France: Abusive and illegal use of force by police at Redon rave highlights need for accountability

As President Emmanuel Macron closes the Beauvau consultations on “modernizing public security policy”, Amnesty France is publishing a new report, “Redon: Freeparty repression” highlighting human rights violations committed by police during at the Teknival music festival in near Redon, last June.

On 18 June 2021, police fired tear gas, sting-ball grenades and explosive GM2L grenades at festival-goers at the unauthorized rave over a period of seven hours, and again on the following day. They then illegally destroyed the sound system. One young man lost his hand, and eleven police officers and dozens of participants were injured.

Using interviews with a dozen people who were present as well as videos and other documents, Amnesty International France has analysed the law enforcement response to this event in terms of international human rights law.

The evidence from the Redon policing operation indicates that the use of force was neither necessary nor proportionate, as is required by both French law and the United Nation’s basic principles on the use of force.

“It is unacceptable that law enforcement operations a fortiori to disperse a simple festival gathering, led to injuries, even mutilation,” said Cécile Coudriou, president of Amnesty International France.

Whether the banning of the gathering was legitimate or not, law enforcement officers did not respect the principles of necessity and proportionality on the use of force under international law. Force was used as a first resort, without mediation nor prior communication, without directions on how to evacuate the site, which was in a field, at night. Grenades were thrown at people who were gathered for a party, in extremely dangerous and low-visibility conditions, when such weapons can maim. Neither a ban on the festival nor violence by some participants towards the police can justify the failure of the state and its agents to respect human rights in all circumstances.

The Redon incident is not an isolated case. In 2019, a man, Steve Caniço, was killed during a night-time police operation at a party in Nantes and over recent years, Amnesty International has been highlighting numerous serious injuries sustained by protesters across France. This context of repeated cases of excessive use of force in policing calls for urgent responses from the French authorities to put an end to human rights violations.

“In the face of repeated scenes of violence and serious injuries during law enforcement operations, it is high time for de-escalation strategies to be implemented. The police must respect human rights and the UN’s basic principles on the use of force to guarantee people’s safety! Their legitimacy is at stake: the public’s trust in them risks being undermined when force is used excessively, illegally or abusively,” said Cécile Coudriou.

Although a preliminary investigation was launched in the case of the young man who lost his hand, the lack of critical assessment on the operation, along with the absence of an independent mechanism for investigating allegations of police violence in France, raises concerns about accountability. The police officers and their superiors should be held to account for this operation and the use of excessive force examined.

“When it comes to excessive, arbitrary, abusive or otherwise unlawful use of force, the main factor contributing to such behaviour is the prevalence of impunity. Law enforcement officials are more likely to break laws, rules and regulations when they do not fear the consequences of their actions,” said Cécile Coudriou.

Amnesty International is calling for the creation of an independent body to investigate complaints against law enforcement officers. The organisation is also asking the French government to ban the use of explosive grenades in police operations and to review intervention tactics to ensure that they are based on dialogue and de-escalation strategies, in order to reduce the use of force and the risk of human rights violations.

29.06.21 I Serious injury in Redon: Amnesty International France calls on the French Interior Minister to hold an impartial and independent enquiry (in French)
22.09.20 I Report: New policing framework: a missed opportunity (in French)

Extracts from the report’s recommendations
The Redon case took place in a context of repeated cases of excessive use of force in law enforcement operations. This situation calls for urgent responses from the French authorities to put an end to these human rights violations:
• ensure that a judicial enquiry is launched as soon as possible to shed light on police interventions, the use of force and the injuries inflicted on the participants at this event, in particular in the case of the person who lost his hand;
• immediately ban the use of sting-ball grenades and explosive tear gas grenades in law enforcement operations;
• initiate structural reforms of policing to develop dialogue and de-escalation strategies;
• issue clear instructions to local authorities and law enforcement agencies on the conditions for the use of force and the risks involved in the event of illegal use of force;
• ensure that local authorities and law enforcement agencies are trained in mediation, negotiation and communication techniques and procedures in order to be able to resolve situations without resorting to force;
• create an independent body with responsibility for investigating complaints against law enforcement officers.