The French Position on the Denial of the Armenian Genocide: A Question of Legal and Moral Legitimacy? Clotilde Pegorier, University of Exeter, UK
In August 1939, in a statement concerning his plans for Poland, Adolf Hitler is reported as having said: ‘I have placed my death-head formations in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’
The “lois mémorielles” or memorial laws are currently composed of the following: • The “Loi Gayssot” of 13 July 1990, recognising the Nazi Genocide and criminalising the denial of the Holocaust. • The Law of 29 January 2001 concerning the recognition of the Armenian genocide. • The Law of 21 May 2001 recognising slavery as a crime against humanity. • The Law of 23 February 2005 which is concerned with the recognition of the French Nation and the national contribution of the repatriated French.
On 12 October 2006, the French deputies of the Assemblée Nationale voted a proposition of legislation aimed at criminalising denial of the genocide: ‘Punished in accordance with Article 24 bis of the law of 29 July 1881 will be those who have contested, by any of the means listed in Article 23 of the above-mentioned law, the existence of the 1915 Armenian genocide’.
According to the American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau: ‘The real purpose of the deportation was robbery and destruction; it really represented a new method of massacre. When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact’.
On 22 March 2006, the Los Angeles Times ran an article entitled ‘It was Genocide’: ‘What happened in Armenia in 1915 is well-known. The Ottoman Empire attempted to exterminate the Armenian population through slaughter and mass deportation. It finished half the job, killing about 1.2 million people’.
Joint Declaration of 1915 from the French, British and Russian Governments: ‘In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilisation, the Allied governments announce publicly to the Sublime Porte that they will hold personally responsible [for] these crimes all members of the Ottoman Government and those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres’.
The model for the proposed law on the denial of the Armenian genocide is provided by the ‘Loi Gayssot’ on Holocaust denial, which carries: • charge similar to that enounced in Article 24 alinea 6 of the law on freedom of the press: • one year prison sentence and a fine of 45, 000 euros. • either the prison sentence or the fine.
Are there other sanctions in place allowing the government to take action against politically-motivated attempts to discredit or disparage the suffering of the Armenians?
Article 24 alinea 6 of the law of 29 July 1881 on the freedom of the press: • criminal liability in case of racist or discriminatory views.
Article 24 alinea 3 of the same law held individuals criminally liable should they have: • ‘[…] apologised, by one of the means listed in Article 23, the commission of crimes mentioned in the first alinea, the commission of war crimes, the commission of crimes against humanity or the commission of crimes and offences of collaboration with the enemy’.
= Article 24 alinea 3 can therefore be seen as providing a legal basis for the prosecution of denial of the crimes committed against the Armenians.
William Schabas notes: ‘How quickly people forget that the term “crimes against humanity” was itself coined to describe the massacres of the Armenians, in May 1915, and was subsequently codified as international law’s nomenclature for the perverse acts of the Nazi regime’.
Case Study: Cdca et autres v. Editions Robert Laffont, Encyclopédies Quid, Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, 17e chambre civile, Jugement, 6 juillet 2005.
Condemnation of the Quid for having generated: • ‘For close ones and heirs of this [Armenian] community, as well as for groups whose objective is to preserve the memory of these events, agitation and moral harm, enhanced by the fact that memory and historical interest had just triumphed over decades of silence’.
= Even without a specific resolution criminalising denial of the Armenian genocide, existing instruments nonetheless permit criminal sanctions being implemented for such acts.
Article R 624-4 of the French Penal concerning discriminatory comments expressed in the private sphere: • ‘any individual insulting the race, ethnicity, gender or nation of another can be held criminally liable – albeit at a lower level than for opinions expressed more publicly. Yet ultimately it seems either solution would be preferable to the current legal situation, which is both unsatisfactory and unjust’.