Amnesty International Report 2000 - France
|Publication Date||1 June 2000|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2000 - France , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa0f30.html [accessed 22 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Head of state: Jacques Chirac
Head of government: Lionel Jospin
Population: 58.6 million
Official language: French
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
France was found guilty of torture and of excessively lengthy judicial proceedings by the European Court of Human Rights which, in a separate judgment, also found the French authorities had breached international norms on the length of preventive detention. There were allegations of ill-treatment and use of excessive force by law enforcement officers, sometimes resulting in fatal or near-fatal incidents. Prison guards were also accused of ill-treatment and prisons were criticized for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Courts appeared to remain reluctant to convict police officers for crimes of violence or excessive force, or to uphold sentences that attempted to reflect the seriousness of the crime. In some cases prosecutors appeared to play an active part in perpetuating a situation of effective impunity where police officers were concerned.
Torture, ill-treatment and death in police custody
In July the European Court of Human Rights found that France had violated international norms on torture and the length of judicial proceedings in the case of Moroccan and Netherlands national Ahmed Selmouni who had been arrested by judicial police for drug offences and held in custody for three days at Bobigny (Seine-Saint-Denis) in November 1991.
The Court found that Ahmed Selmouni had clearly "endured repeated and sustained assaults over a number of days of questioning". It stated that the physical and mental violence inflicted such as repeated punchings, kickings, beatings with a baseball bat and truncheon, hair-pulling and other humiliating treatment "caused 'severe' pain and suffering and was particularly serious and cruel". Ahmed Selmouni also claimed he had been raped but the Court found his allegations were made too late to be proved or disproved by medical evidence.
New complaints of ill-treatment by police officers were lodged with the courts. The number of such complaints which included claims that a woman had been hit twice in the face at a Toulouse police station, resulting in damage to and loss of teeth, and that a black post-office worker had been subjected to racially motivated harassment and beating in the course of an identity check in the Paris area focused attention on the continuing need for independent scrutiny of police conduct. Although in January 1998 the government had announced the creation of a body to oversee police conduct, this was still not in place by the end of 1999.
- In January the family of Mohamed Ali Saoud, who died after involvement in a struggle with police officers at Toulon in November 1998, joined criminal proceedings as a civil party following concern that the investigation lacked impartiality. Mohamed Ali Saoud, who suffered from a mental disability, died after a violent struggle, in which police officers hit him twice at close range with rubber bullets. Mohamed Ali Saoud then reportedly seized a police weapon while in the throes of a nervous crisis. He allegedly shot one police officer in the foot. Others were slightly injured in the struggle.
The family alleged that, after he was restrained by the feet and wrists and laid on his stomach on a nailed wooden plank, he was repeatedly beaten with truncheon blows to the head and kicks to the stomach and back. An officer then sat astride him while another placed a foot on his arm and a third held his legs. According to a pathologist's report, he had been subjected to "slow positional asphyxia" and an autopsy report stated that "the visceral lesions are compatible with direct trauma to or compression of the torso". The family was concerned that the investigation remained in the hands of the Inspection générale de la police nationale (IGPN), a police investigation unit, after it had produced a preliminary report favourable to the police argument of "legitimate defence" and that access to the case file was being continually obstructed. A complaint about the biased nature of the inquiry was filed with the European Court of Human Rights in November.
Judicial inquiries continued into a number of police shootings in disputed circumstances.
- In July a police officer was placed under criminal investigation for homicide in connection with the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Abdelkader Bouziane in December 1997. The officer had originally faced a less serious manslaughter charge. In a separate but related case, a police officer reportedly admitted in February, more than a year after the event, that she had shot Mohamed Dries, who was wounded by a bullet in the thigh during the rioting at Dammarie-les-Lys (Seine-et-Marne) that followed the death of Abdelkader Bouziane. At the end of 1999 she was under investigation on a charge of committing violence with a weapon.
- In December a former police officer was sentenced by the Rhône Court of Assizes to 12 years' imprisonment for the manslaughter of Fabrice Fernandez in December 1997. The officer had shot Fabrice Fernandez in the head with a pump-action shotgun while the latter was being held at a Lyon police station.
- A police officer was placed under criminal investigation for "deliberate assault with a weapon" after a shot was fired from his gun while he and two colleagues were questioning Farad Boukhalfa about an alleged traffic offence at Cormeilles-en-Parisis (Val d'Oise) in September. Police sources reportedly stated that the serious head wound sustained by Farad Boukhalfa was caused by a struggle in which the latter had tried to seize the gun; after it was accidentally fired in the air he had fallen to the ground and hit his head. However, doctors at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital to which Farad Boukhalfa was admitted, informed the Pontoise prosecuting authorities that they had recovered "a metallic fragment" from the head wound. This was later identified as part of a bullet fired from the officer's weapon. The officer, briefly held in custody, was released under judicial control and temporarily suspended from the police force.
Several court verdicts highlighted the apparent reluctance of the judicial system to deliver or confirm anything but token sentences on police officers convicted of ill-treatment or using disproportionate force. In some cases prosecutors, often too passive in applying the law, appeared to play an active part in perpetuating a situation of effective impunity.
