Police ill-treatment and impunity
Incidents of abuse by police officers continued to be reported. The National Commission on Ethics and Security (Commission Nationale de Déontologie de la Sécurité, CNDS) reported in April that complaints of police misconduct in 2005 had risen by 10 per cent over the previous year, particularly in relation to minors, asylum-seekers and migrants. The internal police disciplinary body reported a 14.5 per cent increase in the number of sanctions issued against police officers in 2005 compared with 2004.
• On 17 August Albertine Sow, who was six months pregnant, was violently handled and punched by police when she asked what was happening during a violent arrest of two young men in Paris. A relative of the young men also tried to intervene. The situation deteriorated and both the relative and Albertine Sow were hit by police batons on the head and ribs. Albertine Sow lodged a complaint with the disciplinary body of the Paris police on 19 August, supported by numerous witnesses. The same weekend, a judicial proceeding was opened into the incident alleging a group assault on the police.
• Following his intervention in the violent arrest of a stranger in Montpellier, Brice Petit was convicted in 2005 of defamation for insulting a police officer, but acquitted of other charges. In March 2006 the Court of Appeal in Montpellier confirmed his acquittal. The same month, a complaint Brice Petit had lodged against the police for their violent treatment of him during arrest was closed without action.
Violence against women
Violence against women remained widespread, with official data indicating that on average one woman died every four days as a result of violence by her partner. More than half of the women killed had been the victims of domestic violence on previous occasions. It was reported that almost one in 10 women in France suffered domestic violence. Other hidden but persistent forms of gender-based violence included forced marriage, and the trafficking of women for the purpose of prostitution.
Despite measures taken by the state towards improving its response to the issue of domestic violence, co-ordination and resources remained inadequate. The procedures for women trying to get access to justice were slow and complex. Foreign women faced specific additional difficulties, including social isolation and a fear of losing residence rights.
Asylum and immigration
The government proposed further restrictions on the rights of asylum-seekers, even though the number of asylum applications in 2006 fell by 40 per cent compared with the previous year.
Albania, Macedonia, Madagascar, Niger and Tanzania were added to the list of 12 "safe" countries from which asylum-seekers are dealt with under a fast-track procedure with reduced protection and no social support. Appeals lodged under this system do not lead to the suspension of expulsion proceedings. Following criticism from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including AI, the government abandoned moves to reduce from one month to 15 days the time allowed to appeal against a rejected asylum application.
A new immigration law, under which irregular migrants will no longer benefit from automatic regularization of status after 10 years' residency in France, was passed in July despite strong popular opposition. Regularization will now take place on a case-by-case basis. Family reunification applications will be allowed after 18 months (previously one year) and applicants must demonstrate sufficient financial means to support family members wishing to join them. For migrants entering France specifically to work, different forms of residence permits will be granted according to the length of contract and level of professional skill in order to support the programme of "selective immigration". A special three-year permit will be created for "highly qualified" immigrants. In other cases, residence permits will be limited to the duration of the holder's work contract. As loss of employment would lead to the risk of expulsion, some migrants will face heightened risk of exploitative working conditions. Foreign residents convicted of "rebellion" (resisting arrest) may have their 10-year residence permit replaced with a one-year permit, renewable annually. The offence of "rebellion" is extremely broad and is commonly cited in controversial arrests or as a counter-charge to accusations of police misconduct.
Expulsions of illegal immigrants continued, totalling some 24,000 by the end of the year. In June the Minister of the Interior offered financial assistance to families fulfilling certain criteria, such as having children in school, to return voluntarily to their country of origin and a review of their migration status if they declined such aid.
• On 28 September, three police officers appeared before the Magistrates' Court in Bobigny charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death in January 2003 of Getu Hagos Mariame, an Ethiopian national whose asylum application had been rejected. He died in hospital after being forcibly restrained by police officers accompanying his expulsion. The officers allegedly used such force that they blocked the arterial blood flow to his brain. The officers were suspended from duty for 10 months but were later readmitted to the border patrol police. In November, the senior officer involved was convicted of involuntary homicide and given a six-month suspended sentence. The other two officers involved were acquitted.
Racism and discrimination
Racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks continued to be a problem. In March the National Consultative Human Rights Commission (CNCDH) reported a 38 per cent decrease in racist threats and attacks during the previous year, although a national survey revealed an increase in racist attitudes. Mosques were vandalized in Carcassonne and Quimper at the beginning of Ramadan.
• In February a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped in Paris by a gang and held for ransom for three weeks before being tortured to death. The suspected gang leader said they had chosen Ilan Halimi because he was Jewish and therefore assumed to be rich. The event sparked protests involving tens of thousands of demonstrators in Paris and across the country. Anti-Semitic attacks followed the demonstrations.
Poor prison conditions
Prison conditions remained poor. A report by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights strongly criticized conditions inside prisons and noted chronic overcrowding. The Minister of Justice stated in July that the prison population had reached almost 60,000, although the number of prisoners held in pre-trial detention had significantly fallen.
Restriction on freedom of expression
On 12 October parliament adopted a bill that would make it a crime to contest that the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 constituted genocide. The new crime would be punishable by up to five years' imprisonment and a fine. The bill was awaiting approval by the Senate and the President.
'War on terror' concerns
Guantánamo Bay detainees
Six former detainees at the US military base in Guantánamo Bay went on trial in France for alleged "criminal conspiracy in relation to a terrorist enterprise". The six, all French nationals, were captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and transferred to Guantánamo Bay. In 2004 and 2005 they were released to France, where they subsequently spent an average of 18 months in remand detention. The men had been interviewed in Guantánamo Bay in 2002 by French secret service agents. Although the information gathered was not presented at the trial in France, the men's lawyers said that it had triggered the judicial investigation. The court, which had been due to deliver its judgment in September, asked for further investigations, including the questioning of high-ranking officials from the secret services and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A new trial was due to start in May 2007.
A report of AI's investigations into secret rendition flights by the USA in the "war on terror", published in April, contained information on six flights suspected to have landed or made stopovers at French airports. The information cast further doubt on claims by the French authorities that they had been unaware of such flights. A preliminary inquiry on this matter was opened following a complaint lodged by two NGOs in December 2005, but the public prosecutor closed the inquiry in August, saying that it was not possible to gather information on the identity of passengers of the flights in question.
Law 2006-64, which was passed in January, gives custodial judges the authority to order up to two additional 24-hour extensions of police custody in terrorism cases - in addition to the two 24-hour extensions already permitted - where there is believed to be a serious risk of an imminent terrorist attack or where international co-operation is necessary to the investigation. The new law means that a detainee may be held for six days before appearing before a judge. Suspects have access to a lawyer after 72 hours, 96 hours and 120 hours.
In January, following a 2005 decision by the Constitutional Council that France's ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights required a constitutional reform, President Jacques Chirac announced his intention to amend the Constitution to reflect the prohibition of the death penalty in all circumstances. Such a measure would also enable France to become party to the Covenant's Second Optional Protocol, aimed at total abolition of the death penalty.
AI country reports/visits
• France: Violence against women - a matter for the state (AI Index: EUR 21/001/2006)
• Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's concerns in the region, January-June 2006 (AI Index: EUR 01/017/2006)