EU plans far-reaching ‘genocide denial’ law


Richard Moore

Original source URL:;jsessionid=APGGRTNIPZGWNQFIQMFSFF4AVCBQ0IV0?xml=/news/2007/02/02/weu02.xml

EU plans far-reaching 'genocide denial' law
By Bruno Waterfield
Last Updated: 2:03am GMT 02/02/2007

People who question the official history of recent conflicts in Africa and the 
Balkans could be jailed for up to three years for "genocide denial", under 
proposed EU legislation.

Germany, current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, will table new 
legislation to outlaw "racism and xenophobia" this spring.

Included in the draft EU directive are plans to outlaw Holocaust denial, 
creating an offence that does not exist in British law.

But the proposals, seen by The Daily Telegraph, go much further and would 
criminalise those who question the extent of war crimes that have taken place in
the past 20 years.

The legislation will trigger a major row across Europe over free speech and 
academic freedom.

Deborah Lipstadt, the professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory 
University, Atlanta, believes the German proposals are misplaced. "I adhere to 
that pesky little thing called free speech and I am very concerned when 
governments restrict it," she said yesterday.

"How will we determine precisely what is denial? Will history be decided by 
historians or in a courtroom?"

Berlin's draft EU directive extends the idea of Holocaust denial to the "gross 
minimisation of genocide out of racist and xenophobic motives", to include 
crimes dealt with by the International Criminal Court.

The ICC was set up in 2002 following international outcry about war crimes and 
alleged genocides in the former Yugoslavia and in Africa. It was felt that the 
courts in those countries were either unable or unwilling to ensure justice was 

The draft text states: "Each member state shall take the measures necessary to 
ensure that the following intentional conduct is punishable: 'publicly 
condoning, denying or grossly trivialising of crimes of genocide, crimes against
humanity and war crimes as defined in'... the Statute of the ICC."

General Lewis MacKenzie, the former commander of UN peacekeepers in Bosnia, 
courted controversy two years ago by questioning the numbers killed at 
Srebrenica in 1995.

He took issue with the official definition of the massacre as genocide and 
highlighted "serious doubt" over the estimate of 8,000 Bosnian fatalities. "The 
math just doesn't support the scale of 8,000 killed," he wrote.

Balkans human rights activists have branded Gen MacKenzie an "outspoken 
Srebrenica genocide denier" and, if approved, the EU legislation could see 
similar comments investigated by the police or prosecuted in the courts after 
complaints from war crimes investigators or campaigners.

A German government spokesman said: "Whether a specific historic crime falls 
within these definitions would be decided by a court in each case."

If agreed by EU member states, the legislation is likely to declare open season 
for human rights activists and organisations seeking to establish a body of 
genocide denial law in Europe's courts.

European Commission officials insist that the legislation is necessary: "racism 
and xenophobia can manifest themselves in the form of genocide denial so that it
is very important to take strong action".

But the legislation faces stiff opposition from academics who fear it would 
stifle debate over some of the biggest issues in contemporary international 

Prof Lipstadt has an international reputation for challenging Holocaust denial.

She was sued unsuccessfully for libel in 2000 by David Irving, the British 
historian, after exposing his misrepresentation of historical evidence and 
association with Right-wing extremists. But she does not believe denying the 
Holocaust or genocide should be a crime.

"The Holocaust has the dubious distinction of being the best documented genocide
in history," she said.

"When you pass these kinds of laws it suggests to the uninformed bystander that 
you don't have the evidence to prove your case."

The professor is also worried by broad-brush definitions of genocide denial, 
particularly applied to recent conflicts that are still being researched and 

Even without the threat of prosecution, there is concern that academics will try
to avoid controversy by ignoring or even suppressing research that challenges 
genocide claims or numbers of those killed.

David Chandler, the professor of international relations at the University of 
Westminster's Centre for the Study of Democracy, fears that the draft law could 
inhibit his work.

"My work teaching and training researchers, and academic work more broadly, is 
focused upon encouraging critical thinking. Measures like this make academic 
debate and discussion more difficult," he said.

Prof Chandler also worries that the legislators will close down democratic 
debate on foreign policy. "Genocide claims and war crimes tribunals are highly 
political and are often linked to controversial Western military interventions. 
Should this be unquestioned? Is it right for judges to settle such arguments?" 
he asked.

Norman Stone, the professor of history at Turkey's Koç University, argues that 
any attempt to legislate against genocide denial is "quite absurd".

"I am dead against this kind of thing," he said. "We can not have EU or 
international legal bodies blundering in and telling us what we can and can not 

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