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Brussels, 8 April 2008

European hearing on crimes committed by totalitarian regimes

Today (8 April 2008) a European Hearing entitled "crimes committed by totalitarian regimes" took place in Brussels. This was organised jointly by the Slovenian Presidency of the European Union and the European Commission around the two key issues of recognition of the crimes and reconciliation. There were four sessions: (i) How to improve knowledge about totalitarian crimes? (ii) How to promote public awareness about totalitarian crimes? (iii) What lessons can be drawn from successful experiences? (iv) How to achieve reconciliation?

The aim of the Hearing is to contribute to attaining a greater knowledge of these complex issues and to enable an exchange of views between independent experts, representatives of national institutes and NGOs dealing with these issues.

Member States, Members of the European Parliament and representatives of the Council of Europe were also present and participated in the debate.

The Hearing enabled very rich and fruitful debates on the ways and methods used by Member States to ensure recognition of totalitarian crimes and to achieve reconciliation. The Presidency of the European Union intends to publish a book compiling the various contributions.

The Hearing was organised in response to the request made by the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the European Union on 19 April 2007 to "organise a public European hearing on crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by totalitarian regimes as well as those who publicly condone, deny, grossly distort or trivialise them, and emphasises the need for appropriate redress of injustice and if appropriate submit a proposal for a framework decision on these crimes". On this date, Member States reached political agreement on a Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia. The Commission was also mandated "to examine and to report to the Council within two years after the entry into force of the Framework Decision, whether an additional instrument is needed, to cover publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes directed against a group of persons defined by reference to criteria other than race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin, such as social status or political convictions".

The Commission will analyse the contributions and debates at the hearing and will use them as input to prepare its report to the Council. Dealing with totalitarian crimes is a complex and sensitive issue. Each Member State has different ways of managing its historical memory and has to find its own way to achieve reconciliation with its past. The European Union is in itself an example of reconciliation. The EU has limited powers to deal with these issues, and its role can only be to facilitate this process as much as possible by promoting discussions and by providing opportunities for mutual exchange.

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