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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - France

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - France, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 29 August 2015]
DisclaimerThis 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.


France is a constitutional democracy with a directly elected president and National Assembly and an independent judiciary.

The law enforcement and internal security apparatus consists of a Gendarmerie, national police, and municipal police forces in major cities, all of which are under effective civilian control.

France's highly developed, diversified, and primarily market-based economy provides residents with a high standard of living.

The Government fully respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with instances of individual abuse. Racially motivated attacks by extremists caused the death of two members of ethnic minorities. The Government has taken important steps to combat violence against women and gender-based job discrimination. Abuse of children is a serious problem. A series of apparently politically motivated terrorist bombings killed 8 persons in mainland France and 37 in Corsica.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings by government officials.

A series of apparently politically motivated terrorist bombings killed 8 persons and wounded more than 160 others in Paris. In two other cases, extreme rightwing youths attacked and killed members of minority ethnic groups (see Section 5).

In Corsica, there were 37 assassinations and an average of one bombing a day, some of which were politically motivated.

In October a court found a police officer guilty of involuntary manslaughter for shooting 17-year-old Rachid Ardjouni during the course of a 1993 arrest. The police officer was sentenced to 24 months in prison, 16 of which were suspended, and ordered to pay damages to Ardjouni's family. In another 1993 case, an appeals court ordered a police officer to stand trial for murder in the fatal shooting of Makome M'Bowole, a 17-year-old youth from Zaire, during an interrogation at a Paris police station. Still under judicial investigation are two cases from 1994 where police were accused of using force which resulted in deaths.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearance.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices and the authorities punish officials who employ them. Isolated instances of police misconduct occurred, but there is no evidence of a pattern of such abuses.

In August three Marseille police officers severely beat a young Frenchman of North African origin. All officers have been suspended and are under investigation for the assault. An appeals court found sufficient grounds to order a Paris police officer, previously found innocent of assault and battery during a 1994 identity check, to pay damages to Dr. Pierre Kongo of the Central African Republic.

Prison conditions generally exceed international standards and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors. Most prisons provide opportunities for paid employment as well as recreational facilities. Foreign prisoners are offered courses in the French language. In its 1994 report the French organization, "International Observer of Prisons (IOP)," noted cases of overcrowding and mistreatment in some prisons. The report questioned whether the deaths in prison of two inmates in 1994 were really suicides, as determined by the authorities. The IOP also noted that prisoners have greater access to health care, following implementation of a 1994 law.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile and the Government observes this prohibition.

During 1994 and 1995, however, the European Court of Human Rights found in five of the seven cases brought for review that authorities had exceeded a "reasonable delay" in bringing defendants to trial.

In narcotics trafficking convictions, courts often assess a customs fine based on the estimated street value of the drugs in addition to a jail sentence. At the end of their jail terms, prisoners who cannot pay the fine are detained for up to 2 years while customs officials attempt to reach the largest possible settlement. This practice has been criticized by the European Court of Justice.

On June 20, in a coordinated action police arrested 140 persons around the country who were suspected of supporting Islamic militants in Algeria through arms trafficking or of being linked to the wave of terrorist bombings in France. All were released within 1 to 4 days, except for 20 who remain in custody under investigation for charges related to terrorism.

A 1994 case where French police detained 26 resident non-French Muslims suspected of supporting Algerian terrorists continues. The 26 were held several weeks before 20 were deported to Burkina Faso. French human rights groups claimed that the detainees' constitutional rights were violated in that: they were never charged with a crime; they were not permitted to remain in their own place of residence; and those deported were not given a hearing. The Government argued that the 26 presented an imminent danger to public order and security, and that it therefore acted within the law. One individual has since been permitted to return to France. At least seven deportees appealed to the administrative courts; a court has overturned one deportation order, involving several defendants, but the Government has appealed this decision. Other deportees' cases were awaiting decision at year's end.

There are no provisions for exile, and it does not occur.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice.

The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process. There is a system of local courts, 35 regional courts of appeal, and the highest criminal court, the Court of Cassation, which considers appeals on procedural grounds only.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such practices, government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanction.

A wiretap of an official who was believed to be involved in a political corruption case was found to be illegal in February by a Paris appeals court.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.

