Thursday, February 9, 2012

French criminal law on Armenian genocide denial

Legislation that criminalizes the denial of any genocide that is officially recognized by French law was approved by the French Senate at the end of last month. President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he will sign the bill.
The main effect of this law is to make punishable any denial of the Armenian genocide of 1915. (Prior IntLawGrrls posts here and here.) So far, the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust are the only two genocides officially recognized by the French legislature, but the denial of the Holocaust was already criminalized under French criminal law, so no new legislation was needed in that respect.
The bill has already led to a serious rupture in relations between France (flag at left) and Turkey (flag at right), with Turkey threatening to suspend military, political, and economic cooperation with France.
Within the legislature, too, the bill was contentious, because of its tension with free speech principles. A group of legislators have now challenged the constitutionality of the legislation, France’s Conseil constitutionnel is set to rule on the bill within a month.
The controversy surrounding this bill illustrates the potentially explosive nature of criminal laws passed primarily for expressive purposes.
While the use of criminal law for such purposes is neither novel nor surprising, there is a new dimension to this legislation. In the version passed by the National Assembly, the lower house of the French legislature, the bill was justified primarily as a means of complying with the 2008 Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia; that is, a law of the European Union.
This aspect of the bill highlights an issue I examine in my article that is forthcoming in the American Journal of Comparative Law, entitled "The Expressive Dimension of EU Criminal Law." The article analyzes the degree to which the European Union (flag at left) has begun, at least in some areas, to use the criminal law for expressive purposes. As I will discuss in a post tomorrow, this development raises difficult legal and policy questions, particularly in light of the recently expanded authority of the Union to legislate on criminal matters.

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