the Irish for rights

Don’t say it ain’t so

The Irish Times today carries a report by Jamie Smyth that Germany has proposed an EU ban on denial and – perhaps – the dissemination of xenophobic statements that could incite violence or hatred. Germany, in common with several other EU states, including France, Belgium and Austria (as David Irving found out), has holocaust denial legislation on its statute books, and legislation against incitement to racial hatred is to be found in countries like Ireland and the UK.

We have been here before (Smyth says that an earlier attempt by Germany in 2004 to get this type of law passed by the Council of Ministers foundered), and this initiative may similarly come to naught. It should. First, although the Bundesverfassungsgericht (the German Federal Constitutional Court) has sustained the constitutionality of the German holocaust denial legislation (in BVerfGE 90, 241-255), in principle, the best answer to the speech we hate is not to restrict it but to answer it. In the particular context of holocaust denial, the best way to ensure that we never forget it is to talk about it, to meet the challenge of the deniers head on, to meet speech with more speech, as sites such as Nizkor do.

Second, even though many EU member states have this kind of legislation on their statute books, and even if the EU’s competence in matters of justice, freedom and security (which extends to combating racism, xenophobia and antisemitism) is a sufficient legal basis for this EU action, I wonder whether it would survive a challenge in the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Moreover, even if the ECJ were to come to the same conclusion as the German court, that wouldn’t make it right.

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4 Responses to “Don’t say it ain’t so”

  1. Eoin says:

    The BBC news website also has a good report on the EU proposals, as have Jurist and the International Herald Tribune. Now it seems that Italy wants to get in on the act too (though perhaps not as extensively). But there are excellent pieces in the Economist and the Guardian here and here on why such Holocaust denial legislation is a bad idea.

    See also the Daily Telegraph’s report, quoting Deborah Lipstadt, defendant in a famous defamation action taken by David Irving (see [2000] EWHC QB 115 (11 April 2000)), and professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, Atlanta, who 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 … How will we determine precisely what is denial? Will history be decided by historians or in a courtroom?

    In the post above, when I discussed the German decision, I should also have mentioned the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee in Faurisson v France Communication No. 550/1993 , U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/58/D/550/1993 (1996) (see here, here and here) upholding the validity of a French 1990 law making it an offence to contest the existence of the category of crimes against humanity.

  2. […] in January to have the EU make holocuast denial a criminal offence as a matter of EU law (blogged here by me, and with great insight by Section 14 and Liberal England) was debated in the Parliament in […]

  3. […] David Irving. Even here, in my view, we should give speech a chance: the best way to ensure that we never forget the Holocaust is to debate it at every turn, not to suppress speech from Irving’s ilk. The […]

  4. […] I disagree in principle with the Framework Decision. I’ve already said so on this blog (see here, here, and here). Conscious that today is Holocaust Memorial Day, my view is that the best way to […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

"Cearta" really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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