Head of state: Jacques Chirac
Head of government: Lionel Jospin
Population: 59.5 million
Official language: French
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
2001 treaty ratifications/signatures: Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts
Incidents of police brutality were reported. Asylum-seekers and undocumented foreign nationals were among the alleged victims. Children alleged ill-treatment and there was concern about children being isolated in holding areas. Some reports related to the ill-treatment of foreign nationals in overseas departments or territories. Poor conditions for detainees in police custody incurred strong criticism. The judicial resolution of certain cases of fatal police shootings aroused further serious concerns about the impunity of officers. AI called on the government to face up to its judicial obligations in respect of torture and summary executions of Algerians during the Algerian war of independence. Several judicial inquiries were opened into allegations of human rights violations during the war, but some were closed shortly afterwards.
Ill-treatment of asylum-seekers
There were numerous reports that police ill-treated asylum-seekers allegedly resisting deportation. Individuals described how, while handcuffed, they had been slapped, beaten with truncheons or dragged along the ground. In March a preliminary judicial inquiry was opened after a report was sent to the prosecutor of Bobigny by a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) official, stationed at the newly opened holding area of ZAPI 3 at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport. The official stated that he saw Blandine Tundidi Maloza, a woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, lying on the waiting room floor. Her legs were covered with "wounds tinged with blood that were clearly recent". The woman claimed that the injuries were caused by a police officer kicking her, pulling her backwards and dragging her over the ground by her hair while she resisted attempts to put her on a flight to Douala, Cameroon. Her application for asylum was later accepted.
There was concern about the isolation of children in holding areas. In June, two children, aged three and five, were reportedly separated from their parents and held at Roissy for four days. A 14-year-old girl of Congolese origin was held at ZAPI 3 for 10 days, separated from her mother and in the presence of male as well as female adults.
- In October, Cameroonian national Eric Nguemaleu was allegedly hit with a plastic truncheon while officers tried to put him on a flight to Douala. Medical examinations showed a number of injuries and bruising. In early November he was released from ZAPI 3 by order of the Paris Appeal Court, which concluded that he had not been given prompt medical attention while at the holding area.
A number of foreign nationals alleged that they were ill-treated at borders or in overseas departments or territories such as French Guiana and Saint-Martin (Guadeloupe).
- In February, Malian national Baba Traoré was arrested by frontier police as he was travelling by train from Spain to Paris to renew his passport. Baba Traoré, who had valid work and residence papers for Spain, and was resident in the Canary Islands, claimed that he was punched in the left eye at the police station in the town of Hendaye. Shortly afterwards he was handed over to Spanish police officers, and on the same day underwent urgent surgery on his eye. Medical reports stated that his eye had been severely damaged by a "direct blow". Baba Traoré lodged a complaint with the public prosecutor of Bayonne.
- In August, Koneisi Geddeman, an undocumented national from Suriname, was reportedly severely injured in French Guiana after being repeatedly kicked and beaten in the stomach and head while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground. He was pursued by National Police officers in Cayenne after fleeing when asked for his papers, and was allegedly beaten by up to six officers, both in the street and in the police station, where he was also head-butted. He was held for several hours in a cell without medical care and started to vomit after drinking water. Koneisi Geddeman was subsequently admitted to hospital in Cayenne, where he reportedly remained for several weeks after undergoing surgery.
- The Court of Nanterre opened an inquiry into the alleged serious police ill-treatment of a minor who required urgent surgery for removal of a testicle after being held in police custody in July. According to reports, 16-year-old "Yacine" was taken to Asnières police station, in the Paris area, where he initially resisted attempts to handcuff him and insulted officers. He was taken into a corridor where, although handcuffed, he was punched, kneed and kicked. Contrary to the law, his mother was not immediately informed about his arrest, despite requests by "Yacine".
- Allegations of police ill-treatment were made in June by a group of children of African, North African and Macedonian Rom origin in the Goutte d'Or area of Paris. One of the children, 12-year-old "Ahmet", told AI that he had been struck on the head after being taken to the Goutte d'Or police station in connection with an alleged theft. The children said they had also been insulted, threatened and racially abused.
In July the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published its report on a visit in May 2000 to various police stations, holding areas and prisons. The CPT observed that most allegations of police ill-treatment involved the National Police and consisted principally of individuals being punched, kicked, violently pushed to the ground and handcuffed too tightly. The CPT also noted allegations of ill-treatment inflicted on foreign nationals at airports during attempts to deport them. The CPT observed that conditions of detention, notably in National Police establishments, were incompatible with human dignity, and often "repulsively dirty".
