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France: Presidential Candidates Reveal Human Rights Views

In Survey, General Support but Disagreement on Sensitive Issues

(Paris) – A survey of candidates for the upcoming French presidential election reveals important differences among them on significant topics, Human Rights Watch said today. The differences emerged for issues such as the response to the situation in Syria, relations with Russia, identity checks by police, and freedom of movement for Roma people in Central Europe.

Eight out of the ten candidates agreed to answer Human Rights Watch’s questionnaire on key human rights issues that the next president will have to confront.  Human Rights Watch received replies from Nathalie Arthaud, François Bayrou, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, François Hollande, Eva Joly, Philippe Poutou, and Nicolas Sarkozy. Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen did not respond.

“The candidates’ answers about key human rights issues tell a lot about how they would conduct their presidencies, at home and in relation to the rest of the world,” said Jean-Marie Fardeau, France director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope this information will be useful both to voters and to journalists covering the election.”

Human Rights Watch sent the 10-point questionnaire, “Let's talk about human rights in the world,” to the candidates on March 1. The eight responses are available in their entirety on Human Rights Watch‘s website.

Some of the highlights of the responses follow.

  • On whether the police should issue written confirmation explaining the legal basis for each identity check.

Hollande did not address the issue of written statements but said he “will ensure that France is a model of respect for individual freedoms as set forth in the Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”

Poutou said identity checks are a “real harassment for young people, especially for children of immigrants” and wants to put an end to “police harassment, ethnic profiling, and excessive security policies.”

Bayrou said the solution lies in the restoration of “mutual trust” by “redeveloping a community/neighborhood-based police force” and the appointment of a state representative to coordinate all government actions in the suburbs.

Sarkozy did not respond to the question.

  • On guaranteeing the rights to freedom of movement and non-discrimination for Roma people from Central Europe:

Sarkozy said this freedom is the same as for “nomadic people” of France, and that the Roma thus have “the same obligations to fulfill.”

Joly said she supports a set of measures including “a national strategy for integrating Roma people by 2020, closely monitored by the European Commission and the Parliament;”  the regularization of immigration status for those “long-settled;” and “an effective access to common law” – housing, health, education, protection against discrimination.


  • On Syria and whether the government should be willing to maintain pressure on Russia and China to endorse a United Nations Security Council resolution denouncing the Syrian authorities’ human rights violations:


Dupont-Aignan said that the issue extends “far beyond the diplomatic question of exerting pressure on Russia and China”, who do not want to “fall into the same trap” as with Libya.  He said that only the re-establishment of better relations with these countries, enabled by “abandoning the U.S. missile defense system” and “putting an end to NATO extension strategy,” would avoid this type of action to block a joint international position.

Arthaud said she does not support “any military action” and does not “trust at all the statements of the French government, and those of Western governments in general.” She pointed out that “not very long ago, Bashar al-Assad, as much as Gaddafi, Mubarak, Ben Ali, used to be seen as respectable leaders by French officials.”

  • On whether they would demand publicly that the Russian authorities respect human rights, particularly in the Republics of North Caucasus, in the context of preparing for the Olympic Games in Sochi:

Hollande did not answer directly, but said that France “will request the release or the end of prosecutions against people intimidated because of their opinion,” wherever they may be in the world. He also said he “will support civil society organizations that advocate for the respect of fundamental rights.”

Sarkozy said the dialogue with Russia has “never prevented us from strongly reaffirming the importance we attach to the respect of human rights, particularly in the regions of Caucasus.” He said that “when human rights violations are clearly identified, the President of the Republic has never hesitated to intervene and to mobilize.”

Dupont-Aignan refuses any “interference into the internal affairs of another country” but said he is committed to conveying “a message of respect and defense of human rights."

Cheminade said “public pressure” is “doomed to fail” and favors “quiet diplomatic efforts.”


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