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France Strikes Down Armenian Genocide Denial Law

The French Constitutional Council struck down a proposed law that would have attached severe penalties to denial of the Armenian genocide. The draft law, the Council decided, violated the French constitution. We can learn several things from this episode.

First, France remains a republic that respects civil liberties and the rule of law. Those running afoul of the proposed law would have faced a year in prison and a fine up to €45,000. The Council, which reviews the constitutionality of laws before they take effect (rather than after, as does the American Supreme Court) was right to identify these draconian penalties as an attack on liberty.

Second, Sarkozy has been exposed as an unprincipled political hack. Apparently he is so desperate to pander to the Armenian lobby in France as to ride roughshod over important principles of the French constitution, at severe cost to the national interest.

Finally, Turkey now appears hypocritical. Turks rejoiced in the good sense of the French court,  even as a bill advanced that would make it a crime, with grave penalties, to use the word “genocide” to describe the vicious massacres of Armenians after 1915. This is part of an ugly history of violence and persecution that Turks have yet to face. Turkey should be ashamed that it has not come to terms with this history, and also that its constitution has less respect for liberty than that of France. Many Turks know this and are humiliated by their country’s stand on this issue. Let’s hope the Council’s decision will inspire similar common sense in Turkey.

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  • Kris

    This obviously raises the question of why the Holocaust denial law should be allowed to stand. (As mentioned in previous threads, I oppose the introduction of such laws in the US, but believe that other political cultures legitimately have different calculi.)

  • Anthony

    Civil liberties and the rule of law…sinew and lodestar of Western Democracy that suffused Enlightenment thinkers.

    President Sarkozy’s political pandering appears to be universal trait among seekers of public office WRM – we have our own panderers right here in U.S.

  • Richard

    First, the law does not specifically mention the Armenian Genocide, but rather refers to the denial of any genocide recognized by France.

    Second, while French-Armenian votes may have been important, the law was also supported by the Socialists including Francois Hollande the leader who may succeed Sarkozy. Indeed as Kris above has said how can the Loi Gayssot which criminalizes the denial of the Holocaust now be maintained.

    Finally, Turkey has always been hypocritical on this issue. The infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code has long been used as a weapon to silence those who would discuss the Genocide (including Hrant Dink and Orhan Pamuk)

  • Matthew

    The French Gayssot Act of 1990 already makes it illegal to question crimes against humanity in France.

    Although a not-so-inconspicuous political move, the new law is by no means a new policy. It merely broadens the law to include the Armenian Genocide. As Richard points out, the law does not even mention the Armenian Genocide. It just mentions any event the French government recognizes as Genocide.

    For those of you seemingly against such laws (including Via Meadia) I would ask — do you, and if so how do you, reconcile your views with currently existing Holocaust legislation?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Matthew: I’m on the record for many years as opposed to laws making Holocaust denial a crime. Being ignorant, prejudiced and loudmouthed should not land you in jail — though it can and will wreck your career and make you a laughingstock.

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