Human Rights Watch has sent 11 key questions about human rights that France’s next president will face to all candidates for the May 2017 presidential election. We explain here the implications of each of them, and why it is essential that the candidates address them. 

 

Ethnic profiling in identity checks

Our question

Will you undertake a reform of identity checks and introduce systematic recording of police stops, to fight ethnic profiling by police forces in France?

The implications

The Constitutional Council, France’s highest jurisdiction, ruled that police identity checks must be “based exclusively on criteria that exclude discrimination of any kind.”

Young men perceived as black or Arab are 20 times more likely to be stopped than the rest of the population.

However, many studies, including by Human Rights Watch, show that the police practice ethnic profiling, conducting identity checks based on appearance, in particular ethnicity, rather than on signs of illegal activity. According to the French Ombudsman,  abusive and discriminatory identity checks target young men perceived as black or Arab in particular, who are 20 times more likely to be stopped than the rest of the population.

This discriminatory practice is facilitated by insufficient legislation to define objective criteria for identity checks, and by the difficult of ensuring that identity check operations are transparent and can be effectively monitored.

A simple and effective measure to reduce ethnic profiling would be to require police officers to issue a receipt every time they carry out an identity check to explain its legal basis and establish a written record.

Human Rights Watch is part of a collective platform of NGOs and associations, En finir avec les contrôles au faciès (“Put an end to ethnic profiling”), and, together with its partners, conducts advocacy and communication campaigns on this topic. 

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

- An op-ed calling on public authorities to take corrective measures following violence suffered by a young black man during a police stop, February 2017.

- The conclusions of an investigative report on police ethnic profiling, January 2012.

- An op-ed following the condemnation of ethnic profiling by the French Ombudsman, the Paris Court of Appeals, the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Council, in French,  January 2017.

- A video on the impact of ethnic profiling in police checks, September 2013.

 

Counterterrorism

Our question

What strategy will you implement to lead France out of the state of emergency in place since November 2015, and ensure respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law while combating terrorism?

The implications

The state of emergency declared in November 2015 and extended without interruption since has made France an exception in Europe. Neither Spain nor the United Kingdom nor Belgium imposed states of emergency following major attacks.

In France, successive extensions of the state of emergency have progressively turned the exception into the norm, gravely eroding the rule of law. The state of emergency gives broad powers to the police and the prefects, supervised by the Interior Ministry. It also diminishes judicial oversight and allows the government to restrict certain fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of movement, of expression, and of association.

Successive extensions of the state of emergency have progressively turned the exception into the norm, gravely eroding the rule of law.

The absence of judicial oversight has led to human rights abuses during counterterrorism policing operations, affecting in particular Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims. A total of 612 people have been put under house arrest, some for over a year, but none of them have been prosecuted. Hundreds of people have been barred from participating in public protests, and dozens of planned protests have been forbidden.

While international law holds that measures taken under the state of emergency must respect the principle of non-discrimination, abusive and discriminatory searches and house arrests have been documented by Human Rights Watch and the Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH).

While it has been responsible for extensive human rights violations, the state of emergency has a limited impact for counterterrorism. Between November 2015 and December 2016, the regular prerogatives of the Counterterrorist Prosecutor’s Office (“parquet antiterroriste”) have led to five times as many legal proceedings for terrorism-related charges as the thousands of administrative searches, house arrests and identity checks under the state of emergency. Moreover, a French commission of inquiry into the Paris attacks concluded in July 2016 that the state of emergency had “limited impact” on improving security and that any effect it may have had “quickly dissipated.” The February 22 report by the parliamentary commission tasked with monitoring the state of emergency provided yet another reminder that it no longer serves any meaningful purpose. The commission president, Dominique Raimbourg, from the governing Socialist Party, noted that activity under the state of emergency has been “greatly reduced” since the last extension.

In the name of countering terrorism, the French government has adopted laws that widened powers of mass surveillance. The 2015 law on intelligence threatens fundamental freedoms in several ways, through the absence of judicial oversight of mass surveillance practices, the obligation for private service providers to monitor and flag suspicious activity, long retention periods for certain data, and the lack of public transparency. Beyond the current risks, such an erosion of individual protections could allow a future authoritarian government to conduct abusive surveillance.

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

- An analysis of the dangers of extending the state of emergency and the reluctance to lift it, March 2017.

- A report documenting the violations committed in the context of the state of emergency, February 2016.

- A statement on the rights restricted or threatened by the state of emergency, November 2015.

- An analysis of the dangers of mass surveillance, February 2017, and a statement on the French surveillance bill, April 2015.

