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Paris, July 4th, 2022,

Dear Mr. President,

As you begin your second term as President of the French Republic, we are writing to call on you to make respect for and promotion of human rights an effective priority of your domestic and foreign policy over the next five years.

Human rights and the rule of law are under fierce attack around the world by political leaders who seek to undermine fundamental principles to consolidate their power. Faced with this threat, it is crucial that France not only strongly reaffirms these principles, but also effectively implements them in its policies at home and abroad. To this end, we are sharing with you a "Roadmap for Human Rights" detailing recommendations on fourteen key topics that we hope will guide your action and that of your government in this regard.

At the national level, in a context of growing concerns about precariousness and social inequalities and strong mistrust of political leaders as to their ability to provide adequate responses, it is more essential than ever that you and your government pursue a rights-based strategy to tackle exclusion and socio-economic injustices more vigorously, acting against discrimination and ensuring the protection of everyone's rights and freedoms.

Respect for human rights in times of emergencies – be it security and/or health - is a major issue. While recognizing governments’ responsibility to ensure the protection of their population, civil society organizations and UN experts have underlined the threat to rights and freedoms that exceptional measures restricting their exercise can represent, particularly when these measures are incorporated into ordinary law, as is the case in France. It is crucial that the new government ensures respect for rights while protecting the population from threats related to national security and COVID-19.

France should finally undertake long-awaited reforms and measures to put an end to systemic discrimination in France, such as ethnic profiling during police checks targeting young Black and Arab men. These persistent illegal practices deeply harm not only the affected people, but also relations between the police and the population at large. They need to stop.

We also call on you to put an end to the often-abusive treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, on French soil by authorities particularly in northern France and at the French-Italian border. The French authorities should always treat migrants and asylum seekers with respect for their human rights and guarantee the right to seek asylum.

We also urge you to reinforce the progress made in women's rights and make the fight against femicide and the elimination of sexual violence and harassment in the workplace a priority. To its credit, France has committed to ratifying the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention but has yet to complete this ratification and undertake the necessary reforms to align its legal framework with the Convention and its guiding recommendation. 

As a matter of extreme urgency, we also call on you to repatriate the French children and their mothers detained in life-threatening conditions in camps for families of ISIS suspects in northeast Syria. Urgent action is needed for one critically ill French woman with colon cancer, whose mother and lawyers have recently made an humanitarian appeal for her to be repatriated and receive adequate care. More broadly, France should comply with the northeast Syrian authorities’ repeated calls to repatriate all its nationals detained in the region. Once back, suspects can be investigated and prosecuted as warranted.  

In the face of major international challenges, human rights should be at the heart of France's diplomacy. These challenges include the overt contempt for human rights from governments in many regions of the world, including among the autocrats that have emerged in Europe and elsewhere, the war in Ukraine and other conflicts marred by grave violations against civilians, climate change and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable.

At the European level, we appreciate that you have placed the protection of the rule of law within the EU as a priority of the French Presidency of the EU Council. However, concrete progress has been slow in coming and efforts need to be pursued to ensure genuine progress of the European Council’s scrutiny of the situations in Hungary and Poland under Article 7.1 and the swift use of the mechanism conditioning access to EU funds conditional on respect for the rule of law.

Human Rights Watch and many other rights organizations have documented serious abuses against migrants and asylum seekers at the EU's external borders, including in Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Poland and Spain. The EU’s policies of cooperation with Libyan authorities on migration and border management have facilitated appalling abuse against migrant and refugees. We urge you to act at the European level to put in place measures to save lives and prevent deaths at the Union's land and sea borders, to strengthen Europe's reception and protection policies for people fleeing war and persecution, as well as to review and reform the bloc’s policies with Libya on migration.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a member of the UN Human Rights Council, France has a critical role to play in defending human rights globally. France has played a major role in the international response to Russian forces’ apparent war crimes in Ukraine. We urge you also to play a leading role in multilateral forums to ensure strong international responses to grave human rights violations in Yemen, the Sahel region, China, Myanmar, Egypt, Israel and the OPT, Lebanon and elsewhere.

France's selective human rights diplomacy, in which France proclaims its commitments to human rights and can show strong leadership in defending them, but turns a blind eye to situations of grave violations to protect its strategic and economic interests, can only damage its credibility.  France's unconditional support and arms sales to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, despite their dismal rights records, encourages abuses and casts doubt on France's sincerity in its commitment to human rights. We call on you to ensure France demonstrates greater coherence in fulfilling this commitment.     

As a country committed to a feminist diplomacy, France should also work with other feminist foreign policy countries to develop a much more robust international response to the widespread abuses women and girls are experiencing in Afghanistan under the Taliban.  

While global warming presents the greatest global threat to enjoyment of human rights, we call on you and your government to take stronger action for the right to a clean, healthy and safe environment and to step up France’s efforts to achieve a rapid and ambitious reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

I hope that you will find this roadmap for human rights useful and that our recommendations will inform France's national and international policy for the respect of everyone’s fundamental rights.

Yours faithfully,

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director  

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