• Sheet of paper Report

Annual Report: France 2011

July 11, 2011

Head of state: Nicolas Sarkozy
Head of government: François Fillon
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 62.6 million
Life expectancy: 81.6 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 5/4 per 1,000

Allegations of police ill-treatment continued, and investigations into such allegations were slow to progress. A draft law on migration and asylum was incompatible with the right to seek asylum. The Constitutional Council found that the rules on pre-charge detention for ordinary criminal offences were unconstitutional. Roma and Travellers were stigmatized and targeted for forced evictions and expulsions.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In its concluding observations of 14 May 2010, the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern at the persistent allegations of ill-treatment by French law enforcement officials, and urged the authorities to carry out prompt, transparent and independent investigations into such allegations, and ensure adequate punishment for perpetrators.

  • On 4 November, the European Court of Human Rights found that France had violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment in the case Darraj v. France. In July 2001, Yassine Darraj, a 16-year-old French national, was taken for an identity check to a police station, where police officers handcuffed him and used force which required an emergency operation and resulted in his unfitness for work for 21 days. The Court ruled that the 800 euro fine for “involuntary injuries”, to which two of the police officers were sentenced on appeal, was inadequate.

Deaths in custody

Investigations into deaths in custody appeared to lack independence and impartiality and were slow to progress.

  • On 17 May, the National Commission on Security Ethics (CNDS) called for disciplinary proceedings against the police officers who had allegedly used disproportionate force against Ali Ziri, a 69-year-old Algerian, following his arrest in Argenteuil on 9 June 2009. Ali Ziri had been travelling in his friend Arezki Kerfali’s car when they were stopped by police. Arezki Kerfali said the police beat them, and both men were taken to hospital, where Ali Ziri died. Arezki Kerfali was charged with insulting a police officer and the hearing was scheduled to be held on 24 June, but was postponed pending a ruling on the case of Ali Ziri.
  • In March, the judge investigating the death of Abou Bakari Tandia, who died in January 2005 from injuries sustained in police custody, questioned three forensic doctors who issued a report in July 2009 which contradicted the police’s version of events. The doctors found that there had been a row between Abou Bakari Tandia and the police officers involved in his detention, which further put into question their claim that his injuries were caused by him throwing himself against his cell wall. In November the judge questioned the police officers as witnesses to the events.
  • In September, the Aix-en-Provence Court of Appeal quashed the decision by the investigating judges to close the investigation against two police officers suspected of the involuntary homicide of Abdelhakim Ajimi, who died after being restrained by police during his arrest in May 2008. In April, the CNDS had recommended disciplinary proceedings against the police officers for disproportionate and unnecessary use of force.
  • Over a year after the launch of a criminal investigation into the “involuntary homicide” of Mohamed Boukrourou, the police officers involved in his arrest had not been questioned, and no disciplinary proceedings against them had been started. On 12 November 2009, four police officers had arrested Mohamed Boukrourou following an argument at his local pharmacy, handcuffed him and asked him to follow them. Witnesses stated that when he refused, the officers dragged him out and threw him into their van where he was beaten and kicked. Less than two hours later, he was dead. His family said that when they saw his body, his face was covered in bruises, his lip was split and his cheek was torn. Two forensic reports, one carried out at the request of the public prosecutor in November 2009 and a second one at the request of his family in June 2010, noted injuries on his body that could have been caused by blows and stated heart failure as the probable cause of death. Both requested further medical examinations to clarify the circumstances of his death, the results of which were pending at the end of the year. The CNDS and the National Police General Inspectorate had also opened investigations in November 2009 and December 2009 respectively, both ongoing.

Guantánamo Bay detainees

  • On 26 February, the Cassation Court ordered the retrial for terrorism-related offences of five French nationals who had been detained in Guantánamo Bay and transferred to France in 2004 and 2005. In February 2009, the Paris Court of Appeal overturned a conviction by the Paris Criminal Court for “criminal association in relation to a terrorist enterprise” because it had illegally used information – provided by the French intelligence services – obtained during interrogation while the men were detained at Guantánamo Bay.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In July, the Council of State partly annulled the decision by the Board of the Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons which qualified 17 countries as “safe” when examining asylum applications. Claims submitted by asylum-seekers from “safe” countries are examined under an accelerated procedure, under which asylum-seekers can be forcibly returned without their appeal being examined. The Council of State decided that Armenia, Madagascar and Turkey did not fulfil the necessary human rights criteria to be on the list of “safe” countries, and considered Mali to be safe for men but not for women.

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.