Dictionary of Gross Human Rights Violations

Genocide Denial


By - Kjell Follingstad Anderson

If genocide is recognised as a fundamental attack on the humanity of its victims, then genocide denial represents a sort of re-victimisation. The suffering of the victims is not recognised thus their lives are diminished of their significance. Genocide denial can occur for various reasons but it is usually centred on political ideology and/or prejudice. For example, Turkey continues to deny the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians because to acknowledge the genocide would threaten the national myth and ideology of the Turkish State and therefore “Turkish” identity in general. Prejudice is also a source of genocide denial as the hatred that begets genocide often continues to thrive, albeit in a different manifestation. For example, neo-Nazis in Europe and elsewhere deny the Holocaust because they continue to espouse an anti-Semitic ideology. This Holocaust denial can even be used to further feed prejudice as the Holocaust is sometimes presented as being a “Zionist myth” invented by the Jews to serve their supposedly imperialistic designs. 

Often genocide denial takes the form of a “double genocide myth” where what was really a genocide perpetrated largely against one group is presented as actually being quid pro quo massacres between two antagonistic groups. This is certainly the official position espoused by Turkey in its denial of the Armenian Genocide. Some commentators in France have also argued that the Rwandan genocide was also a double genocide. This argument may be motivated by a desire to defend France’s support of the Hutu extremists that executed the genocide.
Genocide denial is closely related to the concept of hate speech, speech that seeks to incite hatred, discrimination, or even violence against a particular group. Law in several countries, such as France and Switzerland explicitly prohibits the denial of particular genocides, but in other states genocide denial might be considered to be hate speech (where it can be proven that the intention of this denial is to encourage hatred against a defined group). There have been several hate speech cases before Canadian courts dealing with Holocaust deniers (the most famous of which, Ernst Zundel, is now before a court in Germany). Legislation explicitly prohibiting genocide denial must be carefully weighed against the need to protect free speech, which is itself important in the prevention of genocide. In some cases free speech might also be restricted in order to disallow open discussion and acknowledgement of genocide (for example, in the case of Turkey, which has prosecuted its citizens for recognising the Armenian Genocide).