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Human Rights Developments
Institutional xenophobia and incidents of anti-immigrant violence were the primary human rights concerns in France in 1995. Disparate treatment and harassment were particularly directed against persons of North African origin. The strong showing of the anti-immigration Front National Party (FN), which garnered 15 to 20 percent of the vote in presidential and municipal elections, encouraged the major political parties to endorse anti-immigrant positions.

France's restrictive immigration policy remained a matter of concern. The French government adopted a highly restrictive definition of refugee, limiting the notion of "agent of persecution" to state actors. The number of applications for refugee status granted in France dropped from 23.5 percent for 1994 to less than 11.5 percent for the first five months of 1995. Representatives of foreigners' rights organizations reported that France's policy on safe third countries resulted in violations of the fundamental principle of non-refoulement. There were reports of France's attempt to send Iraqis to Jordan, Afghans to Russia and Zairians to Cameroon to seek asylum with no assurances that they would have a fair opportunity to state their claim. In addition, the French authorities decided categorically that certain countries were incapable of producing refugees. Asylum seekers, such as Roma from Romania, were denied the opportunity to state their claims for asylum despite evidence of well-founded fears of persecution.

Sporadic incidents of violence against foreigners continued in France throughout 1995, and were of particular concern when committed by law enforcement officers. For example, on August 11, 1995, following a routine identity check, three uniformed policemen in Marseille beat a French citizen of Algerian origin. The victim was driven by police to a deserted quarry where he was beaten and allegedly robbed by police. The police were apprehended when one of them returned to the scene of the crime to recover his club. The officers were suspended and imprisoned for three weeks. During the investigation, one of the officers testified that the police hierarchy was aware of the use of intimidation tactics and did not condemn such practices.

Further, police officers convicted of violence against foreigners or immigrants appeared to receive light sentences in contrast with the gravity of the crimes. For example, on November 3, 1994, a twenty-four-year-old police officer sodomized an Algerian detained in the Paris Retention Center for Foreigners (Le Dépôt des Etrangers de la Préfecture de Police de Paris), which was formerly located in the basement of the Ministry of Justice. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe reported on the inhumane and degrading conditions of the retention center. Following protests by French NGOs, human rights lawyers and activists, the Paris center was closed on April 26, 1995. The officer convicted of sodomy was sentenced to eighteen months in prison, of which twelve months was a suspended sentence.

Government bans of books violated the right to free speech and expression. In April 1995, the Interior Ministry banned the book The Legal and Illegal in Islam, by the Egyptian theologian Youssef Qaradawhi, on the grounds that it was anti-Western. The ban was later rescinded. On August 17, 1995, the government banned The White Book on the Repression in Algeria (1991-1994) published by Hoggar publications in Switzerland. According to the Interior Ministry, the book was "FIS [Front islamique du salut] propaganda" whose "appeal to hate" could lead to "incidents of public disorder."

The Right to Monitor
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has received no information to indicate that human rights monitors in France were prevented from conducting their investigations and reporting on their findings during 1995.

U.S. Policy
The only significant public statements by the U.S. on human rights in France were found in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994. Its section on France, while generally accurate, omitted credible reports by human rights groups of police ill-treatment, especially of non-Europeans, and failed to note that minimal sanctions for excessive use of force by police appeared to be systematic in France.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
As part of an ongoing project to analyze and help reduce xenophobia throughout Europe, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki conducted a three-month mission to France in 1995 to assess the treatment of foreigners and immigrants. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki focused its efforts on an investigation of violations of international refugee law in the treatment of asylum seekers in France. A report on the findings of that mission and our recommendations were in preparation at this writing.

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