France: UN review should condemn setbacks to rule of law in fight against terrorism

Press release
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Geneva - Paris, 15 January 2018 - During its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), United Nations’ Member States should call on France to stop sacrificing rights at the altar of fear following the 2015 and 2016 terror attacks. Exceptional measures of 2015, now fully instated, have been used in a disproportionate and discriminatory manner, and failed to prove their effectiveness.

The UPR is a UN mechanism that exposes States to international scrutiny over their human rights record, enabling other countries to express concerns and to make recommendations for improvement.

«The UN review comes at a time when individual rights and the rule of law in France are seriously being challenged by counter-terrorism measures implemented after the 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks » said Michel Tubiana, Honorary President of LDH. «UN Member States should sound the alarm that liberty, equality and fraternity, values which are at the core of France’s democratic tradition, are at real risk.»

The French government’s response to the 2015 terrorist attacks, a 22 months-long State of Emergency followed by the incorporation of exceptional emergency measures into ordinary criminal and administrative law, is not only discriminatory and harmful to individual rights and the rule of law, but also ineffective [1]. FIDH and LDH research shows that out of the 4600 perquisitions undertaken under the State of Emergency, only 20 were related to terrorism, 16 of which were related to apology. Counter-terrorism measures have also been used to condone discrimination practices, as they have targeted disproportionately certain individuals and groups which were already marginalised in the French society, and continue to fuel confusion and stigmatization based on ethnic origin or religion. The French Supreme Court itself condemned the State for what it concluded constituted abuse of discriminatory identity checks by police officers.

The now permanent legislation of 30 October 2017 on counter-terorrism [2], further undermined the rule of law by sidelining the judiciary in favour of the administrative authorities, including for individual measures of administrative control and surveillance, visits and seizure, thus limiting judicial oversight over them.

France’s UN review is timely and critical, as options to revise or abrogate this law are limited at the national level, and a review by the Conseil Constitutionnel, the last-resort judicial oversight body, could be fruitless, its members being directly appointed by the executive and legislative branches of government.

«France is now in a situation where exceptional measures seriously restricting human rights and fundamental freedoms have become permanent in the name of combating terrorism. UN members should use this opportunity to remind France that human rights are an intrinsic part of the fight against terror and that this should not be used as an excuse for violating international obligations» concluded Dimitris Christopoulos, President of FIDH.

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