Amnesty International Report 2005 - France
|Publication Date||25 May 2005|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2005 - France , 25 May 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/429b27e034.html [accessed 20 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.|
Covering events from January - December 2004
Complaints about police violence and abuse rose sharply. Reports of ill-treatment by state agents, mainly police officers, showed that people of foreign origin were the predominant targets of abusive identity checks. Acts of racist violence, intimidation and vandalism were directed at members of Jewish and Muslim communities, and North African immigrants were the main focus of racist attacks in Corsica. Thousands of people took to the streets in November to protest against the high incidence of violence against women in general and, in particular, at the stoning to death of a young woman, Ghofrane Haddaoui, in Marseilles a month earlier. Conditions in prisons, as well as in holding centres for foreign nationals, deteriorated to below international standards. There were frequent reports that people had been physically ill-treated in holding areas and reception centres or during forcible deportation, and that unaccompanied children were detained in holding areas before being deported.
Ill-treatment by state agents
According to figures published in May by the police and prison oversight body, the National Commission of Deontology and Security (CNDS), complaints of police abuse or violence almost doubled in the previous year. The CNDS urged major structural reforms. Police bodies that investigate complaints against police officers in Paris and in the rest of the country recorded an increase in complaints of over nine per cent in 2003, the sixth consecutive year in which the number had risen. Officers continued to enjoy effective impunity: frequently, no action was taken against officers following complaints, or cases were slow to come to court. By contrast, police prosecutions of people charged with insulting state agents or resisting arrest usually came before the courts promptly.
In October the CNDS criticized the police complaints body for the Paris area, the General Inspection Services (IGS), for an ineffective inquiry into a racist police attack on members of the Kabyle ethnic community during New Year celebrations in Paris. In December a commission composed of human rights groups and judges, Citoyens-Justice-Police, reported that foreign nationals were victims in 60 per cent of police violence cases studied between July 2002 and June 2004. The remaining 40 per cent were French nationals, but many seemed to have been targeted because they appeared of foreign origin.
In a report in March covering visits in 2003, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), reiterated its disagreement with official refusal to grant access to a lawyer in some cases for the first 36 hours in police custody. The CPT stressed that all detainees should have access to a lawyer from the outset of custody, and also during police questioning – which is not currently permitted.
- In April an asylum-seeker and unauthorized street trader, Sukwinder Singh, was reported to have been brutally beaten by a police officer in the Goutte d'Or area of Paris. The officer allegedly banged his head against a car and punched him on the face and body after taking him in handcuffs to the police station. Sukwinder Singh later collapsed in the street and required hospital treatment. The same officer was said to have demanded money and to have ill-treated him earlier in the year. A complaint was submitted to the IGS, but no developments were reported by the end of 2004.
- In November, Abdelkader Ghedir suffered a fractured skull, fell into a coma and had to be hospitalized after he was questioned by police officers and officers of the security services of the state railways (SUGE) in connection with allegations of stone-throwing at trains. Three SUGE officers were placed under judicial investigation on a charge of "voluntary acts of violence" and one, alleged to have kneed Abdelkader Ghedir in the head, was provisionally imprisoned. Demands for a national police inquiry were rejected, although the police officers at the scene had reportedly been present during the alleged assault.
- Update: In December the correctional court of Nanterre (Hauts-de-Seine) sentenced two police officers from Asnières police station to eight-month and four-month suspended prison terms respectively for acts of violence "well in excess of the reasonable use of force" against 16-year-old "Yacine" in 2001. The state prosecutor had requested their acquittal. Yacine required emergency surgery to have a testicle removed. The police appealed against the convictions.
Ill-treatment in border areas
Conditions in reception centres or holding areas for foreign nationals were reported to have fallen below international standards in many areas. These included a number of administrative holding centres in Metropolitan France and similar centres in overseas departments and territories such as Cayenne (French Guiana) or Mayotte. People held at a reception centre for foreign nationals in Paris were allegedly subjected to acts of violence as well as inhuman and degrading conditions.
The Ombudsperson for Children expressed "extreme concern" about the situation of unaccompanied children placed in waiting zones before they were deported. Associations that assist refugees and asylum-seekers in border areas noted that the entry of such children was often systematically blocked. In a number of cases, children had been prevented from rejoining parents already in the country. In November such associations reported that conditions in a holding area at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport (ZAPI 3) had improved, but criticized a continuing pattern of excessive violence during forcible deportations.
In December, in a landmark decision, the Court of Appeal of Paris stated that holding areas should, for legal purposes, be considered as part of French territory and therefore that judges had competence to examine cases.
- Four passengers on board a flight at Roissy in August faced charges of interfering with air traffic and disturbing the peace after protesting about police brutality. They reported seeing French officers hitting a national of Mali who was being forcibly deported. As a result of their protests, they were escorted off the aircraft in handcuffs and held for several hours in police custody.
