Head of state Nicolas Sarkozy
Head of government François Fillon
Death penalty abolitionist for all crimes
Population 62.3 million
Life expectancy 81 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 5/4 per 1,000
Allegations of police ill-treatment and excessive use of force continued. Disciplinary procedures and criminal investigations into such incidents continued to fall short of international standards. Hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers, including unaccompanied minors, were forcibly evicted from makeshift housing in Calais. Three Afghan nationals were forcibly returned to Afghanistan. Two released Guantánamo Bay detainees were granted residency in France. There were concerns that two new police databases could undermine the presumption of innocence. Legislative reforms threatened to weaken the independent oversight of law enforcement agencies.
Police and security forces
Ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police were alleged, including in at least one fatal incident. Investigations conducted by law enforcement bodies and judicial authorities into such allegations often appeared to lack independence and impartiality and were slow to progress.
- Ali Ziri, a 69-year-old Algerian man, died following his arrest in Argenteuil on 9 June. He was travelling in a friend’s car when the two men were stopped by police. Ali Ziri’s friend, Arezki Kerfali, said that they were beaten by the police officers, both at the scene and on the way to the police station. The two men were subsequently taken to hospital, where Ali Ziri died. One month later the Public Prosecutor closed the inquiry into his death stating that, on the basis of investigations conducted by the Argenteuil police, there was no evidence of ill-treatment. Arezki Kerfali was hospitalized for two days as a result of his injuries and subsequently charged with insulting a police officer. Following demands from Ali Ziri’s family, an investigating judge was appointed to the case. The judge ordered a second autopsy to be conducted by the Paris Medico-Legal Institute (Institut médico-légal de Paris, IML). It recorded multiple bruising on Ali Ziri’s body and stated that his probable cause of death was positional asphyxia. In October, the Public Prosecutor requested further investigation into charges of involuntary homicide. The police officers concerned remained on active duty at the end of the year.
- In July, experts from the IML concluded their examination of the hospital records of Abou Bakari Tandia, who died after sustaining fatal injuries while in police custody in January 2005. Their report stated that he had died after being shaken violently and that police testimony alleging that he had thrown himself against a wall was contradicted by the medical evidence. The hospital records, along with other important evidence, had been "lost" for several years and were only submitted to the investigating judge in January. Although the prosecutor asked for further investigation to be carried out regarding Abou Bakari Tandia’s death, no action had been taken by the investigating judge at the end of the year.
- In October, the Court of Appeal in Aix-en-Provence ordered judges investigating the death of Abdelhakim Ajimi to question two police officers on suspicion of involuntary homicide, and failing to assist a person in danger in the case of one of them. In March, five other police officers had been questioned on suspicion of failing to assist Abdelhakim Ajimi. An autopsy report stated that Abdelhakim Ajimi had suffocated as a result of the restraint techniques used on him by police officers in May 2008. The investigation was ongoing at the end of the year.
On 15 June, the then Minister of Interior announced that the annual reports of the police force internal inspectorate would be made public. However, at the end of the year no such information was available on the national police website and only a summary of statistics was available on request.
In September, the Council of State suspended the use of electro-shock weapons by local police forces, ruling that they had been introduced without adequate training and safeguards. The weapons were introduced by government decree in September 2008. National police and gendarmes continued to use such weapons.
Migrants’ rights, refugees and asylum-seekers
In May, the Minister of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Mutually Supportive Development pursued a reform which could restrict the role of the six NGOs nominated to work in migration detention centres. The NGO Cimade launched legal challenges against the measure due to concerns that it would limit their role to providing information only and prevent them from giving legal assistance to detained migrants. In November, the Council of State upheld the reform.
In September, the Minister of Immigration stated that 20 million euros had been secured to build a new migration detention centre in the French overseas territory of Mayotte. However, no timeline was given for its construction. Photographs had been published anonymously in December 2008 showing the severe overcrowding and poor hygiene inside the existing centre.
On 22 September, approximately 300 migrants and asylum-seekers living in encampments around Calais, believed to be mostly Afghans trying to reach the UK, were detained by police. Their makeshift homes were demolished by bulldozers. According to police statements, 140 adults were taken into police custody and transferred to migration detention centres; 132 minors were taken to special accommodation centres. At the end of the year it was reported that all of the adults had been released; many were believed to have returned to the destroyed camps in Calais. Most of those released were left without shelter as a result of the destruction. Some were later granted asylum and others had asylum claims pending at the end of the year. The rest remained in France without regular status, at constant risk of being forcibly returned to their countries of origin. Further police operations against smaller encampments around Calais took place between October and December.
Three Afghan nationals, one of them detained at Calais, were forcibly returned to Afghanistan in October.
Counter-terror and security
On 3 December, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Daoudi v. France that deporting a man convicted of terrorism offences to Algeria would put him at risk of torture or other ill-treatment, and would be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Guantánamo Bay detainees
France granted residency to two Algerian nationals, Lakhdar Boumediene and Saber Lahmar, who had been detained at the US detention centre in Guantánamo Bay. Both men were cleared of all charges against them by a US judge in November 2008 but could not return to Algeria due to the risk of serious human rights violations. In May, Lakhdar Boumediene arrived in France and was joined by his wife and children. Saber Lahmar arrived in France in December.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
On 18 October, two new police databases to collect data on individuals believed to pose a threat to public order were authorized by the government. They replaced the controversial "EDVIGE" database introduced in July 2008, which included information on individual health and sexual orientation, and on minors. However, concerns remained about the extent of the personal information collected on individuals not accused of any crime, including on children as young as 13, and the vagueness of the criteria for inclusion, such as "may pose a threat to public security".
In September, the Minister of Justice presented to the Council of Ministers draft laws proposing to merge the National Ombudsperson, the Children’s Ombudsperson, and the National Commission on Security Ethics (Commission Nationale de Déontologie de la Sécurité, CNDS), which is responsible for the independent oversight of law enforcement agencies, into the new Defender of Rights institution. There was concern that this could undermine the work of the CNDS and other bodies.
Amnesty International visits/reports
Amnesty International delegates visited France in January, April and October.
France: An effective mandate for the Defender of Rights (1 January 2009)
Public outrage: Police officers above the law in France (2 April 2009)