Skip to main content
A photo of a TV screen shows French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during televised address on June 22, 2022, in Paris.

A Human Rights Agenda for France

14 Human Rights Priorities for President Macron’s Second Term

A photo of a TV screen shows French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during televised address on June 22, 2022, in Paris. © Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)

As he enters his second term, French President Emmanuel Macron and the French government should ensure that human rights are central to all their policies, both at home and abroad. Human Rights Watch recommends 14 human rights priorities for the French president and government in this agenda.

  1. Protect socio-economic rights as the Covid 19 pandemic continues  
  2. Strengthen the rule of law, including in counterterrorism policies
  3. Ensure the right to equal treatment by the police
  4. Respect the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers
  5. Promote women's rights at home and abroad   
  6. Repatriate French citizens, including children and their mothers arbitrarily detained in northeast Syria
  7. Take stronger action for the right to a clean, healthy and safe environment
  8. Within the European Union, defend the rule of law and the rights of refugees
  9. Show leadership in multilateral forums for the defense of human rights
  10. Put human rights at the heart of France’s bilateral relations  
  11. Protect human rights during deployments of French armed forces abroad
  12. Address arms-related issues to minimize harm to civilians
  13. Support international justice
  14. Strengthen corporate accountability for human rights and environmental abuses in global value chains


  1. Protect socio-economic rights as the Covid-19 pandemic continues  
Volunteers of the Linkee association prepares food boxes for students in Paris on February 11, 2021. © 2021 Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa via AP Images

In France, the Covid-19 crisis exacerbated socio-economic vulnerabilities, despite governmental support and safeguard measures. More people experienced food insecurity during the pandemic and sought food aid. Youth unemployment and food insecurity among young people increased. Parts of France that already experienced high economic inequality were also affected particularly badly by Covid-19 deaths. 

As of April, 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 about vaccines or health care more generally.

At the global level, vaccine access has been deeply inequitable, primarily 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 in low- and middle-income countries. Less than 18 percent of people in low-income countries have received a vaccine. Opaque vaccine procurement contracts with companies have undermined transparency and accountability in public procurement. Unfortunately, the limited deal negotiated at the June 2022 WTO ministerial conference won’t help address these issues. The world will remember France, as a part of the European Union, as among those blocking a more comprehensive waiver during a devastating health crisis.

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

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Ensure that the most socioeconomically vulnerable people in France have better support in a future crisis, so these negative effects aren’t repeated.
  • Support the temporary intellectual property waiver for Covid-19 testing and treatments under consideration by the World Trade Organization to facilitate faster equitable and affordable access to therapeutics and testing globally.
  • 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.
    1. Strengthen the rule of law, including in counterterrorism policies
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 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Under a state of emergency, the executive branch has exceptional powers and can impose temporary restrictions on several fundamental rights and freedoms.

Measures such as curfews, administrative closures of associations and places of worship, restrictions on movement and holding protests, and surveillance restrict the rights to freedom of assembly and of association, and interfere with the right to privacy. While restrictions such as these can sometimes be justified, including on public health grounds, they should be non-discriminatory, necessary and proportionate to the legitimate public interest threat, limited in duration, and subject to review.

In some instances, exceptional measures introduced in France during a state of emergency have later been incorporated into ordinary law, which extends their application beyond the emergency for which they were considered necessary. For example, French authorities used powers initially introduced under a state of emergency to dissolve a leading anti-discrimination organization, alleging among other things that its descriptions of certain counterterrorism measures as Islamophobic incited hatred.

Human rights organizations and other international bodies have documented and criticized excessive use of force by police during protests, harming protesters and threatening the right to protest.

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Ensure respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law while keeping the public safe from threats to national security and Covid-19.
  • Respect the rights to freedom of speech, association, and assembly of civil society organizations that seek to end discrimination and uphold human rights.
  • Ensure that emergency measures are subject to robust and regular scrutiny and judicial oversight and that they do not become permanent measures by being integrated into regular laws for use after the state of emergency.
  • Ensure that counterterrorism measures are non-discriminatory and proportionate and require judicial authorization for measures such as raids and searches.
  • Review crowd control policies to ensure effective safeguards against excessive use of force during protests and unjustified interference with the right to protest. Investigate alleged abuses and hold officers to account for excessive use of force.
    1. Ensure 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

Ethnic profiling during police checks, affecting Black and Arab youth in particular, continues to be a pervasive problem in France, even though the Constitutional Council (Conseil Constitutionnel), France’s highest constitutional authority, has confirmed that identity checks must be “based exclusively on criteria that exclude discrimination of any kind.”

