EU plan on rules against racism at risk over Baltic demand

19th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

20 April 2007, Luxembourg (dpa) - European Union plans to criminalize racism and xenophobia were at risk after Baltic states demanded to include making the denial of Stalinist atrocities a crime. At a meeting of EU justice ministers in Luxembourg, the Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia insisted to make illegal the condoning, denial or trivialization of crimes against humanity committed under the Soviet regime led by Joseph Stalin. But other EU states were opposed to the Baltic demands, arguing tha

20 April 2007

Luxembourg (dpa) - European Union plans to criminalize racism and xenophobia were at risk after Baltic states demanded to include making the denial of Stalinist atrocities a crime.

At a meeting of EU justice ministers in Luxembourg, the Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia insisted to make illegal the condoning, denial or trivialization of crimes against humanity committed under the Soviet regime led by Joseph Stalin.

But other EU states were opposed to the Baltic demands, arguing that they did not legally recognize crimes committed under the Stalinist regime or define major Stalin atrocities as genocide.

Germany, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, wants to establish common rules to criminalize racism and xenophobia for the first time in the 27-member bloc.

German justice minister Brigitte Zypries said earlier Thursday that the EU urgently needed common minimum standards on combating racism and xenophobia.

"We protect people because of their race or ethnic origin, and we don't tolerate that they are being discriminated or that violence is used against them," Zypries said.

"We don't want incitement against violence or hatred," she added.

EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini urged national governments to agree on ambitious rules, arguing that the fight against racism and xenophobia was a "basic pillar of the European democracy."

Under the text being debated, EU countries would set jail terms of at least one to three years for "publicly inciting to violence or hatred ... directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin."

Germany views a common EU law as a moral obligation, but countries like Britain, Ireland and the Scandinavian states resist unified legislation as a violation of civil liberties.

EU diplomats have said that the planned rules only aimed to achieve a "minimum level of harmonization" as the differences in national legal systems had to be respected.

The definition of what exactly constitutes incitement to violence or hatred will be left up to member states, according to the text.

EU lawmakers have criticized the proposal as having "symbolic character" only.

European racism watchdogs have called the proposal a "weak text," adding that EU negotiations were "without any substantial intent to provide strengthened protections for those who experience racist crime and violence in Europe."

Under the EU plans, hate declarations referring to religion such as "Kill the Jews" or "Kill the Christians" would remain unpunished in EU countries where such statements are not criminalized, EU diplomats have said.

They have also said that German plans to push through new rules which would make denying the Holocaust - the mass killing of Jews by Nazis and Nazi supporters - a crime in the EU, would not cover denying the massacre of Armenians in World War I.

Turkey denies that the killing of up to one million Armenians constituted genocide, putting their deaths down to ethnic strife, disease and famine, and has prosecuted historians and journalists for calling it genocide.

Under the planned rules, the denial of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes will be punishable in the EU if these crimes have been defined by international courts and if the statement incites to hatred or violence.

Citing its "particular historic responsibility" due to its Nazi past, Germany has said it wants EU member states to adopt the proposed legislation before it ends its term at the EU helm at the end of June.

Two years ago, Luxembourg tried to use its EU presidency to push through legislation to unify legal standards for Holocaust denial, but was blocked by Italy on the grounds that the proposed rules breached freedom of speech.

Laws against denying the Holocaust already exist in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Spain.

DPA

Subject: German news

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