 

Asylum

Our question

How will you ensure that France shows greater leadership within the European Union and internationally in welcoming and protecting refugees fleeing violence and persecution? What will you do to strengthen the protection of unaccompanied minors in France?

The implications

More than 60 million people around the world are refugees or are internally displaced, 86 percent of them in the global South. Under its international and European obligations, France should protect people who fear persecution or inhumane treatment. France should also protect the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees who are on French territory and at its borders, and in particular ensure access to a fair asylum procedure and basic services.

The European Union has failed to live up to its founding principles of solidarity and protection for people fleeing war and persecution. Several EU governments have closed their doors to asylum seekers and migrants and failed to cooperate with one another to share responsibilities more equitably, exacerbating the migration crisis and denying refugees their basic right to protection. Rather than share responsibility for hosting and processing refugees and asylum seekers, the EU is trying to deflect responsibility for these people onto other countries, increasing the burden on countries already hosting large numbers of refugees. This includes its problematic deal with Turkey, a country that already hosts almost three million refugees and is not a safe country of asylum.

The European Union has failed to live up to its founding principles of solidarity and protection for people fleeing war and persecution. France has a crucial role to play within Europe to remedy this situation.

Within Europe, France has a crucial role to play to ensure that the collective response to migration is based on respect for human rights and sharing of responsibility for asylum seekers and refugees.

Unaccompanied refugee children are particularly vulnerable and benefit from specific protections under French and international law. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which France was one of the first to sign, guarantees children government support and protection, including the right to education and to health care, and to guardianship and legal representation to protect their interests. Nevertheless, many unaccompanied children on French territory do not have access to the necessary protection and support.  The government has placed them in shelters outside the regular asylum and child protection system, and has been slow to move them into the regular system. Unaccompanied migrant children in the Calais area have suffered police harassment. 

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

 - A letter to European leaders signed by Human Rights Watch  and 171 other groups, March 2017

- An analysis of the situation of unaccompanied children in Calais, March 2017.

- Findings on unaccompanied children from Calais, December 2016

- Human Rights Watch recommendations to revise the EU’s response to refugees and migration, November 2016.

 

European Union

Our question

What steps will you take to ensure that the European Union lives up to its founding values of respect for human rights in this context of skepticism towards European institutions and the rise of extreme nationalism?  

The implications 

The European Union was built on a foundation of shared values of “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities” (article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union). Promoting these values should be a part of both internal and external EU policy, not just in words, but also in action. The EU and its member states play a crucial diplomatic role to promote and implement human rights on the world stage and also have a collective responsibility to protect human rights inside the borders of the European Union.

The rising influence of radical populist and xenophobic parties in Europe has imperiled everyone’s fundamental freedoms. France has a major role to play to ensure that these fundamental values are a priority of European policy.

In Europe and elsewhere, the rising influence of radical populist and xenophobic parties that favor the interests of the majority to the detriment of minorities by claiming to talk for “the people” has imperiled everyone’s fundamental freedoms. The attempts during the “Brexit” and recent Dutch election campaigns to blame migrants for economic and social problems illustrate this phenomenon.

France, as a founding member of the European Union and an influential voice in Europe, has a major role to play to ensure that these principles are a priority of European policy. Because of Brexit, the role of France and Germany in protecting these principles has become even more crucial.

Beyond European Union borders, within the Council of Europe, France is party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. Through these two institutions, France is required to respect and promote universal rights, “which are the foundation of justice and peace in the world” (preamble of the ECHR).

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

 - An essay by Kenneth Roth, Executive director of Human Rights Watch, on the rise of populism, January 2017.

- The Human Rights Watch World Report 2017 chapter on the European Union, January 2017.

- An editorial by Benjamin Ward, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, on the role of mainstream parties in enabling radical populism, March 2017.

 

United States

Our question

How do you propose to engage with President Trump, when he acts in ways that threaten human rights and basic democratic principles, including his attacks on the press?

The implications

US President Donald Trump ran a campaign rooted in policy proposals that would undermine basic commitments to human rights, both in the United States and globally. As a candidate, he said that he might consider bringing back torture and that he would resume indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without trial. He vowed to deport millions of immigrants, including many with deep ties to the United States. He also proposed to strengthen relations with autocratic leaders including Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi or Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, at a time when international scrutiny of these governments’ human rights records is urgently needed. 

US President Donald Trump ran a campaign rooted in policy proposals that would undermine basic commitments to human rights, both in the United States and globally.

