Some political refugees continued to be subject to administrative detention measures. Criminal proceedings were under way against conscientious objectors to the national service laws. A trial of 138 people breached international norms. Reports were received of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, and of ill-treatment by prison guards. Some people held for several years under a provisional detention regime were reportedly subjected to prolonged isolation. Criminal proceedings continued against police officers and gendarmes involved in ill-treatment and fatal shootings.

In January, shortly after fatal shootings by police officers of unarmed civilians, a draft law was introduced to create the Conseil supérieur de la déontologie et de la sécurité (CSDS) to oversee the working and implementation of codes of practice governing the different police forces and the gendarmerie. The Minister of Justice presented a series of draft laws aiming at a radical overhaul of the justice system. These included measures to confer a greater degree of independence on public prosecutors and to reinforce the principle of presumption of innocence. In May a new law on rights of entry and residence of foreign nationals and on the right of asylum came into force. It was widely criticized as too restrictive, particularly as regards access to asylum procedures.

An agreement on the future status of New Caledonia was signed in May by Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and leaders of the main parties in New Caledonia. The Nouméa agreement established a gradual transfer of power from the French state to the Pacific territory and was endorsed by a November referendum.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment pub- lished a report in May on a visit conducted in 1996 to detention centres in Paris, Marseille and Montpellier. It expressed concern about ill-treatment of suspects immediately after arrest and in police custody and described conditions in parts of Paris-La Santé prison as "inhuman and degrading".

In May the UN Committee against Torture examined France's second periodic report on its implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Committee was "seriously" concerned that the police were handing people over to officials of countries where there was a substantial likelihood they would be at risk of torture. It also expressed concern about a number of allegations of ill-treatment of suspects by police forces and the gendarmerie during arrest and interrogation. It recommended that the authorities give "the greatest possible attention" to allegations of violence and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers and to ensuring that judicial inquiries were impartial and punishment appropriate. It stressed that the authorities should also ensure that judicial inquiries into every reasonable allegation of torture and ill-treatment were prompt and systematic.

Measures of administrative detention (assignation à résidence) were used against some political refugees. In April Salah Ben Hédi Ben Hassen Karker, a Tunisian political refugee who had been detained under an order of assignation à résidence for four years but who faced no criminal charges in France (see Amnesty International Report 1998), left Digne, where he was being confined, to see his family in Paris. He was arrested while taking his daughter to school and sentenced to a six-month suspended prison term by the Correctional Court of Pontoise, Val d'Oise, for infringing the detention order. In May the UN Committee against Torture raised the case of Salah Karker's long detention without trial with the French government.

Criminal proceedings were pursued against conscientious objectors failing to conform to the national service laws, but the majority of objectors remained at liberty. A law enacted in 1997 providing forthe total suspension of compulsory national service by 2002 (see Amnesty International Report 1998) meant that only male citizens born before 1979 re-mained liable for call-up. There was still no provision for conscientious objection developed during military service and the alternative civilian service available to recognized conscientious objectors remained, at 20 months, twice the length of ordinary military service. Refusal to perform military or alternative service remained punishable by terms of imprisonment.

The right to a fair trial was denied to 138 people in a mass trial that opened in September in a gymnasium for prison staff close to the remand prison of Fleury-Mérogis, Essonne. The defendants, detained during mass arrests in 1994 and 1995, were accused of belonging to support networks for Algerian armed opposition groups and charged with "criminal association… with a terrorist enterprise". Twenty-five were still in custody at the opening of the trial before the 11th Correctional Court of Paris. Another 34 had been released for lack of evidence after spending several weeks or months in provisional detention. A small minority of defendants was accused of trafficking in, or possession of, weapons. Most denied any connection with "terrorist" groups; none was charged with any specific act of violence. On the first day of the trial, about 50 of the defence lawyers refused to continue to appear before the court. Their request for a dismissal of the proceedings and retrial was supported by the Bar Council of Paris and the legal-aid lawyers it represented. The request was based on, among other things, the belief that the large number of defendants, the consequent huge size and expense of the 50,000-page case file, and the restrictions placed on access to the whole case file and on the period of time during which it was available for study, made a proper defence of their individual clients impossible. Judgment was reserved until January 1999.

Reports of ill-treatment by law enforcement officers, and of ill-treatment by prison guards continued to be received. Inmany cases the victims were of non-European ethnic origin. In January there were reports that eight detainees of North African origin, including three minors, had been severely beaten by seven guards at the prison of Grasse, Alpes-Maritimes, on New Year's Eve. Medical examinations reportedly confirmed the detainees' allegations. Administrative and judicial inquiries were opened and the prison guards were provisionally detained. They were subsequently charged with committing violent acts while in positions of authority, suspended from work, and forbidden from approaching the prison to meet victims or witnesses.

There were a number of allegations of ill-treatment of asylum-seekers and undocumented foreign nationals, some of whom were returned to countries where they faced persecution. In September, three Sri Lankans – Narendran Yogeswaran, Nadarajah Vijeyalalitha and Mylvaganan Arunan – claimed they were kicked, punched, handcuffed and muzzled with tape by French police while being forcibly expelled from France. Nadarajah Vijeyalalitha claimed that the tape was removed from her mouth after an hour, but when she cried out a pillow was pressed over her face and the tape replaced. She said she fainted from pain. An inquiry was initiated but the outcome was not known at the end of the year.