In January the Government ordered a 24-hour shutdown of Skyrock Radio on the grounds that a talk show host had broken the law concerning "respect for human beings" in praising the recent killing of a police officer. The station ignored the Government request and stayed open. The Government subsequently took the station--which remains on the air--to court. In a separate proceeding, a civil court ruled in favor of the dead officer's family, which had brought suit against the talk show host.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for these rights and the Government respects them in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for separation of church and state, and the Government respects this right in practice.

The State subsidizes private schools, including those that are church-affiliated. Central or local governments also own and provide upkeep for other religious buildings constructed before 1905, the date of the law separating church and state. Cultural associations with religious affiliations may also qualify for government subsidies. Contrary to practice in the rest of France, the Jewish, Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic religions in three departments of Alsace and Lorraine enjoy special legal status. Adherents of these four religions may choose to have a portion of their income tax allocated to their church in a system administered by the central Government.

Debate continues in France over whether denying some Muslim girls the right to wear headscarves in public schools constitutes a violation of the right to practice their religion. In 1989 the highest administrative court ruled that the "ostentatious" wearing of these headscarves violated a law prohibiting proselytizing in schools. After much media attention--mainly unfavorable--to the wearing of such headscarves, in 1994 the Ministry of Education issued a directive that prohibits the wearing of "ostentatious political and religious symbols" in schools. The directive does not specify the "symbols" in question, leaving school administrators considerable authority to do so. France's highest administrative court affirmed in 1995 that simply wearing a headscarf does not provide grounds for exclusion from school, and several hundred students continue to wear them.

In April the highest administrative court ruled that Jewish students could be excused from attending classes on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. The court said that a 1991 law laying out the rights and responsibilities of students in public schools could not be used to prevent authorized absence from school for religious worship or the celebration of a religious holiday.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: the Right of Citizens to Change their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to peacefully change their government, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

There are no restrictions in law on the participation of women in politics or government, but they remain significantly underrepresented in public offices, especially at the national level. Four of 32 cabinet members, 18 of 321 Senators, and 29 of 577 Deputies in the National Assembly are women. To increase women's participation, some parties have established quotas for them on electoral lists or in party management.

The citizens of the "collective territory" of Mayotte and the territories of French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, and New Caledonia determine their legal and political relationships to France by means of referendums, and they elect Deputies and Senators to the French Parliament.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of local and international human rights organizations operate freely, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their views. The French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (NCCHR)--which has nongovernmental as well as government members--also monitors complaints and advises the Government on policies and legislation. It is an independent body within the Office of the Prime Minister.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Statutes ban discrimination based on race, religion, sex, ethnic background, or political opinion, and the Government effectively enforces them.


The penal code prohibits abuse as well as violence against women. Wife beating is a felony. The penalty for rape ranges from 5 to 20 years in prison, with no differentiation between spousal and other rape. There were 6,540 reported rapes or sexual assaults in 1995. Some 15,700 incidents of wife beating (including 98 which resulted in death) were reported to police in 1993 (latest data). The Government offers shelter, counseling, and financial assistance, and operates a telephone hot-line, and in 1995 added 500 additional staff members at these welcome centers. About 60 private associations also help battered women.

While the law requires that women receive equal pay for equal work, this is often not the reality. A 1994 study (latest data) found a mean discrepancy between wages of women and men of 20 percent in the private sector and 18 percent in the public sector. The same study found that the unemployment rate for women averaged about 4 points higher than that for men.


The government demonstrates a strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through well-funded systems of public education and medical care. The Ministry for Family Affairs oversees implementation of the Government's programs for children. There are strict laws against child abuse, particularly when committed by a parent or guardian. In 1994 (latest data) there were 15,000 reported cases of mistreatment (physical violence, sexual abuse, mental cruelty, or severe negligence) against children. Special sections of the national police and judiciary are charged with handling these cases. The Government provides counseling, financial aid, foster homes, and orphanages, depending on the extent of the problem. Various associations also help minors seek justice in cases of mistreatment by parents.

Some immigrants from countries where female genital mutilation (FGM) is customary subject their children to this practice, which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. Authorities have prosecuted some cases involving FGM and have undertaken an information campaign to inform immigrants that FGM is contrary to the law and will be prosecuted.

People with Disabilities

There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services. The Government announced several measures this year to boost employment opportunities for the handicapped. A 1991 law requires new public buildings to be accessible to the physically handicapped, but they are unable to enter most older buildings and public transportation.

