24.12.08 - FRANCE/RWANDA - PIERRE PÉAN WILL BE TRIED IN APPEAL FOR HIS BOOK

Paris, 24 December 2008 (FH) - The French writer Pierre Péan who, in his book "Black Furies, White Liars (Noires Fureurs, Blancs Menteurs)" had mentioned that Tutsis were affected by a "lying culture" and especially called into question the historiography of the Rwandan genocide, will again be tried before an appeal chamber at the request of the association S.O.S Racisme and of the Paris prosecution.

 

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On 7 November, the 17th chamber of the first instance criminal court had acquitted him of the accusations of slander and provocation to racial hatred. Freedom of expression, a fundamental principle set up by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, can only be sanctioned for attacks envisaged by the law, it had reminded while affirming even if certain remarks of the investigating journalist were shocking his formulations do not constitute, therefore, public and racial slander, nor a provocation to racial discrimination.

Following the publication in 2005 of the book "Black Furies, White Liars", S.O.S Racisme, a French association against racism, filed a complaint. Other organizations such as the Human Rights League had refused to take this step. S.O.S Racisme, considers that Péan, by showing Tutsis "to resort systematically to lying and dissimulation, while employing doubtful and fraudulent manoeuvres, with the only aim of misleading the international community relating to the accuracy of its cause", attacked "the honour and the consideration of this ethnicity".

The offences of slander and provocation to commit discrimination are governed in France by the law on the freedom of the press of 1881. Article 29 of this law, which has never been modified, states that "any allegation or charge of a fact which attacks the honour or the consideration of the person or the body to which the fact is charged is slander". The fact that this allegation is made against a "group of people due to their origin or their membership or their non-membership to an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a given religion" worsens the incurred sentence.

The 17th chamber of the first instance criminal court, called "chamber of the press", estimated that to be so the infringement would have needed that the allegation be presented "as a precise articulation of facts likely to be, without difficulty, the object of evidence and a contradictory debate". It noted that, "placed in its context, the culture formulation of the lie and dissimulation cannot be regarded as the charge of a precise fact aiming at discrediting the whole of Tutsis". It also estimated that the remarks do not target Tutsis as a whole.

Péan, according to the chamber, would have badly translated the term ubwenge. Certain witnesses considered that he even interpreted in a "summary and ambiguous" way. Experts called by the defence saw there a "particular form of intelligence".

As for the provocation to racial discrimination against a person or a group as described above, it is article 24 of the law of 1881 which sanctions it. The chamber defines provocation as "the incitement of the public to discrimination, hatred or violence towards the group considered". While admitting that the formulation employed "can legitimately hurt those he targeted", it does not constitute, therefore, such an incitement. The French law imposes that these offences, called violations of the press laws, were committed by the way of the publication whose various means are enumerated in article 23 of the law of 1881.

The chamber, however, rejected Péan's motion for abusive prosecution estimating that he "had been naturally exposed to criticism, the survivors of the genocide who have been able to believe in good faith that the discredit was thrown upon the reality of the dramas and the suffering lived (...); that consideration for the victims of the genocide should have led Pierre Péan to take more precautions in the formulation of his remarks".

The documents which authorize breaches to liberty of expression expressly use a concise terminology with an aim of posing a precise framework to the possible limits. These limits do not relate to the "obviously shocking" remarks.

AV/PB/MM/GF

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