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Holocaust distortion and human rights

Objectives:

  • To engage participants in reflections about the impact of Holocaust distortion upon human rights values
  • To stimulate discussion and critical thinking about the link between freedom of speech and Holocaust distortion
  • To offer participants a lens for addressing Holocaust distortion through human rights values

Number of participants: 5–30
Duration: 90 minutes

Description of the activity:

Part 1 (45 min)

  1. The trainer informs the participants that in this session they will reflect upon the link between Holocaust distortion and infringement of human rights. The trainer reminds participants that the system of international human rights was established immediately after the Second World War as a response to the crimes committed during the Holocaust. They are a set of minimum standards which allow people to live a life of dignity. The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is visible to the participants (on a screen, flipchart or handout).

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

  1. The trainer shares with the participants the main values on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is based: equality, dignity, freedom, respect and justice. The participants are invited to work in groups of 4-5 people and reflect upon the ways in which Holocaust distortion conflicts with these values. They can refer to specific rights such as:a. freedom from discrimination;
    b. freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
    c. freedom of opinion and information;
    d. right to education;
    e. right to participate in the cultural life of the community; etc.
  2. The groups present the main aspects of their discussion. The trainer may add certain aspects, if they were not already addressed by the participants, such as:

a. State-led distortion of the Holocaust weakens the quality of democratic dialogue, academic freedom, education and freedom of expression. Holocaust distortion may also lessen our understanding of the past, and the value of truth and evidence in a society.

b. Holocaust distortion reinforces antisemitism and may incite violence infringing upon freedom from discrimination and even the right to life.

c. The rehabilitation of perpetrators, or omissions regarding their crimes during the Holocaust, inhibits the foundations of justice.

d. Holocaust distortion infringes on the dignity of victims and survivors as well as on other people’s dignity, by threatening their right to information and education.

e. The right to truth is often invoked in the context of gross human rights violations and breaches of humanitarian law. The right to the truth implies knowing the full and complete truth as to the events that transpired and who participated in them, including knowing the specific circumstances in which the violations took place, as well as the reasons for them. Holocaust distortion may violate this right.

  1. After each group presents, a debriefing discussion follows:

a. What new perspectives did this activity open for you?

b. What is the main learning point you can draw from this activity?

c. How can the lens of human rights help us better understand the impact of Holocaust distortion?

Part 2 (45 min)

  1. The participants are informed that, for a more in-depth analysis of the connection between Holocaust distortion and human rights, in the next part of the activity the focus will be on one human right, namely freedom of opinion and expression. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
  2. The trainer explains that freedom of expression is a human right, but it is not an absolute right. It may be lawfully restricted in specific and limited conditions. For example, attempts by certain countries to advance distorted narratives (to deflect their responsibility for the Holocaust onto other countries of groups of people), while at the same time sanctioning those who say otherwise, are not justifiable limitations on freedom of expression. They are, in fact, examples of Holocaust distortion. Restricting legitimate historical research, public discussions and events infringes upon international standards on freedom of expression. Holocaust denial, however, does not. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Holocaust denial is not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. Laws against Holocaust denial also exist in Israel and the Russian Federation. Some courts in the United States and the United Kingdom have ascertained through court decisions that the Holocaust occurred. Moreover, various laws and regulations about hate speech exist in different countries, which means that freedom of speech can be limited in certain conditions, including through means of criminal law. In some contexts, national legislation may criminalize Holocaust denial, while government institutions propagate or encourage other forms of Holocaust distortion.
  3. Then, the trainer informs the participants that they are going to hear a series of statements linking freedom of opinion and expression with Holocaust distortion. The participants will have to position themselves according to whether they agree or disagree with the statement. If they agree, they should move to the side of the room where the sign “I agree” is posted. If they disagree, they should move to the side of the room where the sign “I disagree” is posted. The trainer can also choose to create a continuum between the two sides and to allow participants to position themselves in between as well.
  4. The trainer reads out the statements, one by one. Each statement is read twice and, after the participants have taken their places, they are invited to comment on their position. The trainer invites comments by alternating between the two sides. After hearing the opinions of the others, the participants can change their position if they wish (if the arguments they hear from the other side make them change their mind). If someone changes their position, the trainer invites them to express what made them change their mind. In an online setting, the agree/disagree signs can be replaced with tool such as polls, Menti, Miro or even spreadsheets in which participants move their names along different cells.
  5. The statements given below are designed to stimulate reflection upon the link between Holocaust distortion and human rights. They highlight the importance of expressing disagreement in a respectful way and the power of argumentation. There is no need to go into a great deal of detail at the beginning of the activity since many of the points should emerge during the course of discussion. The statements are used for pedagogical purposes in order to stimulate reflection and discussion, and face participants with diverse points of view. They do not represent the positions of the organizations promoting this training. The statements1 are the following:
  • Limiting freedom of opinion and expression cannot combat Holocaust distortion and will only antagonize people.
  • Holocaust distortion can be combatted by presenting accurate and documented facts about the Holocaust.
  • Holocaust distortion is disrespectful, but it is not harmful.
  • Holocaust distortion conflicts with the right to receive information.
  1. After all the statements are discussed, the trainer invites the participants to a debriefing discussion, based on the following questions:

a. Were you surprised by the extent of agreement/disagreement with the statements? In what way?

b. If you changed your position during the discussion, what made you do it?

c. In your experience, what does usually make people change their mind about a subject?

d. How can a culture of respect for human dignity contribute to a decrease in manifestations of Holocaust distortion?

The trainer concludes by inviting the participants to further reflect on the aspects discussed and on the way in which constructive disagreement can stimulate further inquiry and can open avenues to curiosity, dialogue and respectful exchanges. Engaging participants in such activities can help them both to better understand their own point of view and find arguments to support it and to understand other people’s points of view and their arguments.

 

1 The statements are used for pedagogical purposes in order to stimulate reflection, discussion and face participants with diverse points of view. They do not represent the positions of the organizations promoting this training.

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