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Ballot envelope, initials Republique Francaise, with a ballot box.

French Presidential Election - Voting for Human Rights: A Guide for 2022

 Ballot envelope, initials Republique Francaise, with a ballot box, March 5, Gace, France. © Sipa via AP Images

Elections give voters an opportunity both to exercise their human rights – to freely choose their representatives and to freedom of opinion and expression – and to promote human rights for all.

In France’s 2022 presidential election, many topics of importance to voters involve fundamental human rights. They include equal access to vaccines and health care amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to be protected from gender-based violence and discrimination, equal treatment by the police and other authorities, migrants’ rights, and the right to seek asylum. 

What does it mean to be a human rights voter?  

A human rights voter should support candidates who want the government to adopt and enforce laws that promote and protect everyone’s human rights. Voters should consider what a candidate's campaign platform says about key human rights issues and support candidates who will push for policies that enable everyone to have the same opportunities to pursue their fundamental rights in France and who will defend human rights abroad. 

As candidates seek your vote, here are some basic human rights questions you should consider. 

1. Right to a clean, healthy, and safe environment 

A young woman holds a placard that reads “There is no Planet B” at a climate change rally in Toulouse, November 6, 2021. © 2021 Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via AP

France has made a commitment to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030. However, France is one of the EU’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters. It provides more funding to subsidize fossil fuel projects, which is driving the climate crisis, than for renewable energy. Global warming means that severe climate impacts such as heat waves and forest fires will become more frequent and intense, with an increasingly negative impact on human rights.

Questions you might ask yourself to help you make your choice: 

  • Is addressing climate change a priority for the candidate?  
  • What does the candidate plan to do to achieve the 2030 target? 
  • What does the candidate plan to do to hold corporations accountable for their part in driving climate change and environmental degradation? 
  • What does the candidate plan to do at both the national and EU levels to end fossil fuel subsidies and restrict imports of products that drive deforestation globally? 

What international law says:

On October 8, 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution 48/13, recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  

In 2021, the Glasgow climate summit (COP26) produced a new global pact committing governments to take increasingly ambitious steps to address the climate crisis, with a view to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Article 37 of Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union requires that a high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment be integrated into EU policies and ensured in accordance with the principle of sustainable development.

2. Socioeconomic rights and the Covid 19 pandemic 

Volunteers of the Linkee association prepares food boxes for students in Paris on February 11, 2021. © 2021 Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa via AP Images

As it has globally, the Covid-19 crisis exacerbated poverty in France. More people experienced food insecurity and sought food aid. Youth unemployment increased, and some young people fell outside the scope of welfare protections. Parts of France that already experienced economic inequality were also impacted particularly badly by Covid-19 deaths. 

As of January, vaccination rates were lower among people living in poverty. Although vaccinations are available to all, health care facilities may not be equally accessible to the most marginalized populations, and they may not have equal access to information.

At the global level, vaccine access has been deeply inequitable, partly due to limits on production reinforced by rules that hamper sharing intellectual property and technology for these vaccines and other Covid-19 treatments and testing. This has disproportionately increased the risk of Covid-19 transmission, sickness, and death for marginalized people in low- and middle-income countries. Fewer than 10 percent of people in Africa are vaccinated. Opaque vaccine procurement contracts with companies have undermined transparency and accountability in public procurement.  

Inequitable access to Covid-19 health technologies also allows greater possibility for the emergence of variants and strains, as Omicron demonstrates. It also prolongs the pandemic and the need for stringent measures such as lockdowns, which restrict rights and freedoms and can undermine the safety of some vulnerable people such as domestic violence survivors.

Questions you might ask yourself to help you make your choice: 

  • What will the candidate do to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the most at-risk populations in France?  
  • What will the candidate do to ensure that the most socioeconomically vulnerable people in France have better support in a future crisis, so these effects aren’t repeated?  
  • Does the candidate support the temporary intellectual property waiver under consideration by the World Trade Organization to facilitate universal access to vaccines, therapeutics, and testing globally? Is the candidate supporting vaccine technology transfers to manufacturers in low-and-middle-income countries? 
  • What measures will the candidate propose to make Covid-19 vaccines and other procurement contracts transparent, at the country level, the European Union (EU) level, and in relation to COVAX global vaccine procurement, so that there is greater scrutiny over how taxpayers’ money is being used?  

What international law says: 

International human rights law guarantees everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates governments to take steps to prevent threats to public health and to provide access to medical care for those who need it.  

The right to health is set out in the:

In realizing the right to health, governments are required to take steps “individually and through international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of [their] available resources” (article 2.1, ICESCR).

The UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights has said that it is particularly incumbent on governments and other actors in a position to assist, to provide international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical, to enable developing countries  to take effective steps for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases” including, “the implementation or enhancement of immunization programmes and other strategies of infectious disease control.”

The right to an adequate standard of living, including rights to adequate food, clothing, housing, care and social security, is guaranteed under the:

3. Women’s rights and the right to be protected from domestic violence and sexual harassment at work 

Women carry a banner reading "stop sexist and sexual violence " on November 20, 2021 in Paris. © 2021 AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant

The Covid 19 crisis has had a disproportionate impact on female employment, leading more women than men to reduce their working hours or leave their jobs, largely due to increased caregiving responsibilities. Women are also overrepresented in jobs on the front lines of responding to the pandemic, particularly at lower levels, where risks of infection are highest. 

Covid-related lockdowns created particular risks for domestic abuse survivors, and reports of domestic violence increased significantly. France’s femicide rate is among the highest in Europe.

In October 2021, France’s parliament adopted a bill to enable France to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Violence and Harassment at Work Convention (C190) but France has yet to do so.

Questions you might ask yourself to help you make your choice: 

  • Does the candidate prioritize women’s rights and the elimination of violence against women and girls? 
  • What concrete measures does the candidate support to prevent and respond to domestic violence and combat femicide?  
  • Will the candidate undertake the reforms needed to protect people from violence and sexual harassment at work, and to ensure that domestic abuse survivors are not impacted by workplace policies that make it harder to get the help they need?

What international law says:  

International legal instruments that focus on discrimination against women include:

4.The right to equal treatment by the police

Des agents de police contrôlent les documents d'identité de passants pendant le confinement à Rennes, en France. Le 11 avril 2020. © 2020 Sipa via AP Images

Although the Conseil Constitutionnel, France’s superior court, has confirmed that identity checks must be “based exclusively on criteria that exclude discrimination of any kind,” ethnic profiling during police checks, affecting Black and Arab youth in particular, continues to be a pervasive problem in France.

Questions you might ask yourself to help you make your choice: 

  • Does the candidate commit to ending discriminatory policing targeting Black and Arab youth?  
  • Will the candidate reform the legal framework for identity checks, adopt specific rules for police controls targeting children, develop a system for recording police stops, collect data on identity checks, and create an independent complaints body?  

What international law says:  

The prohibition on discrimination infuses all international human rights law, and core international human rights treaties include a provision protecting the rights they address without distinction of any kind, including on grounds such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. “Sex” includes protection against discrimination on grounds of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. See for example:

  • Articles 2 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (three of the instruments that make up the International Bill of Human Rights). 
  • Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.  

Other core treaties focus on non-discrimination on specific grounds, including on race:  

  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), which France ratified in 1971.

5. Respect for the rights of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers  

A migrant from the Kurdish region of Iraq seen keeping himself warm by burning firewood at a makeshift migrant camp in the Dunkirk area of Northern France, December 5, 2021. © 2021 Geovien So / SOPA Images/Sipa via AP Images

Across Europe, several countries are engaged in violent pushbacks of migrants at borders and support externalizing migration controls to countries with less capacity and oversight. This puts at risk internationally protected rights, such as everyone’s right to leave their country, the right to seek asylum from persecution, and the right not to be returned to a place where one's life or security would be threatened. 

Human rights groups have also documented French authorities subjecting migrants to degrading treatment, including police harassment, restrictions on access to humanitarian assistance, summary rejection of unaccompanied children at the French-Italian border, and denial of access for unaccompanied children on French territory to protection and essential services.

Questions you might ask yourself to help you make your choice: 

  • Does the candidate commit to humane treatment of migrants and asylum seekers and full respect for their rights, and to protect the right to asylum?  
  • Does the candidate support the establishment of a permanent relocation and responsibility-sharing mechanism within the EU to alleviate the pressure on first countries of arrival and the suffering of people at the EU's external borders?
  • Will the candidate support emergency temporary relocation programs in times of increased arrivals?  
  • Does the candidate commit to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children on French territory get the protection and services to which they are entitled?

What international law says:  

International law guarantees everyone the right to seek asylum:

For those who are recognized as refugees, the 1951 UN Refugee Convention (and its 1967 Protocol) set out a framework of protection, including protection from being returned to countries where they risk being persecuted. 

Regardless of their status, and of how and why they arrive in a country, all refugees, asylum seekers, or migrants have fundamental rights that states should respect. The right to freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment is central to these rights and is an absolute right, meaning that infringing on it is not justified in any circumstances. It is a violation of this right to send or return a person to a country where they face a real risk of torture. The prohibition on torture is a part of customary international law but is also set out in several treaties including the:

The Convention on the Rights of the Child  provides that children have the right to special care, protection, and assistance, particularly if they are unaccompanied or otherwise “temporarily or permanently deprived of their family environment,” and the right to protection from violence, neglect, and exploitation.  France ratified this convention in 1990.

