France: Unjust counter-terror measures used to “persecute not prosecute”

Despite the lifting of France’s state of emergency a year ago, exceptional counter-terrorism powers continue to be used to unjustly punish people without charge or trial, leaving scores languishing in a legal limbo, a new report from Amnesty International has found.

Punished without trial: The use of administrative control measures in the context of counter-terrorism in France reveals how control orders, by bypassing the ordinary criminal justice system and its principles, are imposing severe restrictions on people’s rights.

Emergency measures that were intended to be exceptional and temporary have now been firmly embedded into ordinary French law

Rym Khadhraoui, Amnesty International

“Measures introduced under the state of emergency were intended to be exceptional and temporary, but have now been firmly embedded into ordinary French law. They are damaging people’s lives by ruthlessly stripping away basic rights,” said Rym Khadhraoui, Amnesty International’s West Europe Researcher.

“France has created a second-tier justice system which targets people based on broad and vague criteria, relies on secret information and fails to offer a meaningful opportunity for them to defend themselves.”

By granting substantial discretion to the authorities to penalise people outside of the normal criminal justice system, administrative control measures are open to abuse and discriminatory application, including toward Muslims.

In a modern twist on the Orwellian “thought crime”, control measures are imposed on the basis of what someone might do in the future, rather than on any criminal act committed. Such “pre-crime” initiatives can have a dramatic impact on the lives of those affected and their families.

Based on imprecise criteria and typically on undisclosed information, control measures allow the Ministry of Interior to impose a wide range of restrictions on people. These include forbidding individuals from leaving a specific town, requiring them to report to the police daily and prohibiting them from contacting certain people.

Rochdi was subject to an administrative control measure that assigned him to the small town of Echirolles for a year-and-a-half. During that time he was unable to visit his mother who lived in a different municipality and struggled to get a job given the limited opportunities in Echirolles, a town of only 8km². “They ruined my life,” he told Amnesty International. “It is somehow worse than a prison sentence because we are in prison while being outside. At least in prison, there is no alternative.”

Control measures often result in absurd situations. In Rochdi’s case there was a clash between the requirement to work imposed on him by a judge and the restrictions imposed by his administrative control order. That clash ultimately led to Rochdi losing his job.

In cases like Rochdi’s, administrative control measures not only unfairly restrict a person’s freedom of movement, but also their right to private and family life and their right to work, all in violation of France’s obligations under international law.

Kamel Daoudi has been subject to a control order for more than ten years. Under the order he is forced to live in a village that is over 400km away from his family and he is required to report to the police station three times a day and respect a nightly curfew. French authorities refuse to renew his provisional residence permit and cannot send him to his country of nationality, Algeria, due to his risk of torture. As a result, he is effectively trapped indefinitely. He told Amnesty International: “This measure is dehumanising. My whole life is organised around the restrictions placed on me. It reduces my life to something that is very absurd.”

France’s state of emergency has been lifted only to reveal a permanent and draconian state of securitization

Rym Khadhraoui, Amnesty International

The report also reveals that people targeted under the state of emergency and who were not subsequently investigated or charged are still suffering severe consequences. People reported feeling traumatised by the actions of the authorities with continuing psychological harm and stress for them and their families. Current control measures could have similar long-lasting effects.

“France’s state of emergency has been lifted only to reveal a permanent and draconian state of securitization. Extraordinary measures have been normalised, evidence has been substituted for secret intelligence and people are being persecuted rather than prosecuted,” said Rym Khadhraoui.

“Whilst protecting people from violent attacks is vital, side-stepping the criminal justice system in order to target people on the assumption that they might commit crimes in the future is absurd and unjust. These control orders must be scrapped.”


In October 2017, the French government lifted the state of emergency that had been declared following the Paris attacks in 2015. Under the state of emergency, which was extended six times, the French authorities derogated from some of France’s human rights obligations and exercised a range of exceptional powers, including the imposition of certain administrative control measures, typically based on secret information (notes blanches) and applied without charging or prosecuting a person subjected to such an order with a criminal offence.

A new counter-terrorism law, “Strengthening Internal Security and the Fight Against Terrorism” (SILT), came into force in November 2017. The SILT law mandates that the administrative authorities retain the power to impose control measures that restrict fundamental rights.

In a 2016 report, Amnesty International documented how heavy-handed emergency measures had trampled the rights of thousands of people in France, leaving them traumatised and stigmatised.

A 2017 Amnesty International report revealed that sweeping new laws are driving Europe into a deep and dangerous state of permanent securitization and that counter-terrorism measures often proved discriminatory.