Genocide denial is the attempt to deny or minimize the scale and severity of an instance of genocide. Denial is an integral part of genocide[1][2][3] and includes the secret planning of genocide, propaganda while the genocide is going on,[1] and destruction of evidence of mass killings. According to genocide researcher Gregory Stanton, denial "is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres".[4]

Some scholars define denial as the final stage of a genocidal process.[1] Richard G. Hovannisian states, "Complete annihilation of a people requires the banishment of recollection and suffocation of remembrance. Falsification, deception and half-truths reduce what was, to what might have been or perhaps what was not at all."[5]

Examples include denial of genocides of Indigenous peoples, Holocaust denial, Armenian genocide denial, Cambodian genocide denial and Bosnian genocide denial.[6] The distinction between respectable academic historians and illegitimate historical negationists and revisionists, including genocide deniers, rests upon the techniques which are used in the writing of such histories. Historical revisionists and negationists rewrite history in order to support an agenda, which is usually political or ideological, by using falsification and rhetorical fallacies in order to obtain their desired results.

Genocide denial or revisionism turned into a mainstream idea in the late 20th Century and the early 21st Century as a social phenomenon.[7]

Analysis

According to Taner Akçam, "the practice of 'denialism' in regard to mass atrocities is usually thought of as a simple denial of the facts, but this is not true. Rather, it is in that nebulous territory between facts and truth where such denialism germinates."[8]

David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice, states:

Denial is the final fortress of those who commit genocide and other mass crimes. Perpetrators hide the truth to avoid accountability and protect the political and economic advantages they sought to gain by mass killings and theft of the victims' property, and to cement the new reality by manufacturing an alternative history. Recent studies have established that such denial not only damages the victims and their destroyed communities, it promises a future based on lies, sowing the seeds of future conflict, repression and suffering.[9]

Motives and strategies

Some of the main reasons for denying genocide are to evade moral or even criminal responsibility and to protect the perpetrators' reputation.[10][11]

Gregory Stanton outlines the tactics of genocide denial including: questioning the statistics, denial of intent, definitional debates, and blaming the victims.[12] Genocide scholar Israel Charny outlines five psychological characteristics of denials of genocide.[13]

Genocide scholar Adam Jones proposed a framework for genocide denial that consists of several strategies, including minimizing fatalities, blaming fatalities on unrelated "natural" causes, denying intent to destroy a group, and claiming self-defense in preemptive or disproportionate attacks:[14]

By individuals and non-governmental organizations

By governments

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Croatia

See also: Denial of the genocide of Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia

Pakistan

The government of Pakistan continues to deny that any Bangladeshi genocide took place during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. They typically accuse Pakistani reporters (such as Anthony Mascarenhas), who reported on the genocide, of being "enemy agents".[31] According to Donald W. Beachler, professor of political science at Ithaca College:[32]

The government of Pakistan explicitly denied that there was genocide. By their refusal to characterise the mass-killings as genocide or to condemn and restrain the Pakistani government, the US and Chinese governments implied that they did not consider it so.

Similarly, in the wake of the 2013 Shahbag protests against war criminals who were complicit in the genocide, English journalist Philip Hensher wrote:[33]

The genocide is still too little known about in the West. It is, moreover, the subject of shocking degrees of denial among partisan polemicists and manipulative historians.

Russia

See also: Holodomor denial

Serbia

Further information: Srebrenica massacre and Bosnian genocide denial

According to Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, and Edina Becirevic, the faculty of criminology and security studies of the University of Sarajevo:

Denial of the Srebrenica genocide takes many forms [in Serbia]. The methods range from the brutal to the deceitful. Denial is present most strongly in political discourse, in the media, in the sphere of law, and in the educational system.[34]