Religious Minorities

The annual NCCHR report released in March noted a 10 percent decrease in the number of threats or attacks against Jews, from 181 in 1993 to 162 in 1994 (latest data). There were eight arrests in 1994. These cases are under judicial investigation.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Anti-immigrant sentiments sparked incidents including occasional attacks by skinheads on members of the large Arab/Muslim and Black African communities, and the Jewish population. In March the annual report of the NCCHR (see Section 4) noted a 13 percent rise in racist attacks and threats, from 172 in 1993 to 194 in 1994 (latest data).

On the fringes of a May 1 National Front political rally a skinhead reportedly pushed Brahim Bouraam, a young Moroccan bystander, off a quay to his death. An attacker has been charged in the case and is awaiting trial. The Government denounced the attack and then-President Mitterrand participated in a large anti-racism demonstration held shortly thereafter. Three National Front youths have been arrested and charged in the February murder in Marseille of Ibrahim Ali, a 17-year-old Comoran. The Government strongly condemns such attacks, has strict anti-defamation laws and prosecutes perpetrators whenever possible. Government programs attempt to combat racism and anti-Semitism by promoting public awareness and bringing together local officials, police, and citizen groups. There are also antiracist educational programs in some public school systems.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of association for all workers. French trade unions exercise significant economic and political influence, although only about 10 percent of the total work force is unionized. Unions have legally mandated roles (as do employers) in the administration of social institutions, including social security (health care and most retirement systems), the unemployment insurance system, labor courts, and the economic and social council, a constitutionally-mandated consultative body.

Unions are independent of the Government, and most are not aligned with any political party. Many of the leaders of the General Confederation of Labor and its unions, however, belong to the Communist Party. Unions can freely join federations and confederations, including international bodies.

Workers, including civil servants, are free to strike except when a strike threatens public safety. One-fourth of all salaried employees work for the Government: strikes in the public sector tend to be fairly numerous and receive extensive media coverage. The end of 1995 saw large-scale industrial action against government efforts to reduce budget deficits. These actions brought out large numbers of trade union demonstrators and involved significant work stoppages.

The law prohibits retaliation against strikers and strike leaders, and the Government effectively enforces this provision.

b.The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers, including those in the three small export processing zones, have the right to organize and bargain collectively. The law strictly prohibits antiunion discrimination; employers found guilty of such activity are required to correct it, including reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.

A 1982 law requires at least annual bargaining in the public and private sector on wages, hours, and working conditions at both plant and industry levels, but does not require that negotiations result in a signed contract. In case of an impasse, government mediators may impose solutions that are binding unless formally rejected by either side within a week. If no new agreement can be reached, the contract from the previous year remains valid. Over 90 percent of the private-sector work force is covered by collective bargaining agreements negotiated at national or local levels. Trilateral consultations (i.e., unions, management, and government) also take place on such subjects as the minimum wage, temporary work, social security, and unemployment benefits. Labor tribunals, composed of worker and employer representatives, are available to resolve complaints.

The law requires businesses with more than 50 employees to establish a works council, through which workers are consulted on training, working conditions, profit-sharing, and similar issues. Works councils, which are open to both union and nonunion employees, are elected every 2 years.

The Constitution's provisions for trade union rights extend to France's overseas departments and territories.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law, and the Government effectively enforces this provision. In its 1993 report, however, the International Labor Organization's

Committee of Experts (COE) questioned the French practice of obliging French prisoners to work for private enterprises at less than the national minimum wage. In June 1995, the Government officially responded to the COE, pointing out that prisoners participate in a work program on a voluntary--not a mandatory--basis, that more prisoners request work than can be accommodated, and that the work is designed to prepare prisoners for reentry into the labor force. The Government is awaiting a response from the ILO to its submission.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

With a few exceptions for those enrolled in certain apprenticeship programs, children under the age of 16 may not be employed. Generally, work considered arduous or work between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. may not be performed by minors under age 18. Laws prohibiting child employment are effectively enforced through periodic checks by labor inspectors, who have the authority to take employers to court for noncompliance with the law.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

France has an administratively determined minimum wage, revised whenever the cost-of-living index rises 2 percentage points, and it is sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The wage was raised to $7.62 (F 36.98) per hour as of July 1.

The legal workweek is 39 hours, with a minimum break of 24 hours per week. Overtime is restricted to 9 hours per week.

The Ministry of Labor has overall responsibility for policing occupational health and safety laws. Standards are high and effectively enforced. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations. The law requires each enterprise with 50 or more employees to establish an occupational health and safety committee. Over 75 percent of all enterprises, covering more than 75 percent of all employees, have fully functioning health and safety committees.

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