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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - France

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - France, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
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 democratic republic with constitutional provisions for human rights, a directly elected president and parliament, and an independent judiciary.

The military and security apparatus consists of the three traditional military services, a gendarmerie (national police and paramilitary force), and municipal police forces in major cities. All are under effective government control.

France's highly developed and diversified economy is primarily market-based.

The Constitution extensively provides for human rights, and the Government has a good record of investigating and prosecuting violations of these provisions.


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. A police officer who in 1993 was charged with involuntary manslaughter for shooting a robbery suspect in the course of an arrest received in 1994 a suspended 1-year prison sentence. Still under investigation at year's end were two other 1993 cases of police use of force that resulted in death, and two 1994 cases.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance.

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

The law prohibits such treatment or punishment. While isolated instances of police misconduct have occurred, there is no evidence of a pattern of such abuses or that the investigation of such cases is routinely delayed or left incomplete.

In November a police officer who was charged with assault and battery against a doctor from the Central African Republic was found innocent; the case is under appeal.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law provides for freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and the Government fully respects this. Police must refer arrests to a magistrate within 4 days, or 2 days for drug and terrorism cases. Pretrial confinement is very rare. For misdemeanors other than some narcotics offenses, it normally is limited to 4 months, but in certain circumstances it can be extended by about 8 to 12 months.

In August, after terrorists assassinated 5 French officials in Algeria, French police detained 26 resident non-French Muslims suspected of supporting Algerian terrorists. The 26 were held several weeks before 20 were deported to Burkino Faso. French human rights groups argued 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 asserts that the 26 presented an imminent danger to public order and security, and that it therefore acted within the law. At least seven deportees appealed to the administrative courts; by year's end a court overturned one deportation order, involving several defendants, but the Government appealed this. The other cases await decision.

For narcotics smuggling convictions the courts commonly assess not only a jail sentence but also a "customs fine" based on the contraband's estimated value, which usually exceeds by far any financial assets of the convicted smuggler. Upon conclusion of the jail sentence, the prisoner is not released until the fine is paid. Most prisoners cannot pay it, and so are further detained for up to 2 years--the period is determined by customs officials who, for as long as seems worthwhile, attempt to obtain the largest possible partial settlement from the detained prisoner and his or her family.

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for the right to fair public trial, and the authorities respect this.

Trials are normally public, although the defense can request a closed proceeding. All felonies are tried before juries. The press has free access to records of court proceedings, although the prosecutor may not disclose information about cases being tried or investigated.

The law provides for the right of appeal for those convicted of misdemeanors. Those convicted of felonies may appeal only on procedural grounds.

France has no political prisoners.

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

French law provides for freedom from invasion of privacy, and the authorities respect this. Police must obtain a judicial warrant in order to search a private residence, except when responding to a crime in progress. They can conduct such a search only between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., except in special circumstances such as a crime in progress or a drug case. Telephone conversations may be monitored only under a court order in conjunction with criminal proceedings, except in national security cases.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the Government generally respects this. However, in August, following the terrorist murders of French citizens in Algeria, it banned the distribution of five Middle Eastern-oriented publications, contending that they encouraged terrorism. It has also banned distribution of a skinhead publication, on the grounds that it promoted racist and anti-Semitic violence. These bans remained in effect through year's end, with no reported protests of them.

There are three state-owned and three private television networks, in addition to private cable channels. Hundreds of private radio stations also offer uncensored programming.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government does not arbitrarily restrict peaceful assembly or association. Sponsors of public events must give advance notification to local authorities, who normally raise no objection. A denial of permission can be appealed to the highest administrative court (the Council of State).

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for separation of church and state, and the Government respects this. In 1989 the highest administrative court ruled that the "ostentatious" wearing of headscarves by Muslim female students violated a law prohibiting proselytizing in schools. After much media attention--mainly unfavorable--to the wearing of such headscarves, in September 1994 the Ministry of Education issued a directive that prohibits the wearing of "ostentatious political and religious symbols" in schools. This does not specify the "symbols" in question, and it leaves school administrators with considerable authority to do so. Reportedly, authorities in various schools subsequently invoked this directive to keep out a total of about 80 students wearing such scarves (while several hundred others continue to wear them in school). Some Muslims and Jews are protesting the measure.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the Government does not hamper these rights. The Government participates closely with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in assisting refugees to settle in France or elsewhere.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens have the right and ability to change their government through periodic free and fair elections, with universal adult suffrage and secret balloting. They also occasionally exercise this right through national referendums on amendments to the Constitution.

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.

Presidential elections by direct popular vote are conducted every 7 years. Representatives to the National Assembly, the lower chamber of Parliament, are directly elected every 5 years, unless the Government is dissolved sooner. Senators are elected indirectly, by an electoral college, for 9-year terms; elections for one-third of this chamber are held every 3 years. The President selects the Prime Minister from the party or coalition that has the parliamentary majority.

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. In 1994, their numbers were 3 of 30 members of the Cabinet, 17 of 321 Senators, and 34 of 577 deputies in the National Assembly. Some parties have established quotas for women on electoral lists or in party management.

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 in France. The French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (NCCHR)--which has nongovernment as well as government members--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. In March the Parliament amended the Penal Code to increase prison terms and fines for persons found guilty of discriminating on the basis of race, origin, religion, or appearance, or of desecrating grave sites of a specific ethnic, religious, national, or racial group; also, to make organizations as well as individuals liable to charges of discrimination, and to broaden the definition of crimes against humanity.


