Within the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), 16 countries have laws under which Holocaust denial is a criminal or civil offense, a further four have hate speech provisions that cover the phenomenon, and one IHRA liaison country and two IHRA observer countries have Holocaust denial laws. 21 EU member countries have transposed the Framework Decision through specific legislation on Holocaust denial. Outside of the IHRA and EU, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, and Russia have similar regulations.
Experts in the field question whether these laws are effective counters to hate speech. Similarly, neither experts nor policymakers know if these laws help inform an understanding of history that leads to healthy democracies and civil society, or if these laws are part of a larger matrix that could include civil law, education, cultural programs, and other mechanisms of public outreach by the state that counter Holocaust denial and distortion in a more holistic manner. Some experts find it more problematic that the implementation of certain national memory laws has served to protect particular historical interpretations and/or national and cultural mythologies, rather than protect verifiable and source-based historical facts from being misused as forms of hate speech.
Questions remain about the applicability of these laws to other forms of denialism, particularly denial or distortion of crimes of genocide that do not include the Holocaust. There is a tension between regulations that focus on protecting Holocaust narratives from distortion and expanding these regulations to other mass atrocities in ways that may lead to an artificial hierarchy of victims. Finally, the use of these laws can be inconsistent, occasionally ad hoc, threatening to freedoms of speech and of expression, and could be subject to politicization.
With these lingering questions, and following the outcome of an inaugural review by several of the world’s leading experts on these regulations, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance experts presented the following preliminary recommendations for consideration by the IHRA and its member country governments:
1. Develop resources for the public and for professionals that explain case law, existing regulations, and other responses to Holocaust denial and distortion within particular national contexts.
2. Launch formal and regular training programs on such laws or related legal mechanisms for law enforcement, the judiciary, and prosecutors, as well as similar programs for civil society stakeholders, e.g., journalists and educators.
3. Support IHRA work on the creation of materials that may better inform national and international bodies on the development, enactment, and interpretation of these laws.
4. Provide and affirm protections for scholars, educators, journalists, writers, and general researchers who engage in, present, and publish bona fide, data-driven research on Holocaust-era crimes.
5. Build dialogue within international bodies, including the IHRA, the EU and the UN, as well as within national communities on matters related to denial and distortion of Holocaust-era crimes.
IHRA Project on "Laws and Holocaust Denial"
The IHRA project "Laws and Holocaust Denial" aims to enhance the capacity for the IHRA to advise on regulations that seek to secure the historical record of the Holocaust from distortion and misuse, and it will provide policymakers and the judiciary with key resources for a better understanding and the provision of training on the ways by which such regulations work within relevant countries, as well as insight as to whether and how they aid in the wider goal of minimizing distortion and denial of the Holocaust.