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Updated submission to the Universal Periodic Review: France

29th session

Summary

Discrimination on grounds of origin or religion remains a significant problem in France. Abusive police identity checks disproportionally affect minorities, which France has failed to address despite a commitment to do so at its last UPR. Migrants and asylum seekers lack access to basic services and are subject to harassment and abuse and France is failing to adequately protect unaccompanied children. Counterterrorism laws undermine fundamental rights and lead to abuse.

  1. Discriminatory Identity Checks

The measures taken by France since its last UPR, such as the adoption in 2013 of a Code of Ethics for the Police and National Gendarmerie, prohibiting police from basing decisions on who to stop solely on physical characteristics, and distinctive signs, have not prevented the use of ethnic profiling by the police when performing identity checks. Recent reports by the French Ombudsman and France’s Human Rights Consultative Commission found that young men from visible minorities are overrepresented in police checks and are 20 times more likely to be stopped by the police. Security Laws adopted in February and October 2017 raise concerns that people who complain about discriminatory checks could face increased sanctions, and that the use of discriminatory identity checks could be expanded. In July 2016, the National Assembly rejected a proposal to require police officers to draw up stop forms on the grounds that it would be too costly, while their use is a simple yet effective way to measure stops and promote accountability, and has shown positive results in other countries such as the United Kingdom. On October 18, 2017, President Macron expressed his wish to restore trust between the police and the population, acknowledging that France is the European country that carries out the most identity checks.

Recommendations

  • Reform the Code of Criminal Procedure to require that all identity checks be based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion.
  • Introduce stop forms and ensure that these forms include information identifying the person stopped and the law enforcement officer(s) conducting the stop, the legal basis for the stop, whether a pat-down or search of belongings was conducted, and the outcome of the procedure.
  • Adopt clear guidance for law enforcement officers with respect to identity checks, including a requirement to inform of the legal basis for the stop and of rights during a stop, as well as instructions on stops and searches of children.
  • Ensure that abuse during police stops is systematically investigated and prosecuted, and hold officers to account.
  1. Treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors

As of late November 2017, approximately 700-1000 migrants and asylum seekers continue to live and sleep outdoors in and around Calais, northern France, including between 100-200 unaccompanied children. In July 2017, Human Rights Watch research found that police forces in Calais routinely spray chemical agents on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose no threat, and regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, clothing and shoes. Despite a ruling in late July by the Conseil d’État, France’s highest administrative court, allowing food and clothing distributions, intimidation of humanitarian workers and disruption of delivery of aid continues. In October 2017, an inquiry conducted by the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments at the request of the Ministry of Interior, in response to Human Rights Watch’s July report, found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais, and set out recommendations. Despite the recent findings, as of late November 2017, local organizations report that police violence against migrants and delays in accessing the child protection and asylum systems continue.

Recommendations

  • Implement the recommendations of the October 2017 administrative report into police abuse.
  • Investigate reports of police abuse against asylum seekers and migrants and hold abusers to account.
  • Ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have full access to asylum procedures, guardianship, mental health support, family reunification under the Dublin regulations, and other essential services.
  • Comply with obligations under the European Union reception directive and immediately provide accommodation to all asylum applicants who lack sufficient means to provide for themselves while their claims are processed, from the moment a person indicates an intention to seek asylum.
  1. Counterterrorism laws

Since France’s last UPR, concerns have intensified: France has adopted new laws introducing broad counterterrorism, intelligence and surveillance powers. France had a state of emergency in place for almost two years starting in November 2015. Although the October 2017 Counterterrorism Law formally ended the state of emergency, it incorporated several emergency powers into normal criminal and administrative law. These includes powers that have led to significant abuse, such as the power to order people considered a threat to national security to live in an assigned place and to carry out house searches, with only limited judicial authorization. The powers have given rise to concerns that Muslims may be targeted on the basis of their religious practice, with no evidence pointing to their involvement in any criminal behavior, and have exacerbated longstanding concerns about ethnic profiling in police stop and search practices. The law has been criticized for granting the executive the power to restrict freedom of worship, assembly, free movement and the right to privacy, without adequate judicial safeguards.

Recommendations

  • Use the October 2017 Counterterrorism Law’s annual review by Parliament and sunset clause set for 2020 to carry out thorough evaluations of the implementation of the law, including assessing whether these measures are necessary and proportionate to countering terrorism.
  • Ensure civil society is able to participate throughout the Counterterrorism Law’s review processes.
  • Publish public data regarding measures imposed under counterterrorism laws, and about legal appeals against their use, in order to allow for accountability and transparent discussion of their necessity.
  • Ensure that the powers introduced in counterterrorism laws are not used in a discriminatory way against religious and ethnic minorities and foreign nationals.
  • Amend the law to ensure robust and full judicial oversight and approval of any measure that restrain someone’s liberty and freedom of movement, worship, assembly and right to privacy.

Update: Treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in France

As of December 2017, approximately 700 migrants and asylum seekers, most from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, continue to live and sleep outdoors in Calais, northern France, including approximately 100 unaccompanied children. They depend largely on humanitarian organizations for access to food and basic essentials such as clothing, sleeping bags, and blankets.

In July 2017, Human Rights Watch found that police forces, particularly the riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS), routinely use chemical agents on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose no threat. Police also regularly spray or confiscate migrants’ sleeping bags, blankets, clothing and shoes, and sometimes spray their food and water. The French authorities state that they use tear gas. Tear gas causes symptoms such as a painful, burning sensation in the eyes and difficulty breathing.  It is a nerve agent, and frequent exposure has been associated with long-term decreases in pulmonary function and increases in respiratory complaints. According to some asylum seekers and migrants, police have on occasion struck them with batons or kicked them when ordering them to leave food distribution sites or other locations. Such police behavior violates the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment as well as international and national standards regulating the use of force by police.

Police have also intimidated humanitarian workers and sometimes disrupted delivery of aid. Since a ruling in late July by the Conseil d’État, France’s highest administrative court, aid distributions have been allowed to proceed with little or no disruption, although intimidation of aid workers continues. Some showers and water stations have also been installed.

Unaccompanied migrant children struggle to access the asylum system. Barriers to seeking asylum include a lack of information, delayed appointments, and the distance to the asylum office in Lille, 110 kilometers from Calais. Many migrants cannot afford the cost of transport, and those who can risk detention if they travel by public transport.

In October, an inquiry conducted by the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais. It set out recommendations for the police to address these abuses, which should be implemented immediately. As of December, police violence against migrants and confiscation of their belongings continue and destruction of their belongings has increased. Delays in accessing the child protection and asylum systems continue.

Recommendations for France:

  • Implement the recommendations of the state administration’s report into police abuse and report back on its progress.
  • Investigate reports of police abuse against asylum seekers and migrants and hold anyone found responsible to account.
  • Ensure that police officers comply with French law and institutional norms, including those relating to the use of force and the wearing of identification badges. Officers who fail to comply with these norms should be disciplined as appropriate.
  • Police should enter into dialogue with humanitarian workers and representatives of migrant groups to facilitate implementation of the Conseil d’État’s ruling requiring the delivery of humanitarian aid.
  • Ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have full access to asylum procedures, guardianship, mental health support, family reunification under the Dublin regulations, and other essential services.
  • Comply with its obligations under the European Union reception directive and immediately provide access to accommodation to all asylum applicants who lack sufficient means to provide for themselves while their claims are processed, from the moment a person indicates an intention to seek asylum.
  • Work with humanitarian and nongovernmental groups to help arrange emergency accommodation for any undocumented migrant without shelter in Calais.

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