Turkey

Main article: Armenian genocide denial

The government of the Republic of Turkey has long denied that the Armenian genocide was a genocide.[35] According to Akçam, "Turkish denialism [of the genocide] is perhaps the most successful example of how the well-organised, deliberate, and systematic spreading of falsehoods can play an important role in the field of public debate" and that "fact-based truths have been discredited and relegated to the status of mere opinion".[8]Turkey acknowledges that many Armenians residing in the Ottoman Empire were killed in conflicts with Ottoman forces during World War One, but disputes the statistics and claims that the killings were systematic and amounted to genocide.Measures recognising the Armenian genocide have languished in the US Congress for decades, and US presidents have refrained from labelling it such due to worries about relations with Turkey and intensive lobbying by Ankara. [36]

United States

See also: Denial of atrocities against Indigenous peoples

The government of the United States has been accused of denial of the genocide of its Indigenous peoples[37] by academics such as Benjamin Madley,[38] David Stannard[39] and Noam Chomsky.[40]

Law

The European Commission proposed a European Union–wide anti-racism law in 2001, which included an offence of genocide denial, but European Union states failed to agree on the balance between prohibiting racism and freedom of expression. After six years of debating, a watered down compromise was reached in 2007 which gave EU states freedom to implement the legislation as they saw fit.[41][42][43]

In 2022, the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect issued a policy paper associating genocide denial with hate speech, specifically when directed to specific identifiable groups. The report gives policy recommendations for states and UN officials in the matter of denial.[44]

Effects

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Genocide denial has an impact on both victim and perpetrator groups. Denial of a genocide affects relations between the victim and perpetrator groups or their respective countries, prevents personal victims of the genocide from seeking closure, and adversely affects political decisions on both sides. It can cause fear in the victims to express their cultural identity, retaliation from both parties, and hamper the democratic development of societies.

Effects on personal victims of the genocide

While confrontation of the committed atrocities can be a tough process in which the victim feels humiliated again by reliving the traumatic past,[45] it still has a benign therapeutic effect, helping both victim and perpetrator groups to come to terms with the past.[46] From a therapeutic point of view, letting the victim confront the past atrocity and its related painful memories is one way to reach a closure and to understand that the harm has occurred in the past.[47] This also helps the memories to enter the shared narrative of the society, thereby becoming a common ground on which the society can make future decisions on, in political and cultural matters.[48]

Denying recognition, in contrast, has a negative effect, further victimising the victim which will feel not only wronged by the perpetrator but also by being denied recognition of the occurred wrongdoing. Denial also has a pivotal role in shaping the norms of a society since the omission of any committed errors, and thereby the lack of condemnation and punishment of the committed wrongs, risks normalising similar actions, increasing the society's tolerance for future occurrences of similar errors.[48]: 110 

According to sociologist Daniel Feierstein, the genocide perpetrator implements a process of transforming the identity of any survivors and erasing the memory of the existence of the victim group.[49]

Societal effects of genocide denial

Bhargava notes that "[m]ost calls to forget disguise the attempt to prevent victims from publicly remembering in the fear that 'there is a dragon living on the patio and we better not provoke it.'"[50] In other words, while societally "forgetting" an atrocity can on the surface be beneficial to the harmony of society, it further victimizes the target group for fear of future, similar action, and is directly detrimental to the sociocultural development of the victim group.

On the other hand, there are cases where "forgetting" atrocities is the most politically expedient or stable option. This is found in some states which have recently come out of minority rule, where the perpetrator group still controls most strategic resources and institutions, such as South Africa.[51] This was, among others, one of the main reasons for granting amnesty in exchange for confessing to committed errors during the transitional period in South Africa. However, the society at large and the victims in particular will perceive this kind of trade-offs as "morally suspect,"[52] and may question its sustainability. Thus, a common refrain in regard to the Final Report (1998) by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was "We've heard the truth. There is even talk about reconciliation. But where's the justice?"[53]

Effects on democratic development

The denial has thereby a direct negative impact on the development of a society, often by undermining its laws and the issue of justice, but also the level of democracy itself.[48]: 33–38  If democracy is meant to be built on the rule of law and justice, upheld and safeguarded by state institutions, then surely the omission of legal consequences and justice would potentially undermine the democracy.[54] What is more dangerous from a historical point of view is that such a default would imply the subsequent loss of the meaning of these events to future generations, a loss which is resembled to "losing a moral compass."[55] The society becomes susceptible to similar wrongdoings in the absence of proper handling of preceding occasions.[56] Nonetheless, denial, especially immediately after the committed wrongdoings, is rather the rule than the exception and naturally almost exclusively done by the perpetrator to escape responsibility.