Successive governments have failed to address this widespread, systemic discrimination targeting Black and Arab youth and have allowed this abusive and illegal practice to persist, which deeply harms not only the affected people, but also relations between the police and the population. Faced with the inaction of the French authorities, a group of non-governmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, in January 2021 initiated an unprecedented legal case against the government that seeks to end these abusive practices.

Beyond ethnic profiling,  discrimination by state agencies more widely, including in education, access to housing and employment, affects Muslims, Roma, and migrants, as well as people who are Black and of Arab descent.

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • End discriminatory policing and targeting of Black and Arab youth.  
  • Reform the legal framework for identity checks, adopt specific rules for police controls of children, develop a system for recording police stops, collect data on identity checks, and create an independent complaints body.
  • Support legislation to require police officers to establish a written record of every identity check to explain its legal basis and allow for monitoring of these police operations. This measure, successfully used in other European countries, has proven to be a simple and effective way to ensure transparency and accountability and to build trust without imposing a burden on police officers.
  • Take concrete steps to document, analyze, and address ethnic profiling by the police.
  • Ensure that abuse during police stops is systematically investigated and appropriately prosecuted, and hold officers to account through internal mechanisms for failure to abide by instructions.
    1. Respect 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.

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Commit to humane treatment of migrants and asylum seekers and full respect for their rights, and to protect the right to asylum.
  • End degrading treatment and police harassment of migrants and asylum seekers, with a particular focus on Northern France and Paris; end restrictions on humanitarian assistance and essential services; end police harassment  of humanitarian and human rights workers and volunteers.
  • Ensure that unaccompanied migrant children on French territory have access to the protection and services to which they are entitled. 
  • Take action to make mental health support services available to people seeking protection.
  • Act concretely to help establish 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.
  • Support a reform of the Dublin regulation.
  • Support emergency temporary relocation programs in times of increased arrivals.  
  • Offer additional options for migration status based on family or community ties, language, or historical connections to countries of origin.
  • Develop effective alternatives to desperate and dangerous irregular Channel crossings; including by working with the government of the United Kingdom to create and implement a procedure allowing unaccompanied migrant children to join family members in the United Kingdom; and urging the UK government to identify and implement other safe and legal means for asylum seekers and other migrants, adults as well as children, to reach the United Kingdom.
    1. Promote women's rights at home and abroad  
Women carry a banner reading "stop sexist and sexual violence " on November 20, 2021 in Paris. © 2021 AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant

Recorded sexual violence increased dramatically in France, and France’s femicide rate is among the highest in Europe. 

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 high-risk jobs 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 during lockdown periods. 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. Moreover, France has not undertaken any legislative reform to ensure that the convention and its recommendations are effectively incorporated into French law.  

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Make women’s rights and the elimination of violence against women and girls a priority of France’s national and international policy.
    • In France:
  • Promote legislation to address persistent discrimination against women, in particular wage inequality, violence against women including sexual harassment and assault, and lack of equal representation in politics. Respect women’s rights to self-expression, religion, and autonomy, and do not permit restrictions such as those on religious dress to interfere with these rights.
  • Protect the rights of women who are marginalized or particularly at-risk and uphold France’s obligations to prevent and respond to violence against all women and girls under the Istanbul Convention, regardless of their residency status, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or religion.
  • Ensure the necessary reforms are undertaken to comply with C190 so that people at work can be best protected from violence and sexual harassment and ensure that domestic abuse survivors are not negatively affected  by workplace policies that make it harder to get the help they need.
    • Abroad:
  • As a country committed to  a feminist foreign policy, France should work  with other feminist foreign policy countries including Canada, Germany, and Sweden to develop a concrete coordinated international strategy to end the widespread abuses women and girls are experiencing in Afghanistan under the Taliban.  
  • Promote the C190 internationally and encourage more countries to ratify it. 
  • Make the rights of women and girls a priority of French  diplomacy.
  • As the chair of the Committee of the Parties to the Istanbul Convention,  the Council of Europe treaty designed to strengthen prevention of and protection from all forms of violence against women,  set an example by implementing all aspects of the treaty to prevent violence, protect women and girls, and hold those responsible for abuse  to account. Urge EU member states that have not already done so to ratify and implement the Convention, following the European Union’s recent commitment to join the Convention as an institution.
  • Promote women’s rights as a priority of French development aid, maintaining the focus of the French Development Agency (Agence Française de Développement – AFD) on programs to combat gender inequality, in particular by renewing the 2018-2022 Gender and Development strategy.
  • Pledge political and financial support for sexual and reproductive rights, as essential human rights. Urge other EU member states to uphold these rights in their totality, and publicly condemn those who fail to do so. Sexuality education, family planning, safe abortion, and maternal health services are essential parts of sexual and reproductive health and rights and are key to reducing maternal mortality, gender-based violence, and unwanted pregnancies and to enabling women and girls to realize a range of human rights.
    1. Repatriate French citizens, including children and their mothers arbitrarily detained in northeast Syria
A young person holds an umbrella as he walks in the rain at Camp Roj, where relatives of people suspected of belonging to the Islamic State (IS) group are held, in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province, on March 4, 2021. © 2021 DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images

