The long-awaited General Comment 34 of the Human Rights Committee on freedom of expression was adopted at its recent session. It replaces the very laconic General Comment 10, which was adopted back in 1983, and consisted of four paragraphs.
There is much of interest in the new Comment, reported drafted by the Irish member, Michael O'Flaherty. there is a short explanation of it by Michael on YouTube.
It deals rather briefly with legislation that has been adopted in many countries dealing with denial of historical events like the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide. Paragraph 49 of the General Comments says: 'Laws that penalise the expression of opinions about historical facts (fn 166) are incompatible with the obligations that the Covenant imposes on States parties in relation to the respect for freedom of opinion and expression.' Footnote 116 says 'So called “memory-laws”, see Faurisson v. France, No. 550/93.'.
Faurisson v. France is the case examined by the Committee in 1996 in which it upheld the conviction of a French pseudo-historian who was convicted of an offence of denying the Holocaust.
Does this mean the views of the Committee have shifted, and that the opinion it earlier expressed that seemed to accept the validity of such legislation has been reversed?
The General Comment also considers blasphemy legislation. At paragraph 48, it says: 'Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant, except in the specific circumstances envisaged in article 20, paragraph 2, of the Covenant.' Article 20(2) of the Covenant states: 'Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.' This means that one can show disrespect for a religion or other belief system' as long as it does not constitute incitement to discrimination or hostility. It looks like a hard line to draw in practice.