The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] on Thursday upheld [judgment; press release, PDF] a German injunction preventing the activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) [advocacy website] from using Holocaust [USHMM backgrounder] images in an animal rights poster campaign. The campaign featured pictures of Holocaust victims alongside images of animals kept in mass stocks. PETA argued that the use of the images was governed by article 10 [text] of the European Convention on Human Rights [official website], which protects the freedom of expression. Under article 10 debates concerning public interest, such as animal rights, are afforded particular protection. The ECHR rejected PETA's argument, upholding the decision of a German court to bar use of the images in the campaign. The German court recognized the poster campaign was not meant to debase concentration camp inmates but found the "instrumentalisation" of the inmates' suffering violated the personality rights of survivors of the Holocaust. Furthermore, the German court found the use of the images could not be divorced from the historical and social context in which they were used and accepted the German government's special obligation towards Jews living in Germany. Based on these considerations, the ECHR decided the German court had provided reasons relevant and sufficient to uphold the injunction.
German courts have been called upon before to adjudicate disputes involving the freedom of expression and the Holocaust. In 2010 a German court convicted [JURIST report] UK Bishop Richard Williamson of denying the Holocaust. Williamson's charges stemmed from a 2009 Swedish television broadcast in which Williamson doubted 6 million Jews were killed in gas chambers. Holocaust denial constitutes a crime under Section 130 (3) [text] of the German federal criminal code. As legislation is passed worldwide banning the denial of genocide, government's are increasingly being called to balance freedom of expression and human rights [JURIST op-ed].