“The normalization of emergency powers has grave consequences for the integrity of rights protection in France, both within and beyond the context of counter-terrorism,” the United Nations human rights expert, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin* warned today.
The draft law “to Strengthen Internal Security and the Fight Against Terrorism” (or in French: Projet de loi renforçant la sécurité intérieure et la lutte contre le terrorisme) was approved by the Senate on 18 July 2017. It is scheduled to be debated by the National Assembly from25 September onward. In a letter to the French Government on 22 September,Fionnuala Ní Aoláin drew attention to several provisions of the draft law that may adversely impact on the enjoyment of the right to liberty and security, the right to access to court, freedom of movement, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. Echoing these concerns, the Special rapporteur on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, reiterated his fear about the impact that the draft law, if adopted, will have on the security and activities of human rights defenders in the country.
“As France is strengthening its fight against terrorism, the draft bill includes a number of security measures, which will incorporate into ordinary law several restrictions on civil liberties currently in place under France’s state of emergency,” Ms. Ní Aoláin noted. She underscored that both regional and international human rights institutions affirm that the means open to the state to regulate terrorism by law are limited by its compliance with international human rights standards. This means that the duration of the state of emergency must be time-bound, revised regularly, and meet the criteria of necessity and proportionality.
The two UN experts expressed concern about the vague wording in certain provisions of the draft Bill, in particular the definitions of terrorism and threats to national security. This heightens, the experts said, concerns that the powers given to the authorities may be used in an arbitrary manner. Also, giving non-judicial officers, specifically prefects and police officers, broad discretion and broadening the scope for control practices, may have intruding and discriminatory repercussions for residents of France, in particular for citizens of Muslim confession.
“France is a leading democracy with a deep and abiding commitment to the rule of law and the value of human rights, underlined the two experts. In demonstrating how the management of terrorist threats can be undertaken without imperilling the rule of law and its commitment to the protection of human rights, French leadership has an important national, regional and international role to play.”
Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. On 1 August 2017, she took up her functions on the mandate that was created in 2005 by the former UN Commission on Human Rights, renewed by the UN Human Rights Council for a three-year period in December 2007, in September 2010, in March 2013, and again in March 2016.
Mr. Michel Forst (France) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2014. Mr. Forst has extensive experience on human rights issues and particularly on the situation of human rights defenders. In particular, he was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998.
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