- Update: In September the Court of Appeal of Paris ordered that there was no case to answer in the death of Ricardo Barrientos, an Argentinian national, while being forcibly deported in December 2002. On an aircraft destined for Buenos Aires, he had reportedly been bent double, his hands cuffed behind his back, and his torso, thighs and ankles bound with Velcro tape, while two police officers and three gendarmes applied continuous pressure to his shoulder blades. He had a mask over his face and was covered with a blanket, which hid him from other passengers and prevented him appealing for help. He collapsed before the aircraft's doors were closed. The court decided that Ricardo Barrientos had not been subjected to "acts of violence leading unintentionally to death", as the charge maintained, because the officers had only been obeying orders to keep him under restraint. The court found that his death was attributable exclusively to natural causes arising from a heart condition. The judgment did not alleviate concerns that the methods of restraint used during the deportation failed to comply with international standards. The CPT, in its 13th General Report in 2003 on detentions under aliens legislation, pointed out the risk to a deportee who is obliged to "bend forward, head between the knees, thus strongly compressing the ribcage", and noted that "the use of force and/or means of restraint capable of causing positional asphyxia should be avoided wherever possible".
Numerous racist acts of violence and vandalism were directed against mosques, Jewish schools and synagogues, and Jewish, Muslim and Christian cemeteries. In July, President Jacques Chirac made a national appeal for racial and religious tolerance, calling for urgent action against a rise in the "despicable and odious acts of hatred soiling our nation". Up to 192 people were questioned by police, and judicial inquiries were opened into several acts of violence, racial abuse and incitement to racial hatred.
Corsica, which has a large immigrant population, was the focus of a wave of attacks against people of North African origin and their properties. Responsibility for several such attacks was claimed by a small armed political group, Clandestini Corsi. In September, during a wave of racist acts, the group congratulated the "anonymous underground movement" for an attack on the home of a North African resident in Biguglia, and made threats against anti-racist and human rights groups for condemning the violence. In November, AI reiterated its concerns and stated that Corsican nationalists or autonomists had a particular responsibility to be firm and consistent in their condemnation of such attacks, irrespective of the identity or aims of the perpetrators. Over 40 such attacks had been reported by the Corsican authorities by the end of 2004.
- In November the home of Moroccan imam Mohamed al Akrach in Sartène (Corse-du-Sud) came under fire after he refused to open his door to knocking and racial abuse. An arson attack had been made on the house in 2003. A week earlier assailants fired on the home of a Tunisian woman and her four children, and left racist graffiti at the scene. Some immigrants reportedly left Corsica because of xenophobic violence.
- In December, four minors were arrested for throwing acid into a hostel for immigrants in Ajaccio. Another such hostel and a Moroccan restaurant were also targeted.
- In December Oueda Bouatti lodged a complaint against two men who allegedly attacked her for wearing the Muslim headscarf in Mulhouse. One of the men reportedly referred to her scarf as "merde" (shit) before punching her and beating her with a stick.
The CPT report in March expressed concern at the "recent and alarming" rise in the prison population, which had resulted in serious overcrowding, an inhuman and degrading environment, and a high rate of suicides. The report concerned in particular the prisons of Loos (Nord Pas-de-Calais), Toulon (Provences-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) and Clairvaux (Aube), visited by the CPT in June 2003. It detailed unhealthy and unsafe conditions, the lack of activities for a large number of prisoners, a sense of exhaustion and frustration among prison officers, and the absence of an effective policy to prevent suicides. These problems were not only, or even mainly, caused by lack of infrastructure, the report found, but originated in a more repressive penal policy that would not be addressed by simply building new prisons. The CPT's recommendations stressed the need for prompt and radical action to cut overcrowding and obtain humane conditions.
In December the Court of Cassation, the highest court in the legal system, rejected the appeal lodged by General Paul Aussaresses following his conviction on a charge of "justifying torture". His memoirs, published in 2001, described acts of torture and summary executions by French army officers in Algeria in the 1950s, and maintained that they had been necessary. In April 2003 the Court of Appeal of Paris had fined him 7,500 Euros and his editors, Plon, 15,000 Euros. The Court of Cassation upheld the prosecution view that freedom of expression should not be confused with the right to say "anything anyhow".
Religious symbols in schools
In March parliament adopted a civil law (No. 2004-228) banning conspicuous religious symbols in state schools, such as large crosses, headscarves, skullcaps and turbans. The law, which reinforced similar existing measures, raised tensions between those who advocated a single national identity and a secular state, and those who believed it infringed principles of multiculturalism and the fundamental right to expression of conscientiously held beliefs. AI expressed concern that the law could have negative implications for the exercise of freedom of religion, expression and other basic rights, to education for example. The organization believed that concern for the protection of the secular nature of the French Republic should not override the fundamental rights to express conscientiously held beliefs or identity, and that the law could have a disproportionate and particular impact on Muslim girls if applied strictly. According to the French authorities, of more than 600 girls who returned to school in September wearing headscarves, a small number were expelled out of the 100 who refused to remove them and who were invited to talks with school officials. Nine Sikh students were said to have been refused entry to courses in September for wearing turbans. The law was to come under review in 2005.