Implicit denial of genocide

While some societies or governments openly deny genocide, in some other cases, e.g. in the case of the "Comfort women" and the role of the Japanese State, the denial is more implicit. This was evident in how an overwhelmingly majority of the surviving victims refused to accept a monetary compensation since the Japanese government still refused to admit its own responsibility (the monetary compensation was paid through a private fund rather than by the state, a decision perceived by the victims about state's refusal to assume any direct responsibility).[57] This can have the same effects on societies as outright denial. For example, atrocity denial and self-victimisation in Japanese historical textbooks has caused much diplomatic tension between Japan and neighbouring victim states, such as Korea and China, and bolstered domestic conservative or nationalist forces.[58]

Turkey and Armenian genocide denial

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The Turkish state's Armenian genocide denial has had far-reaching effects on the Turkish society throughout its history in regard to both ethnic minorities, especially the Kurds, but political opposition in general.[48]: 48  The denial also affects Turks, in that there is a lack of recognition of Turks and Ottoman officials who attempted to stop the genocide. This lack of recognition of the various actors at play in Turkey could[weasel words] result in a rather homogeneous perception of the nation in question, thus making Armenians (but also third parties) project the perpetrating role onto the entire Turkish society and nation, causing further racial strife and aggravating the prospects of future reconciliation.[48]: 24  For example, Armenian terrorist groups (e.g. ASALA and JCAG) committed terrorist acts during 1970's and 1980's as a direct result of the Turkish state denial of the genocide.[48]: 110 

Prevention

Denial may be reduced by works of history, preservation of archives, documentation of records, investigation panels, search for missing persons, commemorations, official state apologies, development of truth commissions, educational programs, monuments, and museums. According to Johnathan Sisson, the society has the right to know the truth about historical events and facts, and the circumstances that led to massive or systematic human rights violations. He says that the state has the obligation to secure records and other evidence to prevent revisionist arguments.[59] Genocide scholar Gregory Stanton suggests that prosecution can be a deterrent.[60]

See also

References

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  51. ^ Gutman, Amy; Thompson, Dennis F. (2000). "The Moral Foundations of Truth Commissions". In Rotberg, Robert I.; Thompson, Dennis F. (eds.). Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05071-6. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 39 
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  59. ^ Sisson, Jonathan (2010). "A conceptual framework for dealing with the past" (PDF). Politorbis. 50 (3): 11–15. In order to re-establish fundamental trust and accountability in society, there is a need to acknowledge publicly the abuses that have taken place. (p. 11) It is based on the inalienable right on the part of society at large to know the truth about past events and the circumstances that led to the perpetration of massive or systematic human rights violations, in order to prevent their recurrence in the future. In addition, it involves an obligation on the part of the State to undertake measures, such as securing archives and other evidence, to preserve collective memory from extinction and so to guard against the development of revisionist arguments. (p. 12) These involve symbolic acts, such as an annual homage to the victims, the establishment of monuments and museums, or the recognition by the State of its responsibility in the form of a public apology, that discharge the duty of remembrance and help to restore victims' dignity. Additional measures in this regard foresee the inclusion of an accurate account of the violations that occurred in public educational materials at all levels. (p. 13) Right to know: Truth commissions, Investigation panels, Documentation, Archives, History books & Missing persons.(pp15)
  60. ^ Stanton, Gregory (2020). "10 Stages of Genocide". Genocide Watch. Retrieved 31 March 2023. The best response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators punished.... When possible, local proceedings should provide forums for hearings of the evidence against perpetrators who were not the main leaders and planners of a genocide, with opportunities for restitution and reconciliation. The Rwandan gaçaça trials are one example. Justice should be accompanied by education in schools and the media about the facts of a genocide, the suffering it caused its victims, the motivations of its perpetrators, and the need for restoration of the rights of its victims.

Further reading

Quotations related to Genocide denial at Wikiquote