The state of emergency, introduced in 2015, was eventually lifted. A new law increased the government’s powers to impose counter-terrorism measures on vague grounds and without full judicial scrutiny. Authorities continued to return Afghan nationals to Afghanistan in violation of the principle of non-refoulement. A new vigilance law imposing obligations on large companies entered into force.
Counter-terror and security
In July, Parliament approved the government’s proposal to extend the state of emergency until 1 November and then to end it. It had been in force since the attacks carried out in the capital, Paris, on 13 November 2015.
In October, Parliament adopted a governmental bill to introduce new counter-terrorism measures into ordinary law. The law increased the powers of the Minister of the Interior and the prefects to impose administrative measures on individuals, in cases where there was not sufficient evidence to open a criminal investigation. The measures included restrictions on freedom of movement, house searches, closure of places of worship, and the establishment of security zones where law enforcement officials were permitted to exercise enhanced stop-and-search powers. The law required prefects to seek a judicial authorization only in respect of searches.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism had in September expressed concern that the bill included a vague definition of what constituted a threat to national security and had the effect of transposing emergency measures into ordinary law.
Freedom of assembly
Prefects continued to resort to emergency measures to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. In particular, they adopted dozens of measures restricting the freedom of movement of individuals to prevent them from attending public assemblies. Authorities imposed these measures on vague grounds and against individuals with no apparent connection with any terrorism-related offence. Prefects imposed 17 measures to prevent individuals from participating in the public assemblies calling for police accountability after a young man reported he had been raped by a police officer on 2 February. The Paris Prefect of Police imposed 10 measures to prevent protesters from attending the public assembly scheduled for International Workers’ Day on 1 May.
On 5 January, a police officer was indicted for firing a sting-ball grenade that blinded protester Laurent Théron in one eye. The trial of the police officer was ongoing at the end of the year. The investigation into the alleged excessive use of force by police against dozens of protesters who had attended the public assemblies organized in 2016 against the reform of labour laws was still ongoing at the end of the year.
In March, a new law on the use of force and weapons by law enforcement officials entered into force. The law permitted the use of some weapons, including kinetic impact projectiles, in instances that did not fully comply with international standards.
In June, the Constitutional Court ruled that the emergency measure that had allowed prefects to restrict freedom of movement was unconstitutional. However, in July Parliament included the same measure in the law that extended the state of emergency. Prefects imposed 37 such measures between 16 July and 30 October.
Refugees’ and migrants’ rights
Between January and July, the prefectural authorities of Alpes-Maritimes department stopped 28,000 refugees and migrants who had crossed the border from Italy. The authorities sent 95% of them back to Italy, including unaccompanied minors, without providing them with the right to seek asylum in France.
Between January and August, authorities placed more than 1,600 Afghan nationals in detention centres in view of returning them to other European countries under the Dublin III Regulation – a mechanism for allocating responsibility for the examination of asylum claims among EU member states − or to Afghanistan. In the same period, according to civil society organizations, authorities returned about 300 Afghan nationals to other EU countries and expelled at least 10 of them to Afghanistan. Authorities returned 640 individuals to Afghanistan in 2016. All returns to Afghanistan constituted a violation of the principle of non-refoulement − the principle according to which states are obliged not to return any person to a country where they would risk human rights violations − given the volatile security and human rights situation in Afghanistan.
In the aftermath of the eviction of the informal settlement near Calais, known as “The Jungle”, in November 2016, authorities put in place punitive measures against the hundreds of migrants and refugees who had subsequently returned to Calais. They enhanced police stop-and-search operations, which raised concerns over ethnic profiling. In March, municipal authorities prohibited humanitarian organizations from distributing meals to migrants and asylum-seekers in the town. At the end of March, a court ruled that the decision constituted an inhumane and degrading treatment and suspended it. Municipal authorities refused to fully comply with the ruling and only allowed the distribution of one meal a day. In June, the Public Defender of Rights (Ombudsperson) expressed concerns about the human rights violations experienced by migrants and asylum-seekers in Calais and called on authorities to ensure the respect of their social and economic rights, in particular access to water and to adequate housing, and to provide them with effective opportunities to seek asylum in France.
Authorities continued to prosecute and convict individuals who supported migrants and refugees in entering or staying in France irregularly, for example by providing food or shelter. In August, an appeal court convicted Cédric Herrou, a farmer living close to the French-Italian border, and sentenced him to a suspended sentence of four months’ imprisonment for helping migrants and refugees to cross the border into France and for sheltering them.
In January, a law extending the moratorium on evictions of informal settlements during winter entered into force. Authorities continued to forcibly evict people from informal settlements, many of them Roma migrants. Civil society organizations reported that authorities had evicted 2,689 individuals in the first half of the year.
On 14 March, the Court of Justice of the EU failed to uphold Muslim women’s rights to non-discrimination by ruling that a private French employer had not breached EU anti-discrimination law in dismissing a woman for wearing a headscarf.
In March, a law imposing a “duty of vigilance” on large companies entered into force. The law required companies to establish and implement a “vigilance plan” to prevent serious human rights abuses and environmental damage resulting directly or indirectly from their own activities and those of subsidiaries and other business partners. Victims of human rights abuses resulting from a company’s failure to comply with the law could seek compensation before a French court.
The government continued to license weapon transfers to governments that were likely to use them to commit serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. The government continued to license weapon transfers to members of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen and to Egypt.
In May, the Senate recommended the use of armed remotely piloted vehicles (drones) for the armed forces to improve their effectiveness in military operations. The Minister of Defence confirmed concrete plans to use armed drones from 2019, but the authorities were yet to articulate and implement clear policies on their use and transfer.