European Rights Court Agrees to Hear Swiss Appeal on Perincek Ruling


Eurpean Court of Human Rights


STRASBOURG—The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday agreed to hear an appeal filed by the government of Switzerland of the court’s ruling in December that the denial of the Armenian Genocide was not a crime, reported the Le Matin newspaper.

The government of Switzerland announced its decision to appeal the December 17, 2013 decision by the European Court of Human Rights overturning the conviction of Dogu Perinçek for denying the Armenian Genocide, which under Swiss law is a criminal offense.

Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice announced its appeal on March 11. The appeal is asking the ECHR Grand Chamber to clarify the scope available to Swiss authorities in applying the Swiss Criminal Code to combat racism. Switzerland created this penal provision, which entered into force in 1995, to close loopholes in its criminal law and enable the country to accede to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Under the provisions of the Swiss law, in 2007, Turkish citizen Perinçek was convicted for denying the Armenian Genocide. Failing to win two appeals against the judgment, Perincek appealed the ECHR, which on Dec. 17 ruled that the Swiss courts’ rulings violated the appellant’s right to freedom of expression.

The ECHR ruling in December stated that “the free exercise of the right to openly discuss questions of a sensitive and controversial nature is one of the fundamental aspects of freedom of expression and distinguishes a tolerant and pluralistic democratic society from a totalitarian or dictatorial regime.”

The original case emerged from Perincek’s participation in a number of conferences in Switzerland in 2005, during which he publicly denied that the Ottoman Empire had perpetrated the crime of genocide against the Armenian people in 1915.

The Lausanne Police Court found Perincek guilty of racial discrimination on March 9, 2007, based on the Swiss Criminal Code. After a complaint filed by the Switzerland-Armenia Association on July 15, 2005, the court found that Perincek’s motives were of a “racist tendency” and did not contribute to the historical debate.

“The Court underlined that the free exercise of the right to openly discuss questions of a sensitive and controversial nature was one of the fundamental aspects of freedom of expression and distinguished a tolerant and pluralistic democratic society from a totalitarian or dictatorial regime,” said the official ECHR press release at the time.

“The Court also pointed out that it was not called upon to rule on the legal characterization of the Armenian Genocide. The existence of a ‘Genocide,’ which was a precisely defined legal concept, was not easy to prove. The Court doubted that there could be a general consensus as to events such as those at issue, given that historical research was by definition open to discussion and a matter of debate, without necessarily giving rise to final conclusions or to the assertion of objective and absolute truths,” added the ECHR release.

“Lastly, the Court observed that those States which had officially recognized the Armenian Genocide had not found it necessary to enact laws imposing criminal sanctions on individuals questioning the official view, being mindful that one of the main goals of freedom of expression was to protect minority views capable of contributing to a debate on questions of general interest which were not fully settled,” explained the ECHR in its December ruling.

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