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What is at Stake for Human Rights in France’s Parliamentary Elections?

New MPs May Have to Decide If State of Emergency Measures Are to Become Law

General view of the hemicycle during the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, France, November 16, 2016.  © 2016 Reuters

Three weeks after the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the French Republic and the nomination of a new government, French voters head once again to the polls to elect their Members of Parliament (deputés). The first round is to take place this Sunday, June, 11 and the second round on June, 18.

With the president’s new political party leading in the polls, there has been much discussion in France of the possibility of a major shift in the composition of the assembly. But the role that those elected to the assembly will play in upholding human rights, once all the votes have been counted, has been largely ignored. Although the stance of the members of France’s National Assembly will matter a great deal for human rights inside and outside France.

MPs in France are essential in ensuring the government respects human rights. Not only are they called upon to pass new laws and make sure existing ones are fit for the purpose intended for, they also hold the government and its ministers to account.

Domestically, MPs will soon have to consider whether or not to approve another extension of the state of emergency, or as the government seems to be proposing, the incorporation of all exceptional measures allowed under the state of emergency into law permanently. Given the serious abuses resulting from the use of those powers, it is vital that parliament scrutinize what effect the passing of these powers into regular law would have on the human rights of ordinary French citizens.

Abroad, MPs are vital when it comes to holding the government to account over the human rights implications of its foreign and defence policy. A concrete example is the decision to continue French arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite aerial attacks on civilians in Yemen carried out by the coalition it is leading in the country, in violation of international law.

Human Rights Watch has developed a Human Rights Agenda for the new president of the Republic and his government. It contains detailed recommendations on key issues: from the protection of asylum rights to the fight against ethnic profiling. It calls, among others, for the protection of civilians in conflict, for respect for human rights in France’s military interventions abroad, for global support for women’s rights, and for making the fight against impunity a priority. Those recommendations are not only relevant for Macron but for the entire new National Assembly as well.

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