Annual Report: France 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: France 2011

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A draft law on migration and asylum under discussion in the parliament since September would be incompatible with international human rights standards. Under the law, if a group of 10 or more irregular migrants were intercepted near the French border, they would be kept in a "holding area" between the place of arrest and the border. Their applications to enter the rest of France to apply for asylum would be examined; if these were considered "manifestly unfounded" they would be returned to their country of origin, and would have only 48 hours to challenge the decision.

Legal, constitutional or institutional developments

In June, the Senate started examining the draft law on the mandate and powers of the new Defender of Rights institution, which is to merge the CNDS, the Defender of Children, the Ombudsperson, the Equal Opportunities and Anti-Discrimination Commission and the General Inspector of all Places of Deprivation of Liberty. There were fears that this would result in a loss of those institutions' expertise and independence.

On 30 July, the Constitutional Council ruled that the law regarding pre-charge detention (garde à vue) was unconstitutional because it did not guarantee detainees' rights of defence, such as effective assistance from a lawyer and being informed of the right to remain silent. However, the ruling stated that the law would remain in force until 1 July 2011. Even more restrictive rules, applicable to people suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activities, serious organized crime or drug trafficking, were not examined by the Council.

A subsequent proposal to modify the regime of pre-charge detention, that failed to meet all human rights concerns, was adopted by the government in October. A few days later, the Cassation Court ruled that the entire system of pre-charge detention was unlawful, including the provisions applicable to people suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activities, serious organized crime or drug trafficking.

Racism and discrimination

Roma and Travellers were stigmatized by government officials. During a ministerial meeting in July to discuss "the problems related to the behaviour of certain Roma and Travellers", President Nicolas Sarkozy referred to "illegal camps" inhabited by Roma as sources of criminality, calling on the government to dismantle those camps within three months. On 5 August, the Ministry of the Interior instructed prefects to systematically dismantle "illegal camps", explicitly prioritizing those inhabited by Roma, and to conduct "the immediate removal of foreigners in an irregular situation". Following its publication by the media, the order was removed and replaced on 13 September by one which referred to "any illegal settlement, whoever inhabits it". However, concerns remained that Roma were being marginalized and targeted for forced evictions and expulsions. In September, the government presented before the parliament a legislative proposal to facilitate the removal of foreigners, including EU nationals, who "abuse their right to a short stay" by repeatedly leaving and entering France.

In August, the CERD Committee expressed concern about discriminatory political speeches. The Committee was also concerned about the increase of racist violence against Roma, and about the difficulties faced by Travellers in exercising their rights to freedom of movement and to vote, and in their access to education and adequate housing.

In October, the Constitutional Council ruled that a law adopted by parliament in September, banning the wearing of clothing intended to cover the face in public, did not disproportionately restrict individual rights. However, it ruled that the ban could not be applied in public places of worship. The law gave rise to concerns that the ban would violate the freedoms of expression and religion of women who choose to wear the burqa or niqab as an expression of their identity or beliefs.