The main subject of the hearing was the presentation and subsequent discussion on the ECTR proposal for a European Framework Statute on Promoting Tolerance.
The idea of the Statute and its innovative solutions have received a very warm welcome among the MP's and Senators present at the hearing. A wide array of comments and questions followed.
The Senators indicated that the substance of the ECTR proposals touches on very thorny issue of the Italian public debate. One of the outstanding issues is the challenge of immigration, integration and coexistence of various ethnic and religious groups. Another one is hate speech in the public directed to various minorities and denial of historical facts. To address the issues, a group of MP's and Senators have recently initiated legislative proposals of Laws on combating homophobia and denial of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, these proposals were rejected by the Parliament, but they should be treated only as a beginning of a process that ultimately will lead to the adoption of progressive legal solutions. In this regards, the ECTR indicated that in their proposal not only the denial of the Holocaust should be a crime, but the denial of any other genocide that was judged as such by International Tribunals. Nowadays this is relevant to Srebrenica and Ruanda. Moreover, the "denial provision" is not intended to protect the past, as to safeguard the future, because denials of genocide are usually only the first step to incite new hate and ultimately crime. "Never again" is thus not only a slogan but a sincere obligation towards the present and future generations
The Chairman of the Commission endorsed the ECTR project, indicating at the same time that it is unique in the attempt to define a line in the shady area what is tolerance and what should be the limitations to tolerance; the freedom of expression and the need to limit it, as allowed for by the European Convention on Human Rights. This is also an ethical question, and while you cannot always define everything by the Law, the Law should give concrete guidelines that follow development in the societies, which are constantly changing.
Another voice in the discussion raised the practical aspect of the Law, namely the proposals on education and mass media. Especially the new mass media (internet, social networks, private tv channels) have changed our liberal democracies. This new phenomenon requires a deep reshuffling of our attitude to the freedom of expression, as the internet is freely spreading racists and xenophobic opinions that would be not allowed in more traditional media. Moreover, the new platforms give legitimacy to hate groups which normally would barely exist at the edges of society. The traditional media are less "violent" and this has a direct effect on the young generations. The Commission gave example of TV programs that they dealt with and which encouraged anorexia or self-inflicted pain.
The meeting concluded by the invitation of the Chairman of the Commission to the ECTR for further cooperation. The Commission will use the ECTR project in their legislative work in the future, and will invite ECTR experts as advisers, where appropriate and needed.
The meeting on the side of the ECTR was attended by Ireneusz Bil, Secretary General and two legal advisers - Prof. Yoram Dinstein and Hon. Ugo Genesio.