Allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, including at least one fatal incident, continued to be made. Procedures for investigating such incidents and bringing those responsible to justice continued to fall short of international standards. Conditions in detention centres for irregular migrants were criticized by the UN Human Rights Committee. Individuals having their asylum claim examined under the accelerated procedure remained at risk of forcible deportation while waiting for a decision. Despite the risk of serious human rights violations, France forcibly returned one man to Algeria and attempted to return another. New legislation authorizing indefinitely renewable “preventive detention” and a decree authorizing police to collect broad personal information on individuals believed to be a possible threat to public order, undermined the principle of the presumption of innocence.
Police and security forces
Allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials continued. Law enforcement bodies and judicial authorities failed to investigate such allegations in line with international standards, leading to a climate of effective impunity. The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern at allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials against irregular migrants and asylum-seekers held in detention centres, and the lack of adequate investigation and punishment of such human rights violations.
On 22 September the Minister of Interior authorized municipal police officers to use conducted energy devices. Previously, only police officers of the national police force were authorized to use this type of weapon.
"The French authorities continued to forcibly return individuals to countries where they faced a risk of torture..."
- On 9 May Abdelhakim Ajimi died during arrest in Grasse. Police officers arrested and restrained Abdelhakim Ajimi after an altercation in a bank where he was trying to withdraw money. A judicial investigation into the incident was opened and was still in progress at the end of the year. According to the autopsy report, Abdelhakim Ajimi died as a result of asphyxiation caused by the restraint techniques used against him. Several witnesses to the event reported an excessive use of force by the police. The officers involved remained on active duty at the end of the year.
- In July, the public prosecutor closed the investigation into allegations of ill-treatment made by Josiane Ngo. Josiane Ngo was allegedly punched, kicked and dragged along the ground by police officers in July 2007, when she was eight months pregnant. The incident took place in a street, in front of a large number of witnesses. She was held in police custody overnight but released the following day without charge. Following a medical examination she was signed off work for 10 days as a result of her injuries.
Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers
The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern at reports of overcrowding and inadequate hygiene, food and medical care for irregular migrants and asylum-seekers – including unaccompanied minors – held in detention. It called on France to review its detention policy and improve living conditions in detention centres, especially those in the Overseas Departments and Territories. In December, photographs and a video documenting the inhuman conditions in the migration detention centre in the French overseas territory of Mayotte were sent anonymously to Amnesty International and a French media outlet. The footage revealed severe overcrowding and poor hygiene and medical facilities.
In April, the government agency that determines the status of refugees (OFPRA) reported that the rate of recognition of asylum claims reached almost 30 per cent in 2007, one of the highest rates in recent years. In contrast, the number of new asylum requests continued to decrease, falling from 26,269 to 23,804 between 2006 and 2007.
On 3 July, a bill was presented by several members of parliament to amend the right of appeal before the National Court on Asylum for asylum-seekers whose claims were being examined under the accelerated procedure. Under the new proposal asylum-seekers who were appealing against an accelerated decision could not be forcibly returned to their country of origin while their appeal was still in progress. The bill was not supported by the government.
Counter-terror and security
In July, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern at anti-terrorism legislation adopted in 2006 and called on France to ensure all detainees were brought promptly before a judge, and had prompt access to a lawyer. The French authorities continued to forcibly return individuals to countries where they faced a risk of torture or other serious human rights violations.
- On 14 April Rabah Kadri, an Algerian national, was released from Val de Reuil prison. He had completed the sentence imposed on him on 16 December 2004 by the Paris Criminal Court for involvement in a terrorist plot to bomb the Strasbourg Christmas market in 2000. He had been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, followed by a permanent prohibition from French territory. Immediately upon his release from prison, Rabah Kadri was taken into police custody and subsequently returned to Algeria by sea on 15 April. Rabah Kadri arrived in Algiers on 16 April and was handed over to the Algerian authorities, who detained him incommunicado for 12 days at an undisclosed location.
- On 21 April, Kamel Daoudi was released from La Santé prison after serving his sentence and immediately taken into custody pending expulsion to Algeria. In 2005, he was convicted of “criminal association in relation to a terrorist enterprise” and falsification of official documents and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and permanent prohibition from French territory. Originally an Algerian national, Kamel Daoudi had acquired French citizenship but in 2002 he was stripped of his French nationality due to the allegations of his involvement in terrorist groups, even though the criminal case against him was still in progress at the time. Following a request by Kamel Daoudi’s lawyer, on 23 April the European Court of Human Rights ordered the French authorities to suspend the deportation procedure while it considered whether Kamel Daoudi would be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment if returned to Algeria. At the end of the year Kamel Daoudi was living under a “compulsory residence order” (which restricted his movements to certain areas of France and required him to report regularly to a police station) while awaiting the decision of the European Court.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
On 7 February new legislation was passed on “preventive detention”. This allows individuals convicted of certain crimes to be detained after completing their prison sentence for indefinitely renewable periods of one year, if they are considered to be dangerous and to present a high risk of recidivism. In effect, it allows the custodial sentence imposed at trial to be extended indefinitely, in violation of the right to liberty, the prohibition of arbitrary detention and the presumption of innocence. The UN Human Rights Committee called for this legislation to be reviewed.
Police files on individuals
A decree published on 1 July, linked to the creation of the Public Security Central Directorate, authorized the collection of new data on individuals by police and security services in the form of the so-called “EDVIGE file”. These files would collect and store information on individuals aged 13 and above believed to be “likely to disturb public order” and would include, among other things, information on an individual’s health and sexual orientation. Following widespread public protests and hearings of the parliamentary law commission, the Minister of Interior proposed a revised version of the text which, in December, was still being examined by the National Commission on Data and Freedom.
Inspector general of detention centres
On 11 June, the Council of Ministers named Jean- Marie Delarue as inspector general of detention centres, in line with the requirements of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In July parliament adopted legislation to allow France to ratify the Optional Protocol.
Defender of rights
On 21 July a new constitutional law was adopted with the aim of reforming certain aspects of the political system and public administration. The legislation created a new national institution for the protection of human rights, known as the “Defender of rights”. The precise mandate of this institution was still to be determined at the end of the year, but it was expected to replace some existing bodies, including the institution responsible for the independent oversight of the law enforcement agencies, the National Commission on Ethics in Security (CNDS). There was concern that this could lead to a loss of the specialization, expertise, and resources for the work carried out by the CNDS, and might even restrict its capacities, leading to a negative impact on the effective independent oversight of the law enforcement agencies.
Amnesty International visitsAmnesty International delegates visited France in March and May.
Amnesty International reportsFrance: Recording interrogations is not enough – more safeguards needed for rights of detainees (3 June 2008)
France: Briefing to the Human Rights Committee (17 June 2008)