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Dispatches: France’s Renewed Emergency Law a Recipe for Abuse

On Tuesday, the French National Assembly approved a three-month extension of the state of emergency that was originally declared during the  horrific night of November 13 and renewed 12 days later. 

French police stop and search a local resident during an operation in Saint-Denis, France. © 2015 Reuters

More parliament members voted against this recent extension than did in November, but both the Senate and the National Assembly approved the government-sought extension by a wide margin.   

So until the end of May, France will remain under an exceptional regime that gives the Interior Ministry and police considerable powers, while exempting measures such as searches, house arrest and the seizure of digital data from judicial authorization.

Since November, police have carried out almost 3,400 searches and put 400 people under house arrest, though all that activity led to only five terrorism-related investigations. The lack of judicial safeguards drastically increases the risk that these measures are conducted in a discriminatory and disproportionate way, which is not only reprehensible and unlawful, but also causes appalling side-effects.

As Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International  both documented in separate reports on February 4, police operations under the state of emergency have led to many abuses, with disastrous consequences for the targets of the crackdown and their families. People suffered physical and psychological harm. Their homes were damaged. They lost jobs and have been treated with suspicion by friends and neighbors. Everyone we interviewed said their treatment left them with a strong sense of injustice, abandonment, and even anger and distrust toward the French authorities.

Targeting largely Muslims and people of North African descent, the apparently discriminatory abuses that we and other rights groups found have been denounced by the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, the French Ombudsman and the National consultative commission for human rights, to mention just a few.

Protecting the population from potential new attacks is of course a priority. But the French government’s route of extreme police powers and dilution of judicial control, is doubly worrisome.  It endangers human rights and could worsen stigmatization and alienation of the very people who could potentially play a role in preventing violent radicalization.   

By handing the government and police these powers, despite abuses and important concerns, parliament members are taking on a heavy responsibility. They should now effectively monitor their use through the dedicated Parliamentary control committee to make sure the state of emergency isn’t further misused against people because of their religion or ethnic profile.


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