Some prisoners were reportedly held in prolonged isolation. In November Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (known as "Carlos"), who was held in the remand prison of Paris-La Santé, went on hunger strike in protest at his total isolation, allegedly since his arrest in 1994. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder in 1997, but remained under investigation in connection with other alleged crimes. Joëlle Aubron and Nathalie Ménigon – two members of the group Action directe (Direct Action) (see Amnesty International Report 1989) who were still being provisionally detained at Fleury-Mérogis prison despite having been definitively sentenced to life imprisonment in 1994 – were also reportedly subjected to strict and prolonged isolation. Nathalie Ménigon was reported to be suffering from severe depression and to have suffered a heart attack.

There were new reports of excessive use of force by gendarmes and police officers. In March about 60 Chinese "boat people", who had taken refuge in New Caledonia in November 1997 and were being held in a military hangar at Tontouta airport in Nouméa, staged a two-day rooftop protest against their imminent expulsion to China. Among them were young children and a baby. The protest came to an end when gendarmes attempted to dislodge them using tear gas, to which the refugees reportedly responded by throwing stones and other projectiles. The gendarmes then opened fire with rubber bullets. Nine refugees were taken to the Gaston Bourret hospital in Nouméa. Two, whose injuries were life-threatening, required intensive surgery. Several hours later the French government suspended deportation of the boat people and ordered their release from the hangar.

In August administrative and judicial inquiries were opened after Eric Benfatima was shot dead in Tarbes, Hautes-Pyrénées, by an off-duty officer of theBrigade Anticriminalité, Anti- crime Brigade. Eric Benfatima reportedly approached the officer, who was not in uniform, and asked him for a cigarette. The officer replied that begging was banned in Tarbes. Following an argument, the officer allegedly chased him into an alley and shot him three or four times with a revolver. The officer was provisionally detained and charged with murder.

In December, 17-year-old Habib Ould Mohamed was shot and fatally wounded in disputed circumstances in Toulouse by a police officer who suspected him and his friend of attempted car theft. Habib Mohamed, who was unarmed, managed to stagger away, but was not pursued. His body was later found by a passer-by. The officers on the patrol did not report firing their weapons when they returned to their station, as required by law, and the acting Minister of the Interior stated that "fundamental rules were not respected". It was also unclear why the officers had failed to follow or provide assistance to Habib Mohamed after the shooting. The police sergeant who fired the fatal shot was placed under investigation for manslaughter. Habib Mohamed's death and the subsequent release from detention, under judicial control, of the police sergeant involved provoked a wave of riots in Toulouse.

Judicial inquiries continued into cases of ill-treatment and fatal shootings by gendarmes and police officers in previous years. In April the criminal chamber of the Court of Cassation rejected an appeal by the police officer who shot and killed Todor Bogdanoviç, a Romani child, in 1995. The decision upheld the December 1997 finding of an Aix-en-Provence appeal court that there was sufficient doubt that the officer's action had fulfilled the criteria for "legitimate defence" to justify sending the case for trial before the Court of Assizes of Alpes-Maritimes (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1998). The trial opened in December. The prosecutor, who concurred that the officer had fired at the car from behind and had therefore not acted in "legitimate defence", asked the jury to consider only a nominal prison sentence, accompanied by suspension. The Court of Assizes acquitted the officer.

In July the Grenoble Court of Appeal overturned the November 1997 decision of the Correctional Court of Valence to acquit the gendarme who shot dead Franck Moret in 1993 (see Amnesty International Report 1998). Sentencing the officer to an 18-month suspended prison term, a small sum of compensation and court costs, the Court held that although the gendarme was entitled under French law to shoot to stop the car, the fatal shot had been fired in a "particularly imprudent and clumsy way from the viewpoint of height and direction". The officer's appeal was pending at the end of the year.

In March the Ministry of the Interior wrote to Amnesty International, confirming the length of time Salah Karker had been detained and the reason for the assignation à résidence, but stating that his material conditions were "perfectly satis-factory" and there was no reason to review the situation. The Ministry did not respond to Amnesty International's concerns that Salah Karker had never been charged with a criminal offence in France and had never been given an effective opportunity to be heard by a judicial authority.

In March Amnesty International wrote to the Minister of Justice to request information about the progress of inquiries into the assault by prison staff on inmates at Grasse prison. In November Amnesty International requested information from the Minister of Justice about the alleged prolonged isolation of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, Joëlle Aubron and Nathalie Ménigon and expressed its belief that prolonged isolation can have a detrimental effect on the physical and mental health of prisoners, in some cases amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In December Amnesty International wrote to the Minister of Justice to express its concern that the trial of 138 alleged members of Algerian support networks breached international norms governing fair trial. The organization raised the issues of "equality of arms" between defence and prosecution and the length of provisional detention. No replies had been received to any of these letters by the end of the year.

In May Amnesty International submitted to the UN Committee against Torture, and to the French government, a report entitled France: Excessive force – a summary of Amnesty International's concerns about shootings and ill-treatment. This described a number of individual cases and underlined the problem of effective impunity in the way they were handled by the courts. It also found that the use of rubber bullets against the Chinese "boat people" in New Caledonia had been disproportionate and excessive.

In December Amnesty International sent an observer to the trial of the police officer who shot dead Todor Bogdanoviç in 1995. The observer stated that the trial resembled the "chronicle of acquittal foretold". The President of the court did not show strict impartiality and the extent of bias displayed by the state prosecutor in support of the defence case was a cause for concern.

The organization sought information from the authorities about the progress of investigations into incidents of shootings, killings and ill-treatment.

Amnesty International continued to express concern that, because of its punitive length, civilian service did not provide an acceptable alternative to military service and that there was still no provision for conscientious objection developed during military service

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