act is a long-awaited first step in confronting the ongoing genocide in the Republic of Sudan.

Darfur Petition

OSMOSIS has just put out the call for a petition drive for anyone who’s interested in encouraging Congress to enact H Res 723. As I wrote last week, Genocide Intervention Network has an alert posted outlining the current situation and providing links to the bill.

Amy provides contact information on her site if you’re in the area. If you’re not local, and you want to start this petition in your city, all you have to do is:

grab a copy of the petition
collect signatures
send the petition to your Representative

How easy is that? If you’re not sure who your Representative is, you can find out by visiting the House of Representative’s website.

Unlike other petitions that focus on self-crafted “calls to action,” this petition is merely showing your support for an existing bill. This will be followed shortly with a letter writing campaign.