European Union law includes multiple directives that govern the asylum process.  The Qualification Directive (2011) contains the requirements for examining an asylum application. Its aim is to ensure harmonized conditions across the EU for obtaining refugee status or the right to subsidiary protection. The Reception Conditions Directive (2013) establishes common standards for the living conditions for asylum seekers during the asylum procedure. This includes rules on housing, care, and the labor market. The  Asylum Procedures Directive (2013) determines the minimum standards for the conduct of the asylum procedure. 

6. Rule of law and the rights to freedom of association and peaceful protest  

French police and an anti-crime brigade secure a street during a counterterrorism operation in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil on July 21, 2016, the day Parliament extended France’s state of emergency. Reuters/Charles Platiau

Since 2015, France has spent more than 35 months under a state of emergency, first on security grounds and then due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Under a state of emergency, the executive branch has exceptional powers and can impose temporary restrictions on some fundamental rights and freedoms. Measures such as curfews, administrative closures of places of worship, restrictions on movement and on holding protests, and surveillance measures restrict the rights to freedom of assembly and of association.

Under a state of emergency, laws can be adopted under accelerated parliamentary procedures, with truncated time for debate, consultation or scrutiny, and may not provide for judicial oversight of measures. In some instances, exceptional measures introduced during a state of emergency have later been incorporated into regular laws, extending their application beyond the emergency for which they were considered necessary. Using powers initially introduced under a state of emergency French authorities ordered the dissolution of an anti-discrimination organization, alleging among other things that their activities incite discrimination.

Questions you might ask yourself to help you make your choice: 

What international law says:  

The rights to peaceful assembly and protest and to association are protected in several treaties including the:

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 4) and the European Convention on Human Rights (art. 15) recognize that in the context of serious public emergencies threatening the life of the nation, restrictions on some rights can be justified when they have a legal basis, are strictly necessary, and are neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application. They should be of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, subject to review, and proportionate to achieve the objective.  

7. European Union – Defending the Rule of Law and Refugees

Migrants at the Kara Tepe refugee camp, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, October 14, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas

The European Union (EU) is at a critical moment when it comes to upholding its values. Several political leaders of member countries increasingly challenge the values on which the EU is founded. They try to undermine democratic institutions and the rule of law with laws targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, women’s rights, independence of the judiciary, media freedom, and human rights defenders. The EU has mechanisms to hold states accountable for failure to respect its values, including through sanctions and conditioning EU funds on reforms. 

Human Rights Watch and many other nongovernmental and international organizations have also documented unlawful pushbacks, sometimes accompanied by violence, of migrants and asylum seekers at various external borders of the EU, including by Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Spain, and more recently, Poland. European institutions have repeatedly failed to address these serious violations. More than 23,300 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 trying to reach Europe. The EU does not operate a dedicated search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean and nongovernmental organizations filling the gap face delays and obstruction. EU member states and agencies (such as the border agency, Frontex) provide material and financial support to the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people at sea and take them back to abusive, arbitrary detention in Libya.  

The European Commission has called for EU member states to establish independent border monitoring mechanisms that can investigate allegations of fundamental rights violations at borders. There are increasing calls for accountability for deaths at sea and for ending cooperation with Libya that facilitates abuse against migrants.  

France is a founding member of the EU and holds the presidency of the Council of the EU from January 1 to June 30, 2022. It therefore has a major role to play to ensure that respect for the rule of law and human rights in EU migration policy is a priority.  

Questions you might ask yourself to help you make your choice: 

  • Does the candidate commit to implement only policies that strictly respect the common European values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights, including the rights of people belonging to minorities, enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)? 
  • Does the candidate intend to push for using available tools to hold to account EU states that attack the rule of law, including linking EU funding to respect for EU values, and enforcing the measures under the TEU?
  • What does the candidate intend to do to prevent deaths at sea and to condition migration cooperation with countries like Libya on respect for migrants’ rights? Does the candidate intend to support the establishment of independent border monitoring mechanisms to ensure accountability for pushbacks and other unlawful practices at EU borders?  

What EU and international law says:  

Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union provides that 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 3 of the TEU strengthens article 2 by stating that “the Union's aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples” and that “the Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, in which the free movement of persons is ensured in conjunction with appropriate measures with respect (…) asylum.”

Article 7 of the TEU gives the EU the authority to sanction a member state that does not respect its founding values. It describes the procedure for activating this sanction mechanism. In theory, this can lead to suspending the member state's voting rights in the Council of the European Union - and thus its participation in a large part of the European decisions, which would nevertheless continue to apply to it. 