For more than three years, an estimated 400 French citizens, including about 200 French children and their mothers, have been arbitrarily detained in camps and prisons for suspected members of the Islamic State (ISIS) and their families in northeast Syria. They are held in life-threatening, deeply degrading, and often inhumane conditions, with no ability to challenge the legality and necessity of their detention. Detained children are deprived of their basic rights including the rights to life, protection, health and education.  

To date, France has only repatriated 35 children (the last ones in January 2021) and no adults.

The humanitarian and security conditions in the two locked camps holding women and children continue to deteriorate. Hundreds of detainees in the larger camp, al-Hol, have already died in the past three years, at least half of them children, according to the UN. Causes include lack of medical care, unsanitary conditions, accidents such as tent fires, and dramatically rising insecurity, including targeted killings by ISIS and sexual assaults, including of children. Conditions are even worse in the overcrowded prisons holding thousands of male ISIS suspects including an estimated 60 Frenchmen and 850 boys from dozens of countries. ISIS assaulted the largest of these prisons in January, leading to a deadly, 10-day battle and hundreds of deaths of prisoners and local armed forces.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, UN human rights experts, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as France’s National Human Rights Commission (CNCDH) and defender of rights have called for the repatriation of children and their mothers. The Kurdish-led authorities in northeast Syria who are detaining the French and other foreigners have repeatedly urged home countries to repatriate their nationals.

In a February 23 decision, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child found that France had violated the right to life of French children held in these camps, their right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their best interests.

The arbitrary detention of children also violates international principles for children associated with armed groups, who are to be viewed primarily as victims. UN Security Council Resolution 2396 of 2017, which is binding on all member states, emphasizes the importance of assisting women as well as children associated with groups such as ISIS who may themselves be victims of terrorism.

Governments that substantively contribute to their citizens’ abusive detention may be complicit in their unlawful detention and collective punishment.

By abandoning their nationals in northeast Syria, countries such as France have only exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and security risks. Moreover, by allowing their nationals to be indefinitely detained in northeast Syria with no due process, France and other home countries are contributing to impunity for any ISIS crimes committed by adult detainees, while collectively punishing their children.

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Urgently repatriate the French children detained in northeast Syria as well as their mothers, in line with the international rights of the child to family unity.
  • Provide sufficient rehabilitation and reintegration services, including psychological support, to repatriated nationals.
  • More broadly, comply with the northeast Syrian authorities’ repeated calls to repatriate its detained nationals. Once back, suspects can be investigated and prosecuted as warranted.
  • In the meantime, provide adequate aid to improve camp and prison conditions in northeast Syria and press the United Nations Security Council to reauthorize vital aid operations across Syria’s borders.
    1.  Take stronger action for the 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

Global warming presents the greatest global threat to enjoyment of human rights. France has made a commitment to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030. While efforts have been made to reduce emissions, past progress has been too slow, revealing an urgent need for more ambitious measures to ensure that France meets its target. France positively advanced plans to end international public finance for fossil fuels. But other financial support and subsidies for fossil fuels remain. In fact, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, France has given more financial support to fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis and threatening rights than to clean energy.

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Put the fight against global warming at the center of France’s policies over the next five years and implement all necessary measures to achieve rapid, ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reductions. 
  • Take the required steps to hold corporations accountable for their part in driving climate change and environmental degradation.
  • End fossil fuel subsidies and restrict imports of products that drive deforestation globally. 
    1.  Within the European Union, defend the rule of law and the rights of 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 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 proposed that EU member states should establish independent border monitoring mechanisms that could 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.  

