France 2016/2017

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France 2016/2017

In response to several violent attacks, the state of emergency was extended four times during the year; emergency measures restricted human rights disproportionately. In October, the authorities evicted an informal settlement at Calais, where more than 6,500 migrants and asylum-seekers lived.

Counter-terror and security

Several violent attacks were committed during the year. On 13 June, a police officer and his partner were killed in their home in the Paris Region. On 14 July, 86 people were killed in Nice by a man who deliberately drove a truck into the crowd gathered to celebrate France’s national holiday. On 26 July, a priest was killed in his church near Rouen in northwestern France.

A week after the attack in Nice, Parliament voted to renew the state of emergency in place since co-ordinated terrorist attacks on Paris in November 2015, until 26 January 2017. On 15 December, Parliament voted to extend it again until 15 July 2017.

The state of emergency gave the Ministry of the Interior and police exceptional powers including the possibility to conduct house searches with no judicial authorization and to submit individuals to administrative control measures to restrict their liberty on grounds of vague evidence falling below the threshold required for criminal prosecution.1

Using these powers, the authorities conducted more than 4,000 house searches without judicial authorization and subjected more than 400 individuals to assigned residence orders. As of 22 November, the orders applied to 95 individuals. Emergency measures disproportionately restricted freedom of movement and the right to private life.

On 10 June, the UN Committee against Torture raised concerns regarding allegations of excessive use of force by police in the context of administrative searches conducted using the emergency powers, and called for investigations into those allegations.

Parliament also passed new legislation strengthening administrative and judicial powers in the area of counter-terrorism. On 3 June, Parliament adopted a new law that granted the Minister of the Interior power to use administrative control measures against individuals allegedly returning from conflict areas who are deemed to constitute a threat to public security. The law extended the power of judicial authorities to authorize house searches at any time for the purposes of investigating terrorism-related offences.

The law also made the regular consultation of websites deemed to be inciting or glorifying terrorism an offence unless those websites are consulted in good faith, for research purposes or other professional reasons with the aim of informing the general public. The vague definition of the offence increased the likelihood of the prosecution of individuals for behaviour that falls within the scope of legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and information.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

On 24 October the authorities began the eviction of more than 6,500 migrants and asylum-seekers living in the informal settlement known as “The Jungle” in Calais, a process that took several days. Migrants and asylum-seekers were relocated in reception centres throughout France where they were given information regarding asylum procedures. The authorities failed to genuinely consult migrants and asylum-seekers or provide them with adequate information prior to the eviction.

Civil society organizations raised concerns regarding the process for the approximately 1,600 unaccompanied minors in the camp. Their situation was to be assessed jointly by French and UK authorities in view of their best interests and/or possible transfer to the UK to be reunited with their family. The authorities did not have the capacity to register all of the minors, and some were allegedly turned away on the grounds of presumed age without undergoing a thorough assessment. On 2 November the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child raised concerns over minors in Calais who were left without adequate shelter, food and medical services during the eviction operation. As of mid-November, about 330 minors had been transferred to the UK.

Due to the lack of reception capacity and resources to register asylum applications in the Paris region, more than 3,800 asylum-seekers lived in degrading conditions and slept rough for months in the 19th district of Paris until the authorities transferred them to reception centres on 3 November.

On 29 November, authorities rejected the asylum application of a man from the war-torn region of South Kordofan and forcibly returned him to Sudan despite the risk of being persecuted. On 20 November, authorities released another Sudanese man from Darfur who was at risk of being forcibly returned.

The government pledged to accept 6,000 refugees under the EU-Turkey migration control deal and to resettle 3,000 refugees from Lebanon.

On 9 December the Council of State, the highest administrative court, rejected the decree signed by the Prime Minister in September 2015 that authorized the extradition of Moukhtar Abliazov, a Kazakh citizen, to Russia for financial offences as the extradition request had been motivated by political reasons.

Freedom of assembly

Frequent demonstrations took place between March and September to protest against the government-backed proposal to reform the Labour Code, which was adopted in July. A minority of demonstrators engaged in violent acts and clashed with police.

Since the fourth renewal of the state of emergency in July, the authorities were expressly permitted to ban public demonstrations by claiming that they were unable to ensure public order. Dozens of demonstrations were banned and hundreds of individuals were subjected to administrative measures, restricting their freedom of movement and preventing them from attending demonstrations.

On several occasions, police used excessive force against protesters, including by using tear gas grenades, charging at them violently and using rubber bullets and sting ball grenades that left hundreds injured.

Discrimination

Roma people continued to be forcibly evicted from informal settlements without being genuinely consulted or offered alternative housing. According to civil society organizations, 4,615 individuals were forcibly evicted in the first six months of the year. On 13 July, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights called on the authorities to provide adequate notice and information as well as rehousing options to all those affected by an eviction.

In October, Parliament adopted a law on legal gender recognition for transgender people. The law established a procedure which allows transgender people to seek legal recognition of their gender without fulfilling any medical requirements. However, it still imposes on transgender people some requirements including a name change or a physical appearance in line with gender identity.

Several mayors adopted measures to restrict the wearing of beachwear deemed incompatible with hygiene and with the principles of secularism and maintenance of public order. In particular, authorities sought to ban the wearing of full-covering beachwear also known as the “burkini”. On 26 August, the Council of State suspended the measure in Villeneuve-Loubet in southern France, deeming it not necessary to ensure public order.

Corporate accountability

On 29 November the National Assembly adopted a bill imposing a duty on certain large French companies to implement a “vigilance plan” to prevent serious human rights abuses and environmental damage in relation to their own activities and those of subsidiaries and other established business relations, and subjecting them to fines for non-compliance. In addition, any inadequacy in the plan which leads to human rights abuses could be used by victims to claim damages against the company before a French court. At the end of the year, the bill was pending before the Senate.

Arms trade

In June a Palestinian family lodged a complaint against French company Exxelia Technologies for complicity in manslaughter and war crimes in Gaza. In 2014, three of the family’s sons were killed by a missile fired at their house in Gaza City by Israeli forces. According to subsequent investigations, a component of the missile had been manufactured by Exxelia Technologies. France remained the fourth largest arms exporter in the world, selling to countries including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

  1. Upturned lives: The disproportionate impact of France’s state of emergency (EUR 21/3364/2016)

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