Paving the way for arbitrary Justice

Press release
en fr

Report of an international mission of inquiry in France
on the application of anti-terrorist laws in France,
with particular reference to the issue of provisional detention
and the exercise of defence rights

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the French criminal
courts have witnessed a series of major trials involving
allegations of terrorism. Several have involved
abnormally large numbers of defendants. Indeed, the
most recent, the "Chalabi network" trial (le Procès
Chalabi) in which the judges’ verdicts are expected on
January 22nd 1999, boasts a total of 138 defendants,
of whom some 27 are in custody.

During the same period, lawyers and others have
expressed serious concerns, both about the inherent
character of the "anti-terrorist" laws invoked, and
about the manner in which they have been applied.
Criticism has been directed in particular at the law
creating the offence of "participation in an association
of malefactors... with a view to the commission of one
or more acts of terrorism" (participation à une
association de malfaiteurs en relation avec une
entreprise terroriste). This is the statute which has
been at the centre of all recent mass trials.

As for the application of the legislation, it is the
provisions of the Code of Penal Procedure governing
the investigation, prosecution and trial of alleged
terrorist offences which have attracted most attention.
In addition, criticisms have been voiced of those who
actually put the laws and the code into practice,
whether as police officers, investigating magistrates or
judges in the pertinent courts of trial, review and

The major concern of those critical of the present
system is that it does not allow suspects, defendants
and the lawyers who represent them the full range of
rights to which they are entitled. Given the pre-eminent
role that France has played for over 200 years in the
struggle for human rights throughout the world; given,
too, that the present controversy reached its climax, in
the shape of the "Procès Chalabi", in 1998, the year
marking the 50th anniversary of the International
Declaration of Human Rights; the French Human Rights
League (Ligue française des droits de l’Homme et du
citoyen) thought it appropriate to ask the FIDH to
commission an independent enquiry into the antiterrorist
laws and their application, with reference to
the issues of human rights generally and the right to a
fair trial in particular.

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