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • 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)
  • Push for genuine progress of the European Council’s scrutiny of the situations in Hungary and Poland under Article 7.1 proceedings with the scheduling of regular hearings on the situations in both countries, the adoption of rule of law recommendations, and a vote to determine whether EU values are at risk in both countries.
  • Support the swift use by the European Commission of the regime of conditionality for the EU budget to defend against breaches of the principles of the rule of law and ensure that the Council implements decisions proposed by the Commission rapidly and transparently.
  • Stand firm against efforts to undermine the right to seek asylum and safeguards against summary and collective expulsions and unsafe returns.
  • Strengthen the proposal of the European Commission in the Pact on migration and asylum to establish credible independent border monitoring mechanisms and ensure that the scope of the monitoring applies to all alleged fundamental rights violations during border-control activities. Push to ensure that there are stronger guarantees for independence from law enforcement institutions and assurances that such mechanisms would act on all information available and that findings and conclusions are reported publicly and lead to actual consequences in the event of fundamental rights violations.
  • Support a reform of the Dublin system that includes a permanent relocation or responsibility-sharing mechanism, to alleviate the pressure on countries of first arrival and the suffering of people at the EU’s external borders, and press for the use of temporary, emergency relocation systems during future crises.
  • Encourage adoption of a global EU resettlement framework with meaningful pledges based on a protection assessment  using UNHCR criteria, focused on the most vulnerable people, ensuring respect for family unity, and commensurate with global needs.
  • Call for greater transparency on measures taken by Frontex to act on serious-incident reports, complaints, reports from its fundamental rights officer and its fundamental rights monitors as well as from international and regional organizations and independent non-governmental groups, and to implement its due-diligence obligation to suspend or terminate operations in cases of serious abuse.
  • Lead on a review of the EU cooperation with Libyan authorities on migration and border management, in particular EU support for the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy, with a view to making continuing migration cooperation with Libyan authorities conditional on concrete and verifiable steps toward the prompt release of anyone arbitrarily detained in Libya; the end of the system of automatic, indefinite detention solely on the basis of migration status; guarantees that the UNHCR can carry out its mandate and have full access to people of concern there; and the ratification and implementation by Libya of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
  • Promote policies to save lives and prevent migrant deaths, including through robust, state-led and active search-and rescue operations where they are needed and support for nongovernmental lifesaving and humanitarian efforts.
  • Commit to an EU foreign policy that remains faithful to the values of the Union, and that defends human rights and democracy in all circumstances and with all states of the world. 
    1.  Show leadership in multilateral forums for the defense of human rights.
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

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a member of the UN Human Rights Council, France has a critical role to play in defending rights globally. In line with its international commitments, France should take a leadership role and initiate coordinated actions in multilateral forums on specific country situations. Such situations include countries facing atrocity-filled armed conflicts, including Ukraine, Yemen, countries in the Sahel region, Central African Republic, and Cameroon; China, where authorities are committing crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang; Myanmar, where the military has committed crimes against humanity both before and since the 2021 coup; Afghanistan, where the worst women's and girls' rights crisis in the world is unfolding; Israel-Palestine, where Israeli authorities are perpetrating the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians; Ethiopia, where  authorities have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against Tigrayans in Western Tigray; and situations of widespread violations in Russia, Egypt, Lebanon, and others that require strong international responses.  

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Play a leadership role in multilateral forums, especially at the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, to end the grave human rights and humanitarian violations in situations and countries around the world. 
  • Defend the role of nongovernmental organizations and  human rights activists as well as academic and media freedom, in ensuring democracy and respect for human rights.
  • Ensure that all peace negotiations and peacekeeping missions  systematically include a human rights component.
  • Take action to address attempts by authoritarian regimes, such as UN Security Council members China and Russia, to prevent civil society representatives and human rights defenders from speaking out in multilateral forums or during international events.
    1.  Put human rights at the heart of France’s bilateral relations 

In a context of overt contempt for human rights and checks on their power on the part of governments in many regions of the world, France should make human rights a priority of its bilateral relations with other countries. Failing to mention substantial rights abuses and weak adherence to the rule of law when discussing French relations with partner countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and others,  weakens France’s credibility when promoting human rights on the world stage.

Strong diplomatic statements, delivered publicly and privately when serious human rights violations occur, can push states to end these abuses, hold perpetrators accountable while ensuring justice for victims, and enact the reforms necessary to stop systemic abuses. France should use its leverage and condition its support to concrete human rights progress with governments responsible for serious violations.  

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.

