Monday 27 January 2014

Holocaust denial and hate crime: Can the EU and its Member States do more?

Steve Peers

The European Commission has chosen today, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, to release its first report on Member States' implementation of the EU Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.

Implementing the EU legislation

Member States had to implement this law, a relic of the pre-Lisbon 'third pillar' of EU law (setting out special rules on policing and criminal law measures) by December 2010, and the Council had to assess the Member States' implementation of the rules, on the basis of the Commission report, by November 2013. So the Commission report is a little late, but most such reports arrive even later (due to Member States' tardy reporting on their implementation). All Member States must apply this law, although the UK is planning to opt out as of December 2014, and does not intend to apply to opt back in.

The first crucial legal question is whether Member States have properly implemented their obligations under the Framework Decision. They are obliged to criminalise: public incitement to violence or hatred based on race, et al; dissemination of tracts to the same end; the denial, trivilisation et al of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity as defined in the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court; and denial or trivialisation of the Holocauat.

The Commission identifies some apparent breaches of the Framework Decision here; for instance, two Member States insist on some further conditions being met before criminal liability attaches to the first category of actions. Some Member States do not specify that the crimes can apply to an individual or to a group. Two Member States refer to 'nationality' instead of 'national origin'. As regards the Rome Statute crimes and Holocaust denial, some Member States' laws do not refer to all types of actions referred to as regards the first type of crime, or do not fully reflect the obligations as regards Holocaust denial. In particular, two Member States only criminalise Holocaust denial in relation to their own nation or citizens. Some Member States have no specific provisions on these issues, although arguably a general law on incitement to violence that fully covers all of the relevant actions would be sufficient.

According to the EU law, Member States must either provide for racist and xenophobic motives to be considered an aggravated circumstance, or provide that courts may take those motives into account. Some Member States restrict this obligation to certain violent crimes only. Furthermore, some Member States attach conditions to the rules regarding liability for legal persons, or do not fully apply the rules on jurisdiction, in particular as regards offences committed over the Internet.

As to the future, the Commission makes a number of recommendations to Member States, as regards (for instance) special hate crimes units, the exchange of information, cross-border cooperation, data collection, the rights of victims and comments by opinion leaders. The Commission intends to discuss the correct implementation of the Framework Decision with Member States up to 1 December 2014 - the date when it can begin infringement proceedings as regards pre-Lisbon third pillar legislation. It does not make any mention of any amendment of the legislation, or of the specific issues which the Council is required to review (the issue of judicial cooperation as regards the relevant crimes).


The Commission cannot be criticised for holding off on bringing infringement proceedings, since it cannot do so until the end of this year. After that point, this legislation will be another EU measure which the Commission ought to enforce vigorously by means of infringement proceedings if it is, as it claims, committed to ensuring the full implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in practice.

It would be possible to clarify the interpretation of the Framework Decision if it were amended, and more importantly, its provisions could be improved. For instance, the recommendations which the Commission makes to Member States in its report could be incorporated into the legislation (except for the point concerning the rights of victims, which will become binding anyway once the EU's crime victims directive is implemented in 2015). The Commission does not consider the issue of possible amendments at all.

More significantly, the scope of the Framework Decision (or rather, the future Directive) could be enlarged, to cover other forms of hate crime. The Commission perhaps avoids mentioning the issue of amendment because of the lack of a specific legal base dealing with this issue in the current Treaties. True, racism and xenophobia are not listed among the crimes the EU can combat in Article 83(1) TFEU. But they surely fall within the scope of Article 83(2) TFEU, which gives the EU power to adopt criminal law measures when necessary in relation to a matter which the EU has harmonised. Since the EU has banned discrimination on grounds of race as regards all goods and services (inter alia), and it surely would interfere with equal access to transport, shopping and recreation (for instance) if crimes of racial hatred were committed, it could be argued that further EU measures could be adopted on this basis. The same would apply to bias crimes against women, given the scope of EU harmonisation already on the issue of gender equality.

However, it would be harder to argue that a legal power exists for the adoption of EU measures banning hate crime on grounds of sexual orientation, disability, religion or age, since the EU has only harmonised the law as regards equality in employment as regards those issues. When or if the Commission's proposed Directive extending equal treatment as regards these four grounds of discrimination is adopted, then a further measure relating to hate crime on the same grounds could be proposed.

Barnard & Peers: chapter 25, chapter 20

1 comment:

  1. More should be done to stamp out all forms of hate and discrimination including Holocaust denial and Islamophobia