As president, Trump has continued to use inflammatory rhetoric and has taken some steps that cause grave concerns for the protection of human rights. He has sought to bar entry to the United States for citizens of six majority-Muslim countries, an effort that has become mired in litigation before US courts.  He has sharply reduced the number of refugees who can be resettled in 2017 under the US government’s refugee resettlement program. He has also signed an executive order that dramatically expands the Mexico City Policy, or "Global Gag Rule," that will prevent foreign NGOs from receiving any US government global health assistance unless they certify they do not provide abortion services, offer information about abortions, or advocate for the liberalization of abortion laws. Among many other negative health impacts, this policy endangers services that prevent tens of thousands of maternal deaths.

President Trump has expressed his disdain and hostility for checks on executive power that are the foundation of a well-functioning democracy. He has relentlessly criticized mainstream media, which he has called an “enemy of the people,” and has publicly and vitriolically criticized judges who have blocked some of his earliest actions.

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

 - Kenneth Roth's interview with Le Monde newspaper, in French, March 2017.

- An article expressing concerns about possible rights abuses under a Trump administration, by Donald Trump’s election, January 2017.

- An article encouraging President Trump to repudiate his dangerous campaign proposals, November 2016.

- A video of Kenneth Roth encouraging President Trump to govern with respect for human rights, November 2016.

- A video on the threats posed to women’s health by the “Global gag rule”, March 2017.

 

Syria

Our question

How would you lead France in ensuring that human rights priorities, the protection of civilians and accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Syria are part of any agreed upon peace deal?

The implications

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Human Rights Watch has been documenting the numerous serious violations committed in the context of this war, which has just passed its sixth anniversary, has killed by some estimates nearly half a million people, and has caused over 11 million Syrians to become displaced in their own country or refugees in other countries.

The conflict in Syria, which has just passed its sixth anniversary, has killed nearly half a million people, and has caused the displacement of over 11 million Syrians internally or as refugees.

The use of chemical, cluster, and incendiary weapons, indiscriminate aerial attacks in civilian areas, and the murder of civilians by the Syrian government supported by its allies, in particular Russia, amount to war crimes and in some cases crimes against humanity. Violations have also been committed by opposition forces, notably extrajudicial executions, indiscriminate attacks, and recruitment of child soldiers.

Since the beginning of the war, the Syrian government has arbitrarily detained people and has tortured and killed several thousand people in detention, peaceful protesters, activists, journalists and human rights defenders among them. Human Rights Watch investigated the conditions in the government’s detention facilities and found a systematic and widespread use of violence, inhumane conditions, malnutrition and torture, sometimes leading to death. The systematic and large-scale use of torture against civilians amounts to a crime against humanity.

These violations take place in a climate of impunity enabled by the paralysis of the UN Security Council. Russia has vetoed several Security Council resolutions, including resolutions aiming to sanction war crimes committed by the Syrian government and to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Despite a cease-fire in December 2016, unlawful attacks have continued across the country, claiming civilian lives.

The most recent UN-brokered attempt at peace negotiations began on February 23 in Geneva. It is urgent for countries with influence on the parties to work to put an end to these very serious violations and unlawful attacks. It is essential for any peace plan to include guarantees to respect human rights and to cooperate with the UN General Assembly investigative unit so that those who committed violations do not go unpunished. 

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

- An article calling for human rights to be a priority of peace negotiations, February 2017.

- A video on the systematic and large-scale use of torture in government prisons, December 2015.

- An article on the systematic and large-scale use of torture in government prisons, December 2015.

- An article on war crimes committed during the battle for Aleppo, December 2016.

- A video on illegal chemical attacks in Aleppo, February 2017.

 

Russia

Our question

How do you envisage building relations with President Putin, given Moscow’s human rights record, its positions on issues such as Syria at the Security Council and its lack of respect for international law?

The implications

Russia’s government has grown increasingly authoritarian since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012 and since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. This has severely degraded protection of human rights in Russia. Government critics are intimidated, harassed and sometimes imprisoned. Government repression targets journalists, activists and nongovernmental organizations, among others. New laws that promote a return to “traditional values” contribute to worsening discrimination toward certain groups, in particular LGBT people; and a law that prevents implementation of human rights judgments by international bodies undercuts victims’ right to a remedy, even when they are able to take a case successfully to an international tribunal.

Russia’s government has grown increasingly authoritarian since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012 and since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. This has severely degraded protection of human rights in Russia.

