UN blasts France over ‘excessive’ anti-terrorism measures

AFP (file photo) | France declared a state of emergency in the wake of the November 13 Paris terror attacks

France's state of emergency and new electronic surveillance laws imposed following the November attacks in Paris impose "excessive and disproportionate" restrictions on key rights, UN experts said Tuesday.


The group of four United Nations rights specialists also called on France "not to extend the state of emergency beyond 26 February, 2016", when the measure is provisionally due to expire.

France declared a state of emergency in the wake of the string of shootings and suicide bomb attacks that killed 130 people across Paris on November 13.

The measure gives a number of exceptional powers to the authorities, including the right to set curfews, limit the movement of people and forbid mass gatherings, establish