Application Number 24662/94

European Court of Human Rights

The case concerned a publication in Le Monde regarding the defence of the memory of Marshal Pétain. The president of the Association for the Defence of the Memory of Marshal Pétain and the lawyer representing him were charged for publicly defending the crimes of collaboration with the enemy. The ECtHR found a violation of Article 10, noting that the publication did not support Nazi atrocities.


Theme(s): Holocaust (Other)

Date: 23 September 1998

Description of applicants: 1st applicant: President of the Association for the Defense of the Memory of Marshal Pétain. 2nd applicant: Lawyer who had assisted in the defense of Marshal Petain in his trial for collaboration with Germany during World War II (he had died and so his wife had the standing to continue).

Brief description of facts: The daily newspaper Le Monde published a one-page advertisement bearing the title “People of France, you have short memories” in large print, beneath which appeared in small italics, “Philippe Pétain, 17 June 1941”. The text ended with an invitation to readers to write to the Association for the Defence of the Memory of Marshal Pétain and the National Pétain-Verdun Association. The text was written by the second applicant. The applicants were convicted of publicly defending the crimes of collaboration with the enemy.

(Alleged) target(s) of speech:

The Court’s assessment of impugned speech: The Court held that the publication did not justify the atrocities of the Nazis but sought to secure a revision of Philippe Pétain’s conviction. As such, this was protected speech and, as a result, the Court found a violation of Article 10.

Important paragraph(s) from the judgment:

Para. 53: There is no doubt that, like any other remark directed against the Convention’s underlying values, the justification of a pro-Nazi policy could not be allowed to enjoy the protection afforded by Article 10. In the present case, however, the applicants explicitly stated their disapproval of “Nazi atrocities and persecutions” and of “German omnipotence and barbarism.” Thus they were not so much praising a policy as a man, and doing so for a purpose – namely securing revision of Philippe Pétain’s conviction – whose pertinence and legitimacy at least, if not the means employed to achieve it, were recognised by the Court of Appeal. The court ruled that the case “does not belong to the category of clearly established historical facts – such as the Holocaust – whose negation or revision would be removed from the protection of Article 10 by Article 17.”

Para. 55: The Court further notes that the events referred to in the publication had occurred more than forty years ago. Even though remarks like those the applicants made are always likely to reopen the controversy and bring back memories of past sufferings, the lapse of time makes it inappropriate to deal with such remarks, forty years on, with the same severity as ten or twenty years previously.

ECHR Article: Article 10

Decision: Violation

Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? No