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Armen Arakelyan

Fraud or Fact? Hollande Launches Drafting of New Bill Criminalizing Genocide

At the annual dinner of the CCAF (Co-ordination Council of Armenian organizations of France, French President Francois Hollande declared that he has ordered the new draft of a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide.

He has given the responsibility to Jean-Paul Costa, former president of the European Court of Human Rights, who, according to Hollande, must draft the bill so that it no anti-constitutional issue will arise and that if it is appealed at the ECHR, it will not lead to a defeat of Hay Tad or France. 

The first attempt to pass a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide was made in 2011-2012. It ws launched by Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France at the time. The bill, however, passed by both bodies of the French parliament was deemed anti-constitutional by the Constitutional Council of France, which argued that the bill restricted freedom of speech and, in that sense, could not be deemed comparable to the law criminalizing the Holocaust. In reality, defeat of that bill had political motivations and reflected the true desires of the Sarkozy regime. By sending the bill to the Constitutional Council, even though Sarkozy had the right not to, the former French president predetermined and laid the groundwork for its defeat, thus avoiding creating problems with Turkey.

Immediately afterwards, on the eve of scheduled presidential elections, Francois Holland made a statement about a new process for the bill, garnering the support of Armenians in France. During his four years as president, however, Hollande took no steps to initiate such a process. The fact that he is speaking on the issue now, when France is entering a new presidential election period, shows that he once again is using the issue as a campaign tool, even though he has stated that his initiative has nothing to do with the elections. Now, the question is whether Hollande will make good on his promise or not.  There are factors, both assisting and preventing, this.

Negative factors

  1.  This initiative by Hollande was preceded by a final decision of the ECHR in the case of Perinçek v Switzerland in October of 2015. Even though official Yerevan and the attorneys representing its interests during the trial deemed the verdict as a victory for Armenia, in fact it created serious problems specifically regarding the criminalization of the Armenian Genocide. By sustaining the appeal filed by Turkish nationalist Doğu Perinçek against Switzerland the ECHR, following the lead of France’s Constitutional Court , declared that prohibiting the denial of the reality of the Armenian Genocide either legislatively or by other means, contradicts the right to freedom of speech and expression. With its verdict, the ECHR provided a powerful legal tool to the Turkish side to derail any future attempts by nations to criminalize the denial of the Armenian Genocide. There can be no doubt that if a new criminalization bill is drafted in France, Turkey will use the decisions of the ECHR and France’s Constitutional Court to halt the process.
  2. This process is being implemented in extremely unfavorable geo-political conditions. The huge refugee problem overwhelming Europe (and France) as a consequence of the war in Syria has drastically increased the political dependence of Brussels and Paris on Turkey. One and a half months ago, yet another round of negotiations took place in Brussels regarding Turkey’s membership in the European Union. As a result, it was decided to establish a visa-free regime between Turkey and the EU would commence as of 2016, to speed-up the process of Turkey’s membership in the EU, and, most importantly, it was decided that the EU would allocate 3 billion Euros to Turkey in order that Ankara take steps to halt the flood of refugees from Syria and Iraq to Europe, to increase oversight its borders with Syria and Iraq, and to provide haven in Turkey to the refugees.

 Favorable factors

  1. From the start, President Hollande has stated that he has given the task of drafting a new bill to the former president of the ECHR. This is an indirect indication that he is taking the risks involved and his stated promise more seriously. On the other hand, it’s obvious that the former ECHR judge and his team, fully mastering how things work at the court, will take a much more professional and crafted approach when drafting the bill and will fix all possible weak links in the bill preventing its approval. The judge and his team will take into account the arguments put forth by France’s Constitutional Court when finding in favor of Perinçek. 
  1. Naturally, it is immoral to make use of the Armenian Genocide issue for propaganda purposes in an election campaign. However, this is nothing new and takes place independent of the will of Armenian circles, whether in Armenia or the diaspora. In practical terms, no one has control of the issue. Such a problem currently exists in Russia. In November of last year, in response to the Turkish downing of a Russian military jet, the “Just Russia” faction in the Russian State Duma launched a bill designed to specify criminal responsibility for denying the Armenian Genocide in Russia. All understand that the Russians are clearly trying to utilize the issue against Turkey as a punitive measure. 

In this context, the process to criminalize the denial of the Armenian Genocide in France, again with election campaign overtones, isn’t strange at all. In fact, in a way, it creates a much more favorable situation. The problem is that Hollande has already broken his promise to the Armenians of France. It’s hard to believe that French-Armenians will be taken in a second time, blindly believing the utterances of Hollande.

This time, Armenian organizations will perhaps try to obtain greater guarantees in supporting Hollande to the hilt. One such guarantee could be to see that the bill is adopted before the end of Hollande’s term in office. There’s one year left.

Hollande finds himself in tough situation if he has any hope of winning the 2017 presidential election. His popularity has suffered due to his inability to prevent the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris last November. In December 2015 local elections, his Socialist Party won just 25% of the vote, losing out to Marie Le Pen’s National Front and Sarkozy’s Republican Party.

This tough spot should prompt Hollande to make due on his promise to the Armenian community in order to garner its support.

Naturally, however, this requires some agenda and France isn’t that country where the promise made by a president will ensure victory in the two chambers of the parliament.

Thus, taking all into account that I’ve raised her, the issue remains quite up in the air.

Comments (2)

Orhan Tan
Why Presedent Hollande assumes France’s Highest judicial organization, i.e. the Constitutional Council’s decision on the same subject was wrong ? Isn’ t he aware of the recent decision of ECHR? I reccommend he discusses the UN’ s Convention of 1948 with his Minister of Justice first. Thanks all…
Another round of drinks ? Sarkozy was a grand fraudster. The mother of all liars. He deliberately delayed stamping the law, time which was use d to send the bill to the CCF. The outcome was a formality; and Sarkozy knew that very well. We wait and see Hollande's performance.

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