The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust will be holding its second annual conference on Monday 30th April at the Town Hall in Leeds, England (conference details pdf here). No doubt there will be much discussion of the merits of legislation against holocaust denial. The German proposal 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 March, and was adopted by the Council of Ministers yesterday (see: press release (pdf) | BBC | FT (also here) | IHT | Independent | Irish Times | David Farrar’s Kiwiblog | Dizzythinks | Johnathan Calder on Liberal England | Marketplace of Ideas | and of course Section 14). From the EU press release:
The following intentional conduct will be punishable in all EU Member States:
Publicly inciting to violence or hatred, even by dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.
Publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising
crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 6, 7 and 8 ) directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin, and
crimes defined by the Tribunal of NuÌˆremberg (Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, London Agreement of 1945) directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.
Member States may choose to punish only conduct which is either carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order or which is threatening, abusive or insulting.
The Independent reports:
Consensus over the deal has been achieved by whittling away at the impact of the legislation, leaving a great deal of discretion to individual countries to implement their own law.
British officials said yesterday that the text would require no legal changes in the UK, which has long punished incitement to racial hatred and last year passed a Religious and Racial Hatred Act. They say that academic freedom to question aspects of the Holocaust or other historical events would not be compromised in Britain.
(Update (20 April 2007): There is a typically incisive post today over on Cedar Lounge Revolution on this development; well worth reading.)
I do not doubt the Germans’ bona fides here, but the EU development is, to say the least, regrettable. It may force Ireland’s hand into expanding the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989 (also here) to cover religious as well as racial hatred; though Jamie Smyth in the Irish Times comments:
… the final text of the legislation has been weakened to such as extent that many member states, including Ireland, will not have to change their own laws.
Whether or not we have to amend the 1989 Act (and, despite Jamie’s comments, I suspect we do, not least becuase the EU proposal covers all manner of things other racial hatred, which is the exclusive focus of the Irish Act) there are many inconsistencies in the EU proposal: why some holocausts and genocides and not others; why this kind of historical revisionism but not others? Moreover, there are problems of principle with the proposal: the best answer to speech is more speech; the best answer to holocaust denial is to argue against it in the strongest possible terms. The quickest route to forgetting about it is not to discuss it; and we must never forget.