The Penal Code prohibits abuse as well as violence against women, and specifically criminalizes wife beating. Amendments in March upgraded the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony. The penalty for rape ranges from 15 years to life in prison, with no differentiation between spousal and other rape. Some 13,000 incidents of wife beating were reported to police in 1990 (latest data). Most of the reported assaults on women--54 percent--were committed by spouses, and most of the rest by other male partners. About 60 private associations help battered women. The Government offers shelter, counseling, and financial assistance, and operates a telephone hot-line.

While the law requires that women receive equal pay for equal work, this is often not the reality. Among professionals and managers, the mean discrepancy between wages of women and of men in comparable positions was 29.4 percent in 1993 (latest data), a slight improvement from 31 percent in 1986. In 1993 the pay gap among white-collar employees was 11.4 percent (in 1986, 18 percent), and 17 percent among skilled blue-collar workers (in 1986, 24 percent). Women are underrepresented in the senior ranks of government service (they constituted 12 percent in 1990--latest data) and industry. In 1987 the Government initiated a program to help women enter professions previously dominated by men. It reimburses a participating firm for up to 50 percent of a trainee's educational and other expenses. In 1993 (latest data), 119 women entered this program.


There are strict laws against child abuse, particularly when committed by a parent or guardian. In 1993 (latest data) there were 6,500 cases of physical violence against children. Another 6,000 children were victims of mental cruelty or severe negligence. 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 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. French 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.

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 on the Jewish population. In March the annual report of the NCCHR (see Section 4) noted a sharp rise in attacks and threats, from 172 in 1992 to 342 in 1993. In response, the Government initiated a program to combat racism and anti-Semitism through a campaign to promote public awareness and bring together local officials, police, and concerned associations; it also initiated antiracist educational programs in Paris public schools, and (see Section 2.a.) banned distribution of a skinhead publication. NCCHR data indicate there were 52 arrests in 1993 and 56 during the first 9 months of 1994 for racist attacks or threats. (No data are available on convictions.)The NCCHR's report also implicitly criticized some of the 1993 revisions of the Immigration Law, asserting that "useless and vexing" bureaucratic hurdles in obtaining documentation, such as identity papers, sometimes resulted in separation of spouses and even separation of children from parents.

The police make arbitrary identity checks in areas of high immigrant concentration, particularly those with relatively many black or Maghrebi residents. They stepped up these activities in August, when the Minister of Interior--responding to the assassinations of French officials in Algeria--ordered a widespread crackdown on suspected or potential terrorist networks in France.

Religious Minorities

The NCCHR report in March noted a sharp increase also in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, from 103 in 1992 to 299 in 1993. Government sources indicate that in 1994 some 20 Jewish and Muslim graves were desecrated. No arrests were made for anti-Semitic attacks or threats in 1993, but there were eight arrests on such charges during the first 9 months of 1994. These cases are under investigation.

In April a pro-Nazi militia officer, Paul Touvier, who was convicted of ordering the murder of Jewish prisoners in 1944, became the first French citizen to be convicted of World War II crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

People with Disabilities

The law provides extensive protection as well as welfare benefits for people with disabilities. Since 1988 the law has mandated that disabled persons make up at least 6 percent of all public and private enterprises with 20 or more employees. In some cases the Government will reimburse employers up to 20 percent of the costs of employing a disabled person. A 1993 study concluded that the program was successful in meeting its goals in the public sector; while it found the private sector also largely in compliance, it noted that firms often chose not to hire the handicapped themselves but rather to take advantage of a provision permitting companies to pay into a special fund to help government agencies provide such employment.

A 1991 law requires new public buildings to be accessible to the physically handicapped.

In March the Government's Ombudsman reported that, despite governmental action, disabled people still faced considerable obstacles to the exercise of some of their rights. He called for greater coordination between central and local governments, private social workers, and the handicapped themselves and their families. The Government has not yet responded to the Ombudsman's report.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of association for all workers. Although less than 10 percent of the total work force is unionized (12 to 15 percent in the public sector, 5 to 6 percent in the private sector), trade unions exercise significant economic and political influence. They have legally mandated roles (as do employers) in administering 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.

The unions are independent of the Government, however, and most are not aligned with any political party. Many of the leaders of the General Confederation of Labor and its unions belong to the Communist Party.

Unions can freely join federations and confederations, including international ones.

Workers, including civil servants, are free to strike except when a strike threatens public safety. As 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. In 1994 there were a few, brief strikes in both the public and private sectors; none brought out large numbers or involved long work stoppages.

The law prohibits retribution against strikers or strike leaders, and the Government effectively enforces this.

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 it are required to reinstate 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 80 percent of the private-sector work force is covered by collective bargaining agreements negotiated at national or local levels. Trilateral consultations 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 have a works council, in 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. In its 1993 report, however, the ILO's Committee of Experts questioned the French practice of obliging French prisoners to work for private enterprises at less than the national minimum wage.

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.

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 to a worker and family. The wage was $6.50 (35.56 francs) per hour. Following massive public demonstrations against a draft law that would have lowered the minimum wage for youths in some training programs, the Government rescinded it.

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 safety and health laws. Standards are generally high and well enforced. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations. The law requires that any enterprise with 50 or more employees have an occupational health and safety committee; over 75 percent of all enterprises, covering 75 percent of employees, had such committees as of 1992 (latest data).

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