- In February, more than eight years after the event, and just before the case of Ahmed Selmouni opened before the European Court of Human Rights, five officers of the Departmental Judicial Police Service (SDJP), appeared before the criminal court of Versailles (Yvelines) on charges including assault and indecent assault committed collectively and with violence and coercion against him. Finding that the evidence substantiated the claims of Ahmed Selmouni, and another civil party, Abdeljamid Madi, the court delivered "exemplary" sentences. One officer was sentenced to four years' imprisonment and was immediately imprisoned. Three other officers were sentenced to three years' imprisonment and a fifth to two years' imprisonment. All defendants appealed and angry protests and demonstrations were held by police union members. An unusually swift hearing was held before a Versailles appeal court in May and June. Setting aside the conviction for sexual assault, but upholding the gravity of the acts of violence committed, the court commented that the "complete unreliability of the documents drawn up by the investigation [carried out by the SDJP officers] is extremely serious in that the entire functioning of the criminal justice system rests on the reliance that may be placed on the reports of senior police officers and their assistants". Nevertheless, the court cut the "exemplary" four-year sentence to one of 18 months, 15 of which were suspended, allowing for the officer's immediate release; the sentences against the other officers were also reduced. All five remained in or resumed service, pending appeal before the Court of Cassation. The prosecutor had reportedly called for an amnesty should the officers be convicted.
- In May the Court of Assizes in Seine-Saint-Denis acquitted a police officer charged with inflicting violence leading to the death of taxi driver Etienne Leborgne in 1996. Three days before his death, Etienne Leborgne had injured a police officer while trying to escape from a time-clock check at Roissy Airport. Three days later his taxi was stopped by a team of police officers who fired at the car, shooting Etienne Leborgne dead. A section of the Paris Appeal Court had earlier decided that there was sufficient evidence against the officer to warrant a manslaughter charge, stating that the disproportionality of the officer's action had been "incontestable". Despite the judgment's detailed explanation as to why this was so, the prosecutor requested the officeracquittal for lack of evidence.
In July the Minister of Justice announced the creation of a working group on the external control of the penitentiary system. The announcement came at about the same time as a report by seven non-governmental organizations which called for the establishment of an independent body to control prisons. There was concern about the trend towards longer sentences, with consequent overcrowding, and the frequent inability of custodial staff to effectively monitor and protect the safety of inmates for instance, at the juvenile detention centres of Fleury-Mérogis (Essonne) and Saint-Paul in Lyon. There was also concern at continuing reports of ill-treatment, such as beatings, by prison guards, and allegations about the effects of isolation in prisons.
- There were persistent reports that Georges Cipriani, one of the former members of the armed group Action directe held at Ensisheim (Haut-Rhin), had become mentally ill after spending many years in isolation. Although no longer held in isolation he had reportedly become unable to relate to others or to care for his personal hygiene. In a separate development, two other former members of the group, Joëlle Aubron and Nathalie Ménigon, were transferred in October to a prison at Bapaume (Pas-de-Calais), thus ending a
12-year period of special surveillance. In 1998 AI had written to the Minister of Justice to express concern that they continued to be subjected to especially restrictive measures outside normal prison life and that Nathalie Ménigon, who was suffering from severe depression, had had a heart attack.
Fair trial within a reasonable time
In January, 51 defendants out of a total of 138 who had been denied a fair trial in 1998 were acquitted of the main charge of "criminal association" by the 11th criminal court of Paris. The defendants, detained during mass arrests in 1994 and 1995, were accused of belonging to support networks for Algerian armed opposition groups. Another 87 defendants in the mass trial known as the "Chalabi" trial were given prison sentences, a number of them suspended. A total of 22 people remained in prison following the verdict. An appeal was under way at the end of 1999.
In November the European Court of Human Rights found that France had violated international norms on trial within a reasonable time in the case of one of the defendants, Ismael Debboub (also known as Ali Husseini). The Court found that Ismael Debboub, arrested in 1994 and released in 1999, had been questioned by an investigating judge only seven times during the entire period of preventive detention, and castigated the French courts for their lack of diligence.
Expulsions to Spain
Several Spanish Basques imprisoned in France were handed over to the Spanish police after completing prison sentences in France. There was concern that, in the absence of extradition requests, the practice of rearresting Spanish nationals after they were released from prison and delivering them to the Spanish police at the frontier, was becoming almost systematic. Some of those returned in this way were held in detention awaiting trial before the National Court in Madrid for several years, with administrative courts in France belatedly reversing decisions to expel them to Spain.
- Mikel Zarrabe Elkoroiribe, who was not the subject of an extradition request, was expelled to Spain in December 1995 after serving an eight-year prison sentence in France. He was held incommunicado for four days by Spanish police and was then placed in preventive detention for four years before being brought before the National Court in October 1999. Earlier, in May, while upholding the decision to expel Mikel Zarrabe, a French administrative court found that the decision to expel him to Spain was unjustified and the decision was annulled, but too late to take effect.
- In November the UN Committee against Torture decided that the expulsion of Josu Arkauz Arana, a Basque prisoner who had been handed over to the Spanish police at the border in January 1997 without being able to contact his family or lawyer or to appeal to a court, violated Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
AI country report
- Concerns in Europe, January June 1999: France (AI Index: EUR 01/002/99)