Criminal proceedings were under way against conscientious objectors to the national service laws. There were reports of shootings, killings and ill-treatment, sometimes accompanied by racist insults, by law enforcement officers. There were long delays in the judicial investigations of such cases and it was evident that, in some instances, there was a lack of thoroughness in the conduct of the inquiries. In some cases from previous years officers were brought to justice. The government maintained the severe policy on immigration and border control of the previous year. In August, the Office central pour la répression de l'immigration irrégulière et de l'emploi des étrangers sans titre (Ocriest), Central Office for the Suppression of Illegal Immigration and Unauthorized Employment of Foreigners, was formed in the Ministry of the Interior. There were further mass expulsions of illegal immigrants and the government announced its goal of repatriating 20,000 such people annually. The major security operation to combat attacks by armed groups, codenamed "Vigipirate", continued. It had been launched in September 1995 following a wave of bombings (see Amnesty International Report 1996). In December, a bomb in a suburban train exploded at Port-Royal station in central Paris, killing four people and injuring nearly 100. In June, the Council of Ministers adopted the legislative proposal of the Minister of Justice to introduce radical reforms to the courts' handling of the most serious criminal cases. This proposal would entitle parties in trials at first instance in the present Court of Assizes to appeal for review by a higher court on grounds other than the purely legal aspects of the case. In addition, for the first time, juries in the Court of Assizes would be required to state in writing the grounds for their decisions. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in his 1996 annual report, regretted that France had not replied to his questions on reported shootings and killings by law enforcement officers, but welcomed the proposed judicial reforms in criminal cases. There was still no right to claim conscientious objector status during military service and the alternative civilian service available to recognized objectors remained, at 20 months, twice the length of ordinary military service. In November, the government approved a draft bill proposing the total suspension by 2002, via a phasing-out process commencing in 1997, of compulsory national service. It would be replaced by a compulsory five-day citizenship course (rendez-vous citoyen) for both males and females, and voluntary military and civilian services. Parliament was due to consider the bill in 1997. During the year, criminal proceedings continued to be opened against conscientious objectors who refused to conform to the national service laws, with the exception of Jehovah's Witnesses, for whom the experimental arrangements introduced under a Ministry of Defence directive of 1995 remained in force (see Amnesty International Report 1996). The criminal proceedings resulted in prison sentences, sometimes suspended. However, throughout the year there were no reports of conscientious objectors entering prison and thus becoming prisoners of conscience, as those sentenced to periods of detention remained at liberty while awaiting the outcome of appeals lodged with higher courts. There were further allegations of ill-treatment and shootings and killings of unarmed people by law enforcement officers during the year. In January, Etienne Leborgne, a Paris taxi driver born in Guadeloupe, was stopped by police officers at Roissy airport for a time-clock check. He tried to escape the police check as his clock was over the limit and, in the process, injured one of the officers. Three days later a team of police in plain clothes succeeded in blocking and immobilizing his taxi with him inside. Two shots were fired, shattering the windows. One of the officers then went up to the taxi and shot Etienne Leborgne through the head at close range. The officer claimed that he fired because he saw the driver reaching into the glove compartment, which allegedly contained a tear-gas canister. A judicial inquiry into Etienne Leborgne's death was opened and his mother lodged a judicial complaint alleging murder and complicity to commit murder against the officers. Allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officers were sometimes accompanied by reports of officers using racist insults. In April, Abdelkrim Boumlik, a 16-year-old minor of Moroccan origin who was visiting his family in Soisy-sous-Montmorency, was beaten and subjected to racist abuse by two police officers. One of the officers was a plainclothes member of the Brigade anticriminalité (BAC), Anti-Crime Brigade. Abdelkrim Boumlik had been riding on a motorcycle with a 15-year-old friend without a helmet, contrary to French law. In a formal judicial complaint, Abdelkrim Boumlik claimed that the officers chased him and his friend, kicked and punched them and beat them with truncheons. The officers then attempted to throw him into a lake. Both boys were then handcuffed and ordered to kneel on the floor of the officers' car where they were racially abused and threatened. The two boys were taken to Enghien-les-Bains police station and held in cells until the following morning. The police claimed that they tried to contact Abdelkrim Boumlik's parents without success. However, the parents dispute this. Neither a lawyer nor the public prosecutor's office was informed of his detention. After nearly 12 hours' detention Abdelkrim Boumlik was allowed to leave. A medical certificate from the local hospital recorded injuries