Following serious unrest in many cities and towns throughout France, the government declared a state of emergency in November. Immediate expulsions of people involved in the riots were also announced by the Minister of Interior. Developments in law and administrative regulations restricted the right to seek asylum and to have the asylum claim considered on its merits. An AI report demonstrated a 10-year pattern of racist ill-treatment and killings by the police, and of failures in the judicial system to hold those responsible to account. Racism within the police and other law enforcement bodies was targeted at people of Muslim or minority ethnic origin. A draft anti-terrorism law would allow longer periods in incommunicado detention, removing safeguards against torture and ill-treatment and reinforcing the effective impunity of law enforcement officials. New regulations curtailed domestic asylum law by cutting the time in which asylum applications could be made, and requiring applications to be made in French.

State of emergency declared

Frustration at discriminatory practices in areas such as employment among communities of French nationals of North African and sub-Saharan extraction, as well as migrants, coupled with anger at the often racist and aggressive conduct of the police, boiled over into rioting in many cities and towns throughout France after the disputed deaths of two boys in October. On 9 November the government declared a state of emergency in the whole metropolitan territory and imposed specific additional measures in some areas and cities, including Paris, under a law passed in 1955 and applied only once since then. The law allows Préfets (high-level civil servants who represent the state at the local level) to take measures needed for the maintenance of public order. The measures included curfews within certain areas and times, and allowed law enforcement officials to carry out searches without warrants, close public meeting places of any kind and limit freedom of movement.

On the same day, the Minister of Interior announced that he had ordered the Préfets to proceed with the immediate expulsion of people convicted of criminal acts during the riots, whether their status was regular or irregular, and regardless of whether they had residence permits.

The state of emergency, initially due to last only 12 days, was later extended until 21 February 2006.

Impunity for police abuses

In April, AI published a report demonstrating a 10-year pattern of racist ill-treatment and killings by the police. The report highlighted failures in the judicial system to hold those responsible to account, and to provide victims of human rights violations with the right to redress and reparations. The report concluded that the government's continued failure to address these violations had led to a climate of impunity for law enforcement officers, resulting in a "two-speed" approach by officials which ensured that the prosecution of cases brought by police officers proceeded more quickly than those brought by the victims of police abuse. The vast majority of such cases involved foreign nationals or French nationals of foreign origin.

  • On 17 May, two policemen were given suspended prison sentences after being convicted of the serious assault and racial abuse in 2002 of Karim Latifi, a computer consultant. The High Court in Paris gave them suspended three- and four-month prison sentences, and acquitted two other law enforcement officers in the same case. A civil lawsuit for damages was still pending. In 2002 the case had been closed after investigation by the Services General Inspectorate, the police complaints body for the Paris area, and judicial proceedings were pursued only because Karim Latifi initiated a private prosecution.
  • On 31 August, Brice Petit and Jean-Michel Maulpoix, both writers and teachers, were convicted of defamation and fined 3,000 euros each. Brice Petit was acquitted of insulting public officials. He had been roughly handled and detained for 12 hours after challenging police treatment of a suspect restrained on the ground in Montpellier in April 2004. He and others subsequently published information about the case on the Internet. He and an eyewitness testified in court that he had not called the officers "Nazis" or "anti-Semites", as alleged, but had peacefully protested that the force used to arrest an unarmed man for a minor public order offence was unacceptable.

Racism and discrimination

In February and March, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considered periodic reports by France on implementation of the UN Convention against Racism. The Committee welcomed legislative measures to combat racial discrimination, including a law adopted in June 2004 to ban the spread of racist messages on the Internet and in December 2004 to establish an official body to investigate and take action against discrimination. However, the Committee recommended further preventive measures, impartial investigation of all complaints, punishments proportionate to the gravity of the crimes, and the publicizing of complaints and compensation procedures.

In a report in February the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) acknowledged that France had taken steps to combat racism and intolerance. These included the establishment of a free telephone helpline for reporting racial discrimination and schemes to facilitate the integration of newly arrived immigrants; improvements in immigrant children's access to education; and the creation of an independent police and prison oversight body, the National Commission on Ethics in Security. However, the ECRI pointed to persistent complaints of violence, humiliation, racist verbal abuse and racial discrimination by police and gendarmerie officers, prison staff and personnel working in reception centres or holding areas for refugees and asylum-seekers.