The conditionality regulation was adopted in December 2020 to combat rights violations by EU member states. It allows the EU to take measures - such as suspending payments or making financial corrections - to protect the budget. 

8. Putting human rights at the heart of French diplomacy and EU foreign policy

Rally against the treatment of Uyghur people by the Chinese authorities, in Paris, France, on October 2, 2021. © 2021 Georges Darmon/Avenir Pictures/Abaca/Sipa via AP Images

Governments need to defend respect for human rights globally through robust human rights diplomacy.   

France has a critical role to play as a member of the UN Human Rights Council and permanent member of the UN Security Council. In line with its international commitments, France should play a leadership role and initiate coordinated actions in multilateral forums on specific country situations.

Such situations include crimes against humanity committed by Chinese authorities against Uyghurs in Xinjiang; crimes by the Myanmar junta both before and since the recent coup; potential war crimes in Ukraine; the atrocities in Ethiopia, Syria, Yemen, Cameroon; the crimes of apartheid and persecution by Israeli authorities against millions of Palestinians; the brutal crackdown in Egypt; the repression in Sudan, and other situations of widespread violations that require strong international responses.  

France also has an important role to play in the European Union's foreign policy. The EU’s response to human rights violations worldwide has highlighted major double standards, as individual member states often block a principled response due to their own specific interests and bilateral relations with certain abusive governments.

Questions you might ask yourself to help you make your choice:  

  • Does the candidate plan to put human rights at the heart of French diplomacy? 
  • Does the candidate commit to publicly support civil society and human rights defenders under threat, particularly in countries with which France has strong partnerships (military, economic, cultural)?
  • Is the candidate willing to play a leadership role in multilateral forums to end the grave human rights and humanitarian violations in situations and countries around the world? 
  • Will they commit to an EU foreign policy that remains true to the values of the EU, and that supports human rights and democracy in all circumstances and with all countries of the world?

UN member states obligations to promote human rights

States’ obligations to respect and promote human rights beyond their own borders and to consider human rights in their international relations can be traced to several sources including: 

  • Articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter require all member states to take joint and separate action to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
  • The Treaty on EU (TEU), in article 21 states that the EU's action on the international scene shall be guided by democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, and the principles of equality and solidarity.

 9. France’s support for international justice  

Exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. © 2021 AP Photo/Peter Dejong

France is a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), an institution essential to ensure that victims of the worst international crimes, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity have access to justice. At a time of multiplying human rights crises, the need for accountability and justice has never been greater. France has been at the forefront of discussion around cooperation with the court, and it is important for France, together with other ICC member countries, to ensure that the court gets the political, financial, and practical support it needs to realize its crucial mandate, while respecting and safeguarding the court’s independence.

Under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, French judicial officials can investigate and prosecute the most serious crimes under international law even if they were not committed on  French territory, or by or against a French citizen. But French law includes restrictions that limit the application of universal jurisdiction and raise concerns that France could become a haven for alleged perpetrators of atrocities.

Questions you might ask yourself to help you make your choice: 

  • Does the candidate commit to fighting impunity for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by ensuring strong political and financial support for the International Criminal Court, while respecting its independence?
  • Will the candidate take action to address legal restrictions that weaken the principle of universal jurisdiction in France?

What international laws say: 

The Rome Statute (1998) defines the international crimes over which the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. It also requires all parties to the court to cooperate in helping achieve accountability for such crimes, including in securing the arrest of suspects.

10. French arms exports 

Protester holds a sign that reads "Send help, not weapons", on May 9, 2019 in Le Havre harbour, northern France. © 2019 JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images

France's biggest arms export clients over the past decade include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), all of which are responsible for serious human rights violations at home, and some of which are accused of war crimes and unlawful attacks in the Yemeni conflict. 

French arms exports are marked by opacity and lack of democratic control. For years, nongovernmental organizations and others have been pressing the French authorities to reinforce transparency and parliamentary control over France’s arms sales.  

Questions you might ask yourself to help you make your choice: 

  • Does the candidate commit to stop arms exports to governments when there is a risk that they may be used for internal repression or to commit international humanitarian law violations?   
  • Does the candidate plan to suspend transferring French arms to parties to the conflict in Yemen, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, given the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian laws?   
  • Does the candidate commit to stop France’s unconditional support to Egypt in the face of the country’s dire rights record?   
  • Does the candidate commit to reinforce transparency and parliamentary control over France’s arms exports?  

What international law says:

Article 6.3 of the Arms trade treaty (ATT) (2013) states thatA State Party shall not authorize any transfer of conventional arms if it has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes.”  

A European Common Position (2008) sets common rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment. 

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