consistent with his allegations. Judicial inquiries into many cases of shootings, killings and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers remained open after many years. In April, the Ministry of Defence informed Amnesty International that a reconstruction of the facts had finally been carried out in January in the inquiry into the death of Ibrahim Sy, a young man who was a passenger in a stolen car fired on by gendarmes near Rouen in 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995). The inquiry had still not been completed at the end of the year. In August, a gendarme who shot and killed Franck Moret in 1993 was sent for trial in the Tribunal correctionnel (Correctional Court). Franck Moret was shot while he was in his car with his fiancée in the Drôme department. The families of both young people filed a judicial complaint alleging murder. The officer claimed to have acted in self-defence. In February, two and a half years later, the investigating magistrate finished her inquiry but there was a further delay of six months while the authorities considered which court should try the case. In August, it was sent for trial to the lower court, which sits without a jury, and the party representing the families appealed for it to be transferred to the higher Court of Assizes. The inquiry was still open, after three years, into the fatal shooting of a young man of Algerian descent in Saint-Fons, near Lyon. Mourad Tchier, who was unarmed, was shot in the back while reportedly trying to escape. The case has been characterized by procedural irregularities and continual delays. The reconstruction of the facts by the magistrate was only held two years after his death. Despite long delays, some officers were finally brought to trial during the year. In January, an officer of the BAC intervention squad was found guilty of assault and battery of Didier Laroche in 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995). He had been punched, kicked and hit with a truncheon, sustaining a fractured nose and various injuries to his eyes, face, chest, knees and thighs. The officer was given a four-month suspended prison sentence and fined. The conviction was appealed. In February, the Paris Court of Assizes sentenced an officer to eight years' imprisonment on a charge of assault and battery leading unintentionally to death. Makomé M'Bowole, a 17-year-old Zairian, had been arrested in 1993 in connection with a suspected petty theft of cigarettes. He had been questioned at Grandes-Carrières police station with two others, even after the prosecutor's officer ordered his release to his parents because he was a minor. However, reportedly, the parents could not be found (see Amnesty International Reports 1994 and 1995). The officer admitted producing his weapon to intimidate the teenager, who he said was shouting and had insulted him. The officer stated at the time: "I wanted to frighten him". He claimed that the gun went off accidentally when the teenager tried to grab his hand. Forensic evidence, however, showed that Makomé M'Bowole was killed by a shot at point-blank range from the gun pressed against his temple. In May, Douai Court of Appeal reduced the sentence of a police officer convicted of involuntary homicide. Rachid Ardjouni, a 17-year-old of Algerian origin, was shot in the back of the head and killed. He was reportedly lying face downwards on the ground at the time and the officer was drunk (see Amnesty International Reports 1994 to 1996). The Court amended the original 24 months' imprisonment, increasing the period of suspension from 16 to 18 months and reducing the damages and financial compensation awarded to the family of the deceased. In an exceptional decision, it overturned the Correctional Court's sentence that the conviction should be entered on the officer's criminal record (casier judiciaire no. 2). The officer will, therefore, be allowed to continue to serve in the police, and to carry arms. Amnesty International continued to express concern that, because of its punitive length, civilian service did not provide an acceptable alternative to military service. The organization was also concerned that there was still no provision for conscientious objection developed after joining the armed forces and reiterated its belief that conscientious objectors to military service should be able to seek conscientious objector status at any time. Amnesty International sought information from the authorities about the progress of investigations into incidents of shootings, killings and ill-treatment. In April, an Amnesty International delegation held talks with the Minister of Justice and leading government officials from the Ministries of Defence and the Interior. The delegation referred to the detailed recommendations made in its October 1994 report (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996) and, in particular, the need to reduce the excessive length of proceedings involving law enforcement officers and unwarranted delays in the investigation process. Amnesty International also expressed concern that the special powers available under certain laws to the gendarmerie allowed them to use firearms in situations where the police were forbidden to do so. The delegation stressed that French law should conform to international recommendations. The Minister of Justice described this legislation, in particular the decree of 1943, as "null and void", but at the end of the year it was still in use. The delegation received assurances that police training would be improved and information regarding plans for improving the administration of justice.
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