In the year 2003, Rwanda enacted Law N° 33 Bis/2003 repressing the crime of Genocide, crimes against Humanity and War crimes.
Legislative processes in every nation are triggered by the contemporary or future contextual needs of that particular Nation.
Much as there is always a requirement to ensure legislations of different individual nations to conform to internationally accepted principles, norms and practices, there is no requirement for similarity. In other words, conformity does not mean similarity.
The Rwandan legislation cited above has been a subject to massive criticism by some sections of the Western press and Non-Governmental organisations. In their usual fashion of criticism in general terms without regard to the nature, content and background, they have created an impression of uniqueness in this legislation.
Their narrative is as if this is a draconian law meant to suppress political dissent and freedom of speech. What is not often told however is that the laws of similar nature actually have been in place in a number of European Countries for decades.
Rwanda’s law provides for punishment of “any person who will have publicly shown, by his or her words, writings, images, or by any other means, that he or she has negated the genocide committed , rudely minimised it or attempted to justify or approve its grounds”.
The French freedom of the press Act 1891 provides that” Any one who denies the existence of one or more crimes against humanity as defined in article 6 of the statute of the International Military Tribunal annexed to the London agreement of 8 August 1945 which have been committed either by the members of an organisation declared criminal under Article 9 of the Statute or by a person found guilty of such crimes by a French or International Court shall be liable to the penalties set forth in section 24”.
The Council of European Union framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia adopted on 28 November 2008 provided for punishment in all European union states anyone who :”Publicly condoned, denied, or grossly trivialised crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and War crimes as defined in Articles 6,7,and 8 of the statute of the International criminal court”.
The Australian National Socialism prohibition Law of 1947 as amended in 1992 provides that” Whoever denied, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist Genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media shall be punished”.
Belgian Negationism Law of 1995 as amended in 1999 provides that” Whoever in the circumstances given in article 444 of the penal code denies, grossly minimises, attempts to justify, or approves the genocide committed by the German National Socialist Regime during the second World war shall be punished”.
The Israel Denial of the Holocaust (prohibition) Law of 1986 punishes” a person who, in writing or by word of mouth, publishes any statement denying or diminishing the proportions of acts committed in the period of the NAZI regimes”.
In Luxembourg the criminal code Act of 19 July 1997 outlaws Holocaust denial and denial of other genocides.
Liechtenstein’s’ criminal code provides that” Whoever publicly denies, coarsely trivialises, or tries to justify genocide or other crimes against humanity via word, writing, pictures, electronically transmitted signs, gestures, violent acts or by other means shall be punished”.
Garaundy V. France the Court ruled “denying crimes against humanity is therefore one of the most serious forms of racial defamation of Jews and of incitement to hatred of them.
The denial or rewriting of this type of historical fact undermines the values of which the fight against racism and anti Semitism are based and constitutes serious threat to public order.
Such acts are incompatible with democracy and human rights because they infringe on the rights of others”.
While certain forms of speech are restricted in those countries, the insinuations in their criticism is that what constitutes denial or hate speech in their situation, is actually a legitimate way of doing politics in our situation.
Double standards exist even in the interpretation of international instruments we all share. Such details as the provisions of Article 19 of the international covenant civil and political rights are never considered when criticising and demonising our legislations and the way we apply them. The article provides:
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3: The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities.
It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as provided by law and are necessary;
a. For respect of the rights or reputations of others
b. For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health and moral”
In Witzsch V.Germany, the European Court of Human Rights ruled:
“As regards the circumstances of the present case, the court notes that the applicant…. Denied an equally significant and established circumstance of the Holocaust considering it false and historically unsustainable, that Hitler and the USDAP had planned, initiated and organised the mass killing of Jews.
The denial of Hitlers’ and national socialist’s responsibility in the extermination of the Jews showed the applicant’s disdain towards the victims of the Holocaust”.
Note that the applicant had never denied the Holocaust, rather the circumstance in which it was committed. It was still found to be punishable.
It is as clear that these laws do not exist in all countries as it is that they exist in countries that have experienced Genocide or related attoricities and this is where the relevance of context arises.
Looking into this brief perusal of European legislations, apart from the usual contempt with which the West holds Africans and their processes, where is the evil in the Rwandan Law?
Martin NGOGA is the Prosecutor General,
Republic of Rwanda.