A 38 per cent rise in complaints of police violence (97 in 2004, compared with 70 in 2003) was reported in April by the National Commission on Ethics and Security. In a third of cases, the violence was said to be manifestly racist in character.

In march, the national consultative human rights commission (cncdh) published its annual report, according to which the number of racist and anti-semitic attacks had almost doubled in 2004 compared with the previous year. the cncdh expressed its concern that anti-semitism had become "rooted" in society.

Anti-terrorism measures

Draft anti-terrorism law

A new anti-terrorism law proposed to the Council of Ministers in October would remove safeguards against torture or ill-treatment. Under the draft, the period in which people suspected of terrorism could be detained for interrogation before being brought before a judge (garde à vue) was to be extended from four to six days. The Minister of Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, was reported as saying that such detainees would have access to a lawyer only after 72 hours in police custody. Combined with the continued failure to videotape the interrogation of adult suspects, such measures risked contributing to the effective impunity of law enforcement officials for the torture or ill-treatment of detainees.

Other measures in the draft law were an expansion of video and telephone surveillance; the monitoring of public transport records; and new powers of official access to connection data held by Internet cafés and to data on identity cards, passports, driving licences, car registration documents, residence permits for non-nationals and other personal records. The draft law would also raise the sentence for heading a terrorist organization from 20 to 30 years' imprisonment and, under its provisions, people who had become nationals through naturalization in the previous 15 years could have their French nationality withdrawn and be expelled from the country (previously the limit was 10 years).

The proposed law was approved by both chambers of parliament in December. It was then sent to the Constitutional Council for approval.


  • In separate cases in July and August, four Algerian nationals were deported to Algeria where they were at risk of torture or ill-treatment. The men were reportedly suspected of a range of offences, including promoting violence and religious hatred in mosques in the Lyon and Paris areas. Three of them had served prison sentences in France after being convicted on charges including unauthorized entry to the country; having links with terrorist networks; providing paramilitary training to young Islamist activists; and an attempted attack on a train.

Asylum rights curtailed

In April a three-year process of increasing restrictions on asylum, included under a new asylum law in December 2003, concluded with the implementation of administrative measures. New regulations allowed less time for submitting asylum applications: asylum-seekers were to be issued temporary residence permits but had to complete their applications and submit them in French within 21 days (previously within a month).

A new list of 12 "safe" countries was adopted in June. Under the new regulations the claims of people from these countries are examined under a fast-track procedure that lacks basic elements of protection. Asylum-seekers are not granted a residence permit, do not receive any support from the state, and have only two weeks to submit their application in French. They must be given a decision within two weeks, and may be deported before any appeal is heard.

Under the new regulations, individuals held in a detention centre and awaiting expulsion had only five days to make an asylum application (previously they had 12 days). The European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey for a similar procedure in 2000, on the grounds that such a short time limit denied the possibility of adequate scrutiny of the asylum-seeker's case.

A decree in May legalized the practice – already implemented in certain prefectures from the beginning of 2005 – of denying language interpretation free of charge to asylum applicants in detention centres. Several administrative courts subsequently ruled that it was essential to provide interpreters, given that asylum applications had to be submitted in French. In July AI and other non-governmental organizations filed an appeal to overturn the decree before the State Council. At the close of 2005 AI had still not received a response. Domestic asylum law requires that applicants be given the means to support their claim and that decisions and information are communicated in a language the applicant understands, whether in writing or through an interpreter.

Ineffective domestic remedies

On 27 January the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the case of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (often known as "Carlos the Jackal"). He was held in solitary confinement after his arrest in 1994, was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder in 1997 but remained under investigation for other alleged crimes. He had lodged an application with the Court in July 2004. The Court was unanimous that the prisoner had been unable to challenge his prolonged solitary confinement because of the lack of any remedy in domestic law, although it held that this did not violate the prohibition of torture.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited France in April.

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