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Put human rights at the heart of French diplomacy. 
  • Publicly support civil society and human rights defenders under threat, particularly in countries with which France has strong partnerships (military, economic, cultural).
  • Press countries that receive French military and security assistance to conduct credible and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations. Suspend military and security assistance if they don’t.
  • Send a clear message to the diplomatic corps that human rights will be central to their daily work. Chiefs of mission should receive training in international human rights law and international humanitarian law. They should receive regular briefings on the human rights situation in their host countries, including from a range of local civil society groups, particularly those representing marginalized populations.   
    1.  Protect human rights during deployments of French armed forces abroad

French armed forces are deployed in many regions around the world, including the Sahel, Iraq, Eastern Europe and Lebanon.

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Ensure that French forces deployed abroad and allied forces respect and make the protection of human rights a priority in all military operations. 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 anyone detained or imprisoned.
  • Publicly call on France’s allies who are parties to conflicts to conduct credible, independent and impartial investigations into allegations of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations by any party to the conflict. Call for the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes and other criminal violations and for the victims to have access to justice, reparations and compensation in line with international standards.
  • Require systematic training of all French troops on their human rights obligations – including zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse – prior to deployment abroad. Commanders should be prepared to supervise troops in a manner that prevents violations and that reports and sanctions anyone who commits them. Whenever French troops are alleged to have committed abuses or human rights violations, call for timely, rigorous, and impartial investigations in line with international standards, that are capable of leading to successful prosecution of suspects where appropriate.
  • Ensure the full and effective implementation of the international Safe Schools Declaration to promote protection for students, teachers, and schools during conflict and promote its endorsement by other countries.
    1.  Address arms-related issues to minimize harm to civilians

France's biggest arms export clients over the past decade include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and 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.  

Since 2013, France has participated in international talks at the United Nations on concerns raised by autonomous weapons systems particularly those that would select and engage targets without meaningful human control.

The use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas has disastrous consequences for the protection of civilians. People in affected areas are at grave risk of death and serious injury, while damage to and destruction of housing and essential infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, power networks, and water and sanitation systems, causes yet more harm and has long-lasting consequences for communities and their well-being. Over the past decade, 90 percent  of victims of explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians.

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Reinforce transparency and parliamentary control over France’s arms exports. 
  • Collaborate with other countries to develop new international law that includes prohibitions and regulations on autonomous weapons systems and retains meaningful human control over the use of force. 
  • Support and implement a strong international political declaration to better protect civilians from the humanitarian consequences of explosive weapons on populated areas.
  • Develop policies and practices to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas
    1.  Support 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.

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Fight impunity for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by ensuring strong political and financial support for the ICC, while respecting its independence. 
  • Ensure that the fight against impunity and support to the ICC is a priority of French diplomacy in both bilateral and multilateral relations. France should make the most of opportunities presented by the Rome Statute’s anniversary to reiterate its strong commitment to the ICC. France should also take all necessary steps to work with other parties to the Rome Statute, particularly in Africa where the ICC has faced backlash, to maintain their membership in the ICC, and to extend the court’s reach by encouraging other countries to join.
  • Take action to address legal restrictions that weaken the principle of universal jurisdiction in France, including the rules of double criminality and official residence in France.
    1.  Strengthen corporate accountability for human rights and environmental abuses in global value chains

Corporations should respect human rights and the environment not just in their own operations but also in their global supply chains. In 2017, France was the first country to adopt the path-breaking duty of vigilance law introducing civil liability for corporations for human rights abuses in their global supply chains. But enforcing it has not been a strong enough priority.  The government provides little support to  civil society organizations providing legal assistance to victims of corporate abuses.

Efforts to develop  EU-wide legislation for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence have  long been under way. In February 2022, the European Commission published a draft proposal on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence. This proposed legislation is crucial to create a level-playing field among corporations operating within the EU.

The Commission’s February 2022 proposal fell far short of the blueprint recommended by the European Parliament in the resolution it adopted in March 2021. The draft proposal has a number of shortcomings as explained by Human Rights Watch and the European Coalition for Corporate Justice.

Recommendations to the President of the Republic and his government:

  • Propose amendments to the Commission’s draft proposal to overcome the weaknesses highlighted by rights groups, including those highlighted by the European Coalition for Corporate Justice and Human Rights Watch. Amendments should be aimed at widening the scope of application, clarifying procedural aspects related to civil liability to put the burden of proof and obligation to produce information on companies, introduce strong climate change due diligence, and embed responsible purchasing and remediation.
  • Significantly ramp up the implementation of the French Duty of Vigilance (DV) Law in consultation with civil society organizations including setting up designated special courts to hear cases and strengthening the use of the French Civil Code to initiate suo motu civil cases against corporations.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country