Russia is accused of committing war crimes in the context of its military involvement in Syria. But it has not kept its commitment to report to the International Syrian Support Group Ceasefire Task Force and the UN Security Council on attacks in Syria “leading to significant civilian casualties”. Neither does it appear to have investigated its attacks that caused significant civilian casualties.  Russia regularly vetoes UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, blocking action to deter rights abuse, including a resolution on February 28 to sanction the government for chemical attacks.

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

 - A video on aerial bombing campaigns by the Russian-Syrian coalition in Aleppo, December 2016.

- An article calling on Russia not to veto a resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons by Syrian governmental forces, February 2017. Russia did veto this resolution.

- An article on the severe degradation of human rights in Russia, December 2014.

 

Saudi Arabia

Our question

Will you cease selling arms to Saudi Arabia and to the countries of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, as long as the bombings targeting civilians have not ceased and are not investigated in an independent and credible manner?

The implications

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of nine Arab countries carrying out military operations against Houthi and other forces opposed to the internationally recognized Yemeni government. Human Rights Watch has documented 61 apparently unlawful attacks by the Saudi-led coalition and has reported that over 4,000 civilians have been killed and close to 7,000 wounded, most due to coalition attacks. The Houthi-Saleh forces also committed human rights violations, including indiscriminate shelling, the use of landmines and recruitment of child soldiers.

France has continued selling arms to Saudi Arabia, despite the allegations of possible war crimes in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, taking the risk of abetting these violations.

Saudi Arabia and the eight other coalition countries have not investigated these allegations of possible war crimes in an independent and credible manner.

Human Rights Watch, along with other organizations such as Amnesty International, have called on the United States, United Kingdom, and France to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia as long as it continues to carry out unlawful attacks and does not investigate international humanitarian law violations in a credible manner.

Nevertheless, France has continued selling arms to Saudi Arabia, including $500 million worth of Airbus H145 helicopters in July 2015, taking the risk of abetting these violations.

Restrictions on providing food and other civilian necessities imposed by the coalition and obstacles to humanitarian aid by all parties to the conflict, have contributed to a catastrophic food crisis in Yemen. The United Nations says that 7 million people urgently need food aid.

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

 - An article recalling the violations of the laws of war committed by all parties of the war in Yemen, January 2017.

- A series of questions and answers to explain Human Rights Watch’s call for an embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, March 2016.

- A video calling for an embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, March 2016.

 

China

Our question

Will you publicly and personally call for the immediate release of Liu Xiao Bo, Nobel Peace Laureate in 2010, and call for an end to arbitrary detention, despite the economic and political links between France and China?

The implications

Under the presidency of Xi Jinping, in power until at least 2022, the Chinese government has adopted increasingly repressive measures, drastically restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association and religion. Persecution of political activists and human rights defenders has led over the last few years to the imprisonment of hundreds of lawyers and activists, some of whom are still in detention.

Despite the adoption of repressive measures under the presidency of Xi Jinping, drastically restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association and religion, France has been unwilling to speak out against human rights violations in China.

Liu Xiao Bo, Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2010, has been imprisoned for over eight years. He is one of the many human rights defenders imprisoned for political reasons. He was convicted in 2009 on the basis of false accusations of “subversion” for being the co-author of a widely-circulated petition calling on the Chinese government to promote human rights and the rule of law.

France has been unwilling to speak out against human rights violations in China. Significantly, France did not take part in the unprecedented joint statement about the human rights situation in China adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2016. France’s close diplomatic and economic ties with China could allow France to play a more active role in encouraging the Chinese government to respect and protect fundamental freedoms. France should recognize that achieving the kind of trade and strategic relationship it wants with China depends on the Chinese government’s respect for the free flow of information and its recognition that being open to differing views contributes to good policy decisions, as well as an independent judiciary and a predictable and fair legal system for foreign and domestic business.

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

 - An article on serious human rights violations in China in 2016, January 2017.

- An article calling for the release of Liu Xiao Bo when he received his Nobel Peace Prize, October 2010.

- A letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault before his visit to China, October 2016.

 

Africa

Our question

How will you ensure that military interventions abroad, in particular in the context of counter-terrorist cooperation in countries of the Sahel region do not contribute to violations by the armed forces backed by France, or by French forces themselves?

The implications

France intervenes militarily for counterterrorism purposes in several parts of the world, notably in Iraq/Syria and in the Sahel region. The French Operation Sangaris, which sent peacekeeping troops to the Central African Republic, ended in December 2016, but French soldiers are still in the country to provide support to the UN peacekeeping operation, known as MINUSCA. France should ensure that French forces and forces allied to France participating in these military operations strictly respect human rights and the laws of war. In counterterrorism operations, all military and security forces should strictly observe their obligations to protect the rights to life and security of civilians and to respect the fundamental rights of people who are detained or imprisoned.

