BERNE—The government of Switzerland announced Tuesday that it will appeal a December 17, 2013 decision by the European Court of Human Rights overturning the conviction of Dogu Perinçek for denying the Armenian Genocide.
The decision was made by Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice, which is asking the ECHR Grand Chamber to review the ruling 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.
“We welcome the Swiss Government’s decision to request that the December 17 decision of the European Court of Human Rights be referred to the Grand Chamber for review. By this decision Switzerland is attempting to defend its own legislation, while at the same time is adhering to the expectation of all Armenians to appeal the ECHR December 17 ruling, in order to create the opportunity to rectify the contentious assertions about the Armenian Genocide in that ruling. Of course, this process has several more stages to pass, first of which would be the decision by the Grand Chamber on whether or not to accept the referral,” said a statement on the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Political Affairs office.
This is an issue which requires pan-national consensus and the necessity to push for the rectification of the contentious assertions about the Armenian Genocide in the ECHR ruling,” added the ARF statement.
Under the provisions of the Swiss law, in 2007, Turkish citizen Doğu 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 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.
Since the ECHR ruling, many leading Armenian organizations around the world, including the Armenian National Committee offices in Europe, South America, Australia and elsewhere met with Swiss diplomats urging the Swiss government to appeal the ECHR ruling.