Police violence in France: FIDH and LDH alarmed

Crédit Anna Margueritat / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP

Paris, 24 March 2023. Police violence used to repress the peaceful protest movement against French pension reforms accompanies political manoeuvring which is questionable on a democratic level although authorised in the Constitution and can be used to secure the passage of a bill without a parliamentary majority. The violence raises two essential issues: that of the freedom to demonstrate and that of the State’s duty to guarantee the rights and safety of its population. Following a vast demonstration punctuated by fresh outbreaks of violence, FIDH is calling for an immediate end to police violence and the resumption of calm, democratic debate that respects France’s constitutional principles.

Police violence is being added to parliamentary and political violence. The pension reforms, led by the French government and in which the main point of contention is the raising of the pensionable age, were ‘forced through’ by means of a constitutional mechanism, Article 49, paragraph 3 of the French Constitution. This mechanism enables a bill to bypass parliamentary scrutiny when it is considered indispensable and urgent but is encountering difficulties with securing adoption due to a lack of consensus.

The use of this mechanism constituted not only an admission of failure on the part of the French government, incapable of ensuring a majority in the National Assembly, but also recourse to an exceptional measure which removes the task of legislating from the competence of the French parliament and transfers it to the executive. In the process, it stifles all parliamentary debate, opposition and dissenting voices.

Police violence echoes force used to pass the legislation

Police officers in Paris have actively singled out peaceful protesters. Particularly shocking acts of brutality have been filmed by various media outlets, by independent monitoring instigated by the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH) and by demonstrators. In addition, FIDH and its member organisation in France, LDH, continue to record many instances of activists detained in custody for several hours at a police station then released with no charges being brought. According to the French press agency AFP, of the 292 people placed in custody during the first spontaneous rally on Thursday, only nine were referred to the procurator’s office, notably to be issued with a warning. Thus, in 283 cases no further action was taken due to the absence of any clear infringement or any infringement whatsoever.

LDH and FIDH deplore the increasingly widespread lack of any identification on police officers, despite the wearing of a force identification number, known as the RIO, being obligatory in France. Concern also surrounds the testimony about the sexual assault of women by police officers, as with the case in Nantes. Lastly, the organisations are speaking out against the practice of ‘kettling’ to maintain order. This constitutes a deprivation of collective liberty and falls completely outside the rule of law.

FIDH draws attention to the fact that States are the guarantors of public freedoms, including the freedom to demonstrate peacefully, to express one’s opinion and to go on strike. States must also refrain from resorting to the arbitrary use of force in the context of operations to maintain public order and may only use it as a last resort. Even in such circumstances, it must be proportionate and aimed at maintaining public order and safety. The impunity enjoyed by law enforcement agencies guilty of violence must cease, as must intimidation of strikers. Any abuse must be the subject of an in-depth and independent inquiry and must result in prosecution of the perpetrators. FIDH calls on the French government to fulfil its obligations in terms of respecting rights. In all circumstances it must safeguard democratic debate, public participation and respect for the part played by public assembly. Lastly, FIDH backs the call for civil society to mobilise issued by LDH, its organisation in France.

The rule of law – the only route to easing tensions

"The French people have good reason not to feel their government respects them," declared Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH. "And the French government, which rarely misses an opportunity to dole out lessons on democracy and respecting rights to the rest of the world, should consider how to be irreproachable on this point, as it should regarding the wholly scandalous instances of police violence."

"LDH is sounding the alarm," added Patrick Baudouin, President of LDH. "The French State’s slide towards authoritarianism, the brutalising of social relations with the collaboration of the police, all forms of violence and impunity are a major scandal. LDH will always mobilise against these practices and for the rule of law, the only possible route to easing tension in France."

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