Advocacy of Genocide and Holocaust Denial: A Special Case?
Module 6: Hate Speech
Some commentators argue that the issues of advocacy for genocide and denial of the Holocaust constitute special cases within the debate on hate speech and incitement. According to the 1948 Genocide Convention, “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” is a punishable act,(1) following the role of the media in perpetuating hatred against Jewish people in Germany and advocating for their extermination.
Likewise, in Rwanda the media played a crucial role during the genocide in drumming up hatred and distributing propaganda, which led to the first prosecutions at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for “direct and public incitement to commit genocide.” In the same way as hate speech, incitement to genocide was defined as an inchoate crime, meaning it is not necessary for genocide to actually have occurred for the crime to have been committed, but it did require intent.
One of the most notable cases brought against journalists at the ICTR was Nahimana et al, known as the Media Trial.(2) Two of the respondents were the founders of a radio station that broadcast anti-Tutsi propaganda before the genocide and the names and licence plate numbers of intended victims during the genocide.(3)
The Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court also establishes the crime of incitement to genocide.(4)
The genocide of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe was such a formative event in the creation of the European human rights system that Holocaust denial — claiming that the genocide did not occur — is an offence in several countries and is treated in a particular fashion within the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence, even when compared to similar cases of historical revisionism.(5)
A more recent case heard by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights addressed speech that allegedly spread “the ideology of genocide, sectarianism, and divisionism” in Rwanda.(6) The case related to the arrest of a leader of a Rwandan political party who had made statements relating to the Rwanda Genocide and, more specifically, highlighting that crimes against humanity were committed against the Hutu people and not only the Tutsi people. The Court found that Rwanda had violated the right to freedom of expression and that the restriction was not necessary and proportional, because the speech did not deny or minimise the crimes committed against the Tutsis and were statements “of the kind that is expected in a democratic society and should thus be tolerated, especially when they originate from a public figure as the Applicant is.”