Migration, refugees and asylum-seekers
Following the election in May of a new government, responsibility for refugee protection, including the oversight of the government agency that determines the status of refugees (OFPRA), was transferred to the newly created Ministry for Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-Development. The move could lead to violations of the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees by blurring the distinction between immigration policy and asylum obligations.
A new law on immigration, integration and asylum entered into force on 21 November. It restricts the right to family reunification and introduces DNA testing to verify family relationships. It was widely criticized on human rights grounds, including by the National Ethics Advisory Committee.
- On 26 April the European Court of Human Rights found that France had violated the principle of non-refoulement and the right to an effective national remedy by ruling to return Asebeha Gebremedhin, an Eritrean asylum-seeker, to Eritrea from the French border in 2005 before his asylum appeal had been heard. The Court noted the obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to provide a right of appeal with suspensive effect before returning someone to a country where they may be at risk of torture or other serious ill-treatment. The new immigration bill introduces a suspensive right of appeal (ie that prevents the individual from being returned until the appeal decision is made) but includes substantial restrictions, including a 48-hour time limit on lodging an appeal and the possibility for the judge to reject the appeal without interviewing the asylum-seeker in person if the appeal is considered manifestly ill-founded.
- On 11 May, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) found that France had violated the Convention against Torture when it expelled an asylum-seeker to Tunisia under an accelerated asylum procedure. Adel Tebourski had been forcibly returned from France to Tunisia in August 2006 after his release from prison. He had made a claim for asylum after he was stripped of his dual French-Tunisian nationality, but his claim was rejected under the accelerated procedure. He was returned to Tunisia before his appeal had been heard and despite a request from the CAT for France to suspend his expulsion while the Committee examined his case.
- On 3 June Tunisian asylum-seeker Houssine Tarkhani was forcibly returned from France to Tunisia. In May, he had been questioned by a judge in relation to suspected terrorism-related activities, but was never charged with any criminal offence. When he discovered the nature of the suspicions against him, he applied for asylum. His application was rejected under the accelerated procedure. He lodged an appeal with the Refugee Appeals Commission, but was forcibly returned to Tunisia before a decision was made. On arrival in Tunisia, Houssine Tarkhani was detained and, according to reports, taken to the State Security Department in Tunis where he was held incommunicado and tortured before being charged with several broadly defined terrorism offences.
Ill-treatment by police
Allegations of police ill-treatment were made throughout the year. Internal investigatory bodies and criminal courts failed to deal with complaints of human rights violations perpetrated by law enforcement officials with the thoroughness, promptness or impartiality that international law requires.
- In August, Albertine Sow lodged a complaint with the National Commission on Ethics and Security relating to an incident in August 2006 when she was allegedly ill-treated by police officers while six months pregnant. A criminal complaint by her against the police officers had been closed without investigation by the public prosecutor in November 2006, despite numerous witness testimonies and medical reports supporting her complaint. Charges against Albertine Sow and her brother Jean-Pierre Yenga Fele for assaulting police officers were still under investigation.
- In September the investigating judge closed the investigation into the complaint of police ill-treatment submitted by Gwenaël Rihet in January 2005, on the grounds of lack of evidence. Gwenaël Rihet, a journalist, was allegedly assaulted by a police officer on 15 May 2004 while filming a demonstration at the Cannes Film Festival. The incident was recorded on video but the judge refused to view it, stating that she had read a transcript of the video written by the National Police Service Inspectorate. The transcript stated that the video showed no evidence of wrongdoing by the accused police officer. A video containing footage from a town security camera, also believed to have recorded the incident, was lost in the investigating judge’s office. Gwenaël Rihet’s lawyer submitted an appeal against the closure of the investigation, which was pending at the end of the year.
‘War on terror’
On 19 December, five French citizens previously detained in US custody at Guantánamo Bay before being returned to France in 2004 and 2005 were convicted of criminal association in relation to a terrorist enterprise. They were sentenced to a year’s imprisonment (taken as time served) plus a suspended sentence of between three and four years. One man was acquitted. The defendants had appeared before the Criminal Court of Paris in July 2006 but the case was suspended when the judge ordered additional information to be provided concerning visits of officers from the French secret services and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Guantánamo in 2002 and 2004, where they allegedly interviewed the six detainees. Previously classified documents received by the judge reportedly confirmed that the detainees were indeed interviewed by French officers. The defendants’ lawyers argued that their clients were appearing in the French court on the basis of testimony extracted from them in Guantánamo, outside any legal jurisdiction and while they were illegally detained, and that, as a result, the French criminal proceedings must be declared void. Four of the men had submitted appeals at the end of the year.
A new law was passed on 30 October creating an independent body to inspect places of detention, as required by the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. The body can visit all places of detention on French territory, including prisons, migration detention centres, border detention facilities, and secure psychiatric hospital wards. However, the law does not grant the body power to visit places of detention under French jurisdiction that are not on French territory, and allows detention centre authorities to refuse and postpone visits on numerous grounds.
On 2 October France acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. On 10 October France ratified Protocol 13 of the ECHR, concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.
In February the National Assembly adopted a bill presented by the Minister for Housing and Social Cohesion with the stated aim of creating a legally enforceable right to housing to all legal residents in the country who are unable to access such accommodation, or to remain in it, by their own means. The bill creates “arbitration commissions” that will assess complaints from individuals who allege that their right to adequate housing is not being fulfilled or is threatened. People designated as “priority cases” by these commissions will be entitled to appeal to the administrative court. Irregular migrants are specifically excluded from benefiting from the new provisions.