Prolonged isolation of prisoners
In January AI called on the government to take immediate steps to resolve the situation of members of the former armed group Action directe (Direct Action), whose health was reported to have deteriorated alarmingly as a result of prolonged periods of isolation since their arrest in 1987. At least two, Georges Cipriani and Nathalie Ménigon, had reportedly suffered breakdowns in mental and physical health. AI noted that there was evidence that the treatment of the prisoners had fallen short of international standards which seek to minimize the detrimental effects of isolation.
Two Action directe prisoners, Jean-Marc Rouillan and Joëlle Aubron, went on hunger strike in January to draw attention to the plight of Georges Cipriani and Nathalie Ménigon. The hunger strike was called off after a number of assurances were given by the prison authorities, including the provision of appropriate health care.
There was continued concern that delays and obstacles to trials of some police officers contributed to a climate of impunity.
- Ten years after Youssef Khaïf, a young man of Algerian origin, was shot and killed while attempting to flee in a stolen car, a police officer charged with his death was acquitted by the Yvelines Court of Assizes in September. The killing of Youssef Khaïf occurred in June 1991 at Mantes-la-Jolie, Yvelines department, during the disturbances which followed the death in custody of 18-year-old Aïssa Ihich that May. Although the prosecutor excluded the defence argument of legitimate defence, and accepted the officer's guilt, he requested only a suspended prison term as a "nominal sentence".
- The officer's trial took place only after a series of legal obstacles had been overcome. The family of Youssef Khaïf intended to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against the acquittal.
- The trial of those implicated in the death in custody of Aïssa Ihich in May 1991 also took place after 10 years' delay. Aïssa Ihich died from an asthma attack after being severely beaten while lying on the ground. In March 2001, two police officers were sentenced by the Correctional Court of Versailles to suspended 10-month prison terms for acts of violence. The prosecutor had requested that the officers be found not guilty. A doctor was given a 12-month suspended prison sentence for involuntary homicide by negligence after deciding that Aïssa Ihich's condition was not incompatible with the prolongation of custody sanctioned by the prosecutor. An appeal by the officers and doctor was heard in December by the Appeal Court of Versailles, when the prosecutor argued that the police officers should be found not guilty but that the sentence against the doctor should be upheld. The Court's decision was deferred until February 2002. The case was notable for its role in reforming the rules governing police custody.
- In January the Appeal Court of Aix-en-Provence confirmed the order of an investigating judge not to proceed against police officers in connection with the death by asphyxia while under prolonged restraint of Mohamed Ali Saoud in Toulon in 1998. The victimfamily, who had joined proceedings as a civil party, appealed to the Court of Cassation.
- In December, the Court of Appeal of Orléans closed the case against a police officer for the shooting, in the back of the neck, of 16-year-old Abdelkader Bouziane in 1997. An investigating judge, and the Court of Appeal of Paris, had earlier rejected the officer's argument of "legitimate defence" and decided that he should be tried in a court of assizes. In March the Court of Cassation had annulled this decision.
In a book published in May, General Paul Aussaresses, a high-ranking French military officer during the Algerian war of independence from 1954 to 1962, admitted not only that he had personally taken part in torture and summary executions, claiming that they had been necessary, but maintained that the French government of the time had been directly implicated in them. AI called the claims extremely serious and urged the authorities to open a full and prompt investigation. While condemning the actions of General Aussaresses, by the end of the year the government had continued to resist calls for such an investigation.
In May and June a number of legal proceedings against General Aussaresses and others were initiated by groups and individuals. In July and September an investigating judge refused to act on judicial complaints filed against General Aussaresses by two human rights organizations for "crimes against humanity". However, in November, General Aussaresses appeared before a Paris correctional court for "complicity in apology for war crimes". Judgment was deferred until January 2002.
Initial steps were taken to officially commemorate the massacre of Algerians in Paris 40 years before, when a plaque was mounted on the Pont Saint-Michel to the memory of "the many Algerians killed during the bloody repression of the peaceful demonstration of 17 October 1961". Inauguration of the plaque by the Mayor of Paris in October was hotly contested by some police unions and politicians. The precise number of Algerians who drowned after being thrown into the Seine by police officers, or were killed in police stations, on the night of 16 October 1961 still remained unclear but up to 200 were thought to have lost their lives.
- In September the Correctional Court of Toulouse sentenced a police sergeant to a three-year suspended prison term for involuntary homicide for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Habib Ould Mohamed in December 1998. The officer was also barred from pursuing a career in the police force. The Court concluded that, although he had not fired his weapon deliberately, he had committed an "astonishing series of reckless actions, blunders and professional errors" which had resulted in the minor's death. Habib Ould Mohamed, who was not armed, was shot during an attempted arrest and died in the street. The firing of the weapon was not reported, as required by law, and no serious attempt was made by the police patrol involved to assist Habib Ould Mohamed, whose body was later discovered by a passer-by.
- Concerns in Europe, January-June 2001: France (AI Index: EUR 01/003/2001)
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