EU approves criminal measures against Holocaust denial
By The Associated Press
European Union nations agreed Thursday to set jail sentences against
those who deny or trivialize the Holocaust, as part of efforts to
combat racism and hate crimes across the 27-nation bloc.
A compromise deal on the anti-racism rules was reached by EU justice
and interior ministers after nearly six years of negotiations,
The proposed rules, which still have to be vetted by national
parliaments, calls for EU governments to impose up to three-year
prison sentences for those convicted of denying genocide such as the
mass killing of Jews during World War II and the massacre in Rwanda in
Getting a deal has been difficult amid vastly different legal and
cultural traditions on how they combat racism and notably on whether
all EU nations should impose criminal penalties against those denying
the Holocaust or other genocides.
In a declaration, EU justice and interior ministers said the rules
would aim to penalize anyone who incited to hatred or violence, and
anyone who publicly condoned, denied or grossly trivialized crimes of
genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
However, an effort by Baltic nations demanding major Stalinist
atrocities should be included in the EU law was rejected.
German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, whose country holds the EU
presidency, said a compromise had been reached on the basis that the
EU would organize a public debate on the issue of genocide and other
hate crimes currently not included in the draft rules on combating
racism and xenophobia.
The genocide of Jews is the only genocide referred to within the new
rules, which still needs the backing of national parliaments and the
European Parliament, officials said.
EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini called the
deal a major achievement. However, in order to reach agreement, the
original proposal drafted in 2001 had to be drastically watered down.
Diplomats said the EU-wide rules, which set only minimum standards on
fighting racism and xenophobia, would only cover genocides recognized
under statutes of the International Criminal Court.
Previous efforts to get a deal ended in failure. Several countries,
including Britain, Italy and Denmark, were reluctant to sign up to the
measures because they feared EU-wide laws could overstep the right to
expression protected under their countries' laws.
The latest plan, however, was watered down, offering numerous opt-outs
of certain aspects of the EU-wide rules.
The proposal calls on EU nations to punish those who publicly incite
violence or hatred based on a person or group's race, color, religion,
descent or ethnic origin.
More contentious aspects of the draft rules require member states to
criminalize those "publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivializing
... crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes," as
listed and defined by the International Criminal Court.
However, member states may opt out of the requirement to criminalize
those who deny the Holocaust or other genocide if such rules do not
exist under their national laws, according to the EU proposals.
Opt-outs also are foreseen for racist remarks based on religious
grounds and on Nazi symbols, like the swastika.
Many EU nations already ban denials of the Holocaust, including
Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Belgium.
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