March 31, 2015

By Elias Hazou

LAWMAKERS on Monday agreed to amend current legislation criminalising
the denial of genocide if the genocide in question has been recognised
by the House.

The matter is fundamentally about the Armenian genocide, and resurfaced
last week due to the upcoming visit to Cyprus of the speaker of
the Armenian National Assembly to mark the 100th anniversary of the
Armenian genocide.

As it stands, the law states that denial of crimes against humanity
and genocide is a criminal offence only where the crime in question
has been recognised by irrevocable decision of an international court.

Cyprus is among 22 countries that have recognised the Armenian
genocide. However, because the International Criminal Court has not
recognised it, thus far denial of the genocide was not a criminal
offence here.

House Speaker Yiannakis Omirou was keen to add a clause to the
legislation, making genocide denial a criminal offence whether it
has been recognised by an international court or by a resolution of
the Cyprus parliament.

Following debate at the House legal affairs committee on Monday,
the parties took on board Omirou's legislative proposal, but with
a modification - denial of genocide will constitute a criminal
offence only where the House resolution recognising that genocide
was unanimous.

Omirou had wanted the law amended before or during the visit here by
Galust Sahakyan, speaker of the Armenian National Assembly.

Sources from the ruling DISY party told the Mail that the House may
hold an extraordinary session of the plenum on Thursday morning,
before the scheduled plenary, to pass the legal amendment.

Sahakyan, due on the island on Wednesday, is on Thursday afternoon
scheduled to address the House of Representatives.

While on an official trip to Armenia last November, Omirou appears to
have promised his Armenian counterpart that Cyprus would criminalise
the denial of the Armenian genocide, as other countries - Switzerland,
Slovakia, Greece - have done.

The same DISY sources dismissed the notion, as reported by daily
Simerini, that Omirou and the presidency were at odds over amending
the law.

The only reservations the president had was that the government was
not consulted on the matter, which pertains to foreign policy.

The sources also refuted media reports that DISY MPs had argued in
committee against criminalising denial because it might anger the
Turkish Cypriots and Turkey, particularly at this juncture when peace
talks may resume.

Cyprus was the first European country (and the second worldwide,
after Uruguay) to officially recognise the Armenian genocide. On
April 24, 1975, Resolution 36 was voted unanimously by the House
of Representatives.

Given that decision was unanimous, the criminalisation amendment now
being proposed should automatically apply to the Armenian genocide.

In turn that suggests that criminalising denial of that event was
never a point of contention among MPs - except perhaps for the fact
that DISY was making the point of principle that such decisions
must be unanimous, in this way giving the government of the day -
via the ruling party's votes in the House - leverage in foreign
policy-related matters.

Under the law, the denial or "flagrant downgrading" of recognised
war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, provided the crime
has been recognised by an international court, is punishable by up
to five years imprisonment and/or a fine of EURO 10,000.

The governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan deny the Armenian genocide.

International organisations officially recognising the Armenian
Genocide include the European Parliament, the Council of Europe,
and the World Council of Churches.

The Armenian genocide was the Ottoman government's systematic
extermination of its minority Armenian subjects from their historic
homeland within the territory constituting the present-day Republic
of Turkey.

It is estimated that 1.5 million Armenians perished between 1915
and 1923.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress