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Jennifer M. Allen and George H. Norris

Excerpted from: Jennifer M. Allen and George H. Norris, Is Genocide Different?: Dealing with Hate Speech in a Post-Genocide Society , 7 Journal of International Law & International Relations 146 (Fall, 2011) (200 Footnotes Omitted)


Like Rwanda, nations the world over continue to work to strike a balance between citizens' expression and adequately containing speech that calls for violence. But different countries have given these competing concerns different weights in striking their balances, leading to a range of legal regimes governing hate speech. Each nation's unique experiences inform its priorities and the risks it is willing to take in allowing its citizens to speak. And experience with hate speech and genocide understandably exerts major influence on speech laws going forward.

Germany committed a genocide across Europe during the Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s. Its speech laws reflect active efforts to rein in words and attitudes that Germany's own government once broadcast to the point of saturation. Germany occupies a rare position as a developed state with firsthand knowledge of the power words have to fuel genocide. Its speech laws can be seen, at least in part, as reactions to that power.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Israel, and later the European Union, each developed speech laws fueled by those who survived it. Their experiences are distinct from each other in critically important ways. Israel is, in many ways, a nation born of the Holocaust, with a population that included over 400,000 Holocaust survivors by 1951, three years after declaring statehood. Europe includes countries and individuals who orchestrated, complied with, resisted, and were victims of that genocide. But each has emerged with an understanding of the atrocities committed, and their speech laws have been actively informed by their respective experiences with genocide.

Though it has its own prejudices and history of discriminatory actions, the United States has no firsthand experience of genocide within its borders or population. Its attitude toward hate speech is based largely on guessing at how to avoid harm in the future, rather than reacting to known catalysts from the past. The speech laws developed absent genocidal experiences represent an extreme on the spectrum of permitted violent speech, and serve as a touchstone for evaluating the extent to which nations risk violence in the name of protecting free expression.

The summary that follows provides a snapshot of hate speech laws and freedom of expression in these nations and regions with markedly different experiences of genocide. Looking at them carefully, each of these regimes can serve as a lens through which to view and evaluate Rwanda's genocide ideology legislation.