Head of state: Nicolas Sarkozy
Head of government: François Fillon
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 63.1 million
Life expectancy: 81.5 years
Under-5 mortality: 3.9 per 1,000

The new Defender of Rights institution started operations. Investigations into allegations of torture or other ill-treatment, including deaths in custody, remained inadequate. Roma continued to be forcibly evicted. A law banning the wearing of any form of clothing concealing one's face in public came into force. Many asylum-seekers were left homeless and destitute.

Legal, constitutional or institutional developments

In June, the new Defender of Rights was appointed, replacing the Ombudsperson, the National Commission on Ethics in Security, the Equal Opportunities and Anti-Discrimination Commission and the Defender of Children. Concerns remained that the institution would find it difficult to maintain the required levels of expertise and independence for the different roles.

On 1 June, a new law on pre-charge detention entered into force. It allowed detainees to be assisted by a lawyer at any time during their detention and during questioning, and required that detainees be informed of their right to remain silent. However, the prosecutor could postpone the presence of a lawyer for up to 12 hours for "compelling reasons"; detainees' meetings with their lawyer continued to be limited to 30 minutes; and the special regime of pre-trial detention for suspects of terrorism or organized crime, under which access to a lawyer can be postponed for up to 72 hours, remained in place.

Torture and other ill-treatment

The Criminal Code continued to lack a definition of torture in line with the UN Convention against Torture. There was a lack of prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.

  • Arezki Kerfali's trial for insulting a police officer (a charge he denied), was set for March 2011 but postponed until March 2012. Arezki Kerfali's complaint of ill-treatment against the police officers who arrested and detained him and his friend Ali Ziri on 9 June 2009 was not investigated. Ali Ziri died the following morning (see below), and Arezki Kerfali was declared unfit for work for eight days as a result of the injuries he sustained while in police custody. At the end of the year he continued to suffer from serious psychological trauma.

  • Lamba Soukouna's complaint of ill-treatment by police officers on 8 May 2008 was heard by an investigating judge in September. Lamba Soukouna, who suffers from sickle cell anaemia, a serious genetic illness, said he was severely beaten by police near his home in Villepinte, a suburb of Paris, and had to remain in hospital for three days following the incident. An investigation was still pending.

Deaths in custody

There continued to be little progress in investigations into deaths in police custody, and concerns about the independence of those investigations remained.

  • In April, a new autopsy confirmed that Ali Ziri, a 69-year-old man, died of lack of oxygen due to the restraint techniques he was subjected to and repeated vomiting while in police custody on 9 June 2009. In December, the Prosecutor of Pontoise asked that the case be closed, although the police officers involved in Ali Ziri and Arezki Kerfali's arrest and transportation to the Argenteuil police station had not been questioned.

  • In April, a reconstruction of Abou Bakari Tandia's detention in the police station at Courbevoie on the night of 5 to 6 December 2004 took place. He fell into a coma during his detention and died in hospital on 24 January 2005. In June, a new report by the Paris Medico-Legal Institute confirmed that the pressure on Abou Bakari Tandia's chest exerted by a police officer led to the lack of oxygen which caused his death. However, in December the investigating judge requested a sixth medical report to determine the cause of Abou Bakari Tandia's death. His family's lawyer subsequently requested that the case be transferred to the jurisdiction of another tribunal. At the end of the year the police officer who restrained him had not been questioned and was still in post.

  • In April, a reconstruction of the arrest of Mohamed Boukrourou, who died during arrest in a police van on 12 November 2009 in Valentigney, took place. A previous autopsy report had concluded that heart failure was the probable cause of death and noted injuries which could have been caused by third parties, and requested further medical examinations to clarify the circumstances. The four police officers involved in his arrest had not been questioned as suspects by the end of the year. In December the Defender of Rights found that Mohamed Boukrourou had been subjected to "inhuman and degrading treatment", and called for disciplinary proceedings against the four police officers.

  • In October, the date was set in January 2012 for the trial of seven police officers involved in the arrest and transportation of Abdelhakim Ajimi, who died during his arrest in Grasse in May 2008. Two police officers were to be tried for involuntary homicide and five for non-assistance to a person in danger.

  • The investigation of Lamine Dieng's death during his arrest on 17 June 2007 in Paris made no progress. A face-to-face "confrontation" between his family and the police officers accused was due to take place in October, to help investigators decide whether to pursue the case. However, it was cancelled for the second time with no explanation and no new date was set. Lamine Dieng had been restrained by police officers in the street and then in a police vehicle, where he lost consciousness and died of mechanical asphyxia. At the end of the year the police officers were still in office.


Acts of discrimination against people belonging to ethnic and religious minorities continued to be documented by human rights organizations.

Discrimination against Roma continued. Camps and makeshift homes inhabited by Roma continued to be dismantled in alleged forced evictions. In June, the European Committee of Social Rights found that the evictions of Roma camps in mid-2010 "took place against a background of ethnic discrimination, involving the stigmatisation of Roma, and constraint, in the form of the threat of immediate expulsion from France", and that the expulsions of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria in 2010 were discriminatory.

  • On 1 September, between 150 and 200 Roma were forcibly evicted from makeshift homes, which were then demolished, in a camp in St Denis (Paris). Anti-riot police forced the Roma to board a tram with no indication of its destination, violating their rights to freedom of movement.

In June, the Parliament rejected a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage.

A law banning the wearing of any form of clothing concealing one's face in public came into force on 11 April. On 22 September, two women were fined by an Administrative Tribunal, as allowed for in the legislation.

Throughout 2011, several political and legislative initiatives were put forward with the aim of enforcing the principle of secularism. On 2 March, the Minister of Education stated that parents accompanying children on school outings should not wear religious symbols. The same prohibition was also applied to adult students enrolled in vocational training.

Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants

New legislation further restricted the rights of asylum-seekers and migrants. In June, the Parliament adopted a law on migration increasing the maximum duration of detention for irregular migrants pending expulsion from 32 to 45 days. In addition, if a group of 10 or more irregular migrants or asylum-seekers were intercepted near the French border, they would be kept in a "holding area" for up to 26 days. Their applications to enter the rest of France to apply for asylum would be examined; if these were considered "manifestly unfounded" they would be returned to their country of origin. They would have only 48 hours to challenge the decision, which could prevent them from lodging an asylum application.

Around two thirds of the asylum-seekers in France did not have access to reception centres for asylum-seekers, contrary to their rights under national and EU Law. Consequently, many asylum-seekers were homeless and destitute. They were not allowed to work while their application was first being processed, and in the majority of cases they were refused permission to work during the appeal process.

In August, the Minister of the Interior stated that, if reached, the objective of expelling 30,000 irregular migrants would be the "best result historically recorded in France". In October, he announced that he would reach that objective.

In April, the Management Board of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) added Albania and Kosovo to the list of "safe" countries of origin for asylum-seekers. Claims submitted by asylum-seekers from "safe" countries were examined under an accelerated procedure and they could be forcibly returned before their appeal had been examined. In November, the Minister of the Interior announced that the budget for asylum would be reduced and the list of "safe" countries of origin would be extended. He claimed that the French asylum system was "in danger" because it was used by economic migrants to enter and remain in France. In December, the Management Board of OFPRA added Armenia, Bangladesh, Montenegro and Moldova to the list of "safe" countries.

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