France should ensure that French forces and forces allied to France participating in these military operations strictly respect human rights and the laws of war.

The French Operation Serval was initiated in January 2013 to drive out Islamist armed groups then occupying northern Mali. The French counterterrorism effort was expanded in August 2014, when Operation Barkhane was created to fight Islamist armed groups in five countries of the Sahel region: Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and Mauritania.

Despite the peace agreement in Mali in 2015, fighting between various armed groups continues and attacks and violations by Islamist armed groups have continued in the north and spread to the center of the country and into northern Burkina Faso.

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous violations of human rights by Malian security forces engaged in counterterrorism operations. Violations include arbitrary arrests, executions, and severe ill treatment, including torture. These violations generally targeted people suspected of being members or supporters of Islamist armed groups.  Reports of these kinds of violations are decreasing, but remain extremely concerning.

The French army has for many years provided support to the Malian army. Since at least 2012 the French presence has served as a deterrent to abuses by their Malian counterparts. But Malian authorities have for the most part failed to investigate violations by Malian security forces in an independent and impartial manner. France should publicly call and push for credible investigations and for justice and reparation for the victims, or else it may be seen as willing to tolerate and condone such violations.

French armed forces under Operation Sangaris, along with UN peacekeepers deployed in the Central African Republic, have also been implicated in allegations of grave sexual exploitation and abuse, including rape of children. Despite lengthy investigations into these abuses, the public prosecutor in Paris requested the dismissal of one of the cases. While the final decision as to whether this case will be prosecuted lies with the investigating judges, there is concern about ongoing impunity for peacekeepers who commit sexual exploitation and abuse.

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

- An article on continued violations in the armed conflict in Mali, January 2017.

- An article documenting the abuse committed as part of the armed conflict in Mali, February 2016.

- Human Rights Watch recommendations to the UN to address peacekeeping abuses, March 2016. 

 

Fight against impunity

Our question

Will your government fight impunity for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by ensuring strong political and financial support for the International Criminal Court?

Will you support ongoing efforts by French judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute serious crimes committed abroad, in places such as Syria?    

The implications

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is essential for providing redress for victims of mass atrocities. The ICC’s mandate is to prosecute those most responsible for the world’s worst crimes – war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – when national courts are not able or willing to do so. It has a potentially global reach. The Assembly of State Parties, which has oversight functions regarding the administration of the court, consists of representatives of each member country, including France. Given the challenging circumstances in which the ICC works, its member countries have a critical role to play in providing political support for and technical cooperation with the ICC.

The ICC has opened 10 investigations, the most recent ones concerning Georgia, Mali and the Central African Republic. It is also conducting 10 preliminary examinations, including with regard to Ukraine, Burundi and Afghanistan.

At a time of multiplying human rights crises, the need for accountability and justice has never been greater. But demand for the ICC’s work far outstrips its resources, which are provided by member countries. It has become increasingly difficult for the ICC to manage its current workload and also to open much-needed new investigations. The ICC budget should be based on imperatives of justice and not on arbitrary limits.

France can use their national laws to investigate and prosecute those suspected of committing serious crimes even if the abuses occurred abroad, such as in Syria.

The government of France led an effort to give the ICC a mandate in Syria through the UN Security Council. This commitment to ensure justice for victims should translate into further efforts to pursue accountability, whether at the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council or through prosecutions in its national courts. Certain countries, including France, can use their national laws to investigate and prosecute those suspected of committing serious crimes even if the abuses occurred abroad, such as in Syria.

Establishing stand-alone or national courts with both national and international judges is another way to ensure accountability for human rights violations. The most recent example is the Special Criminal Court (SCC) in the Central African Republic to investigate serious violations by various armed groups since 2003. This court, established by law in June 2015, is not operational yet. While the appointment of a prosecutor was a crucial step forward, the need for technical, financial and political support remains high, and France can play an important role in that effort. 

 

To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic:

 - An article calling on governments to defend the core principles of the ICC, November 2016.

- A video on the possible use of universal jurisdiction to prosecute those responsible for war crimes in Syria, October 2016.

- An article calling for support of the Special Criminal Court in the Central African Republic, November 2016.

- A video on the threat to leave the ICC by certain African countries, July 2016.

- An article on the need for resources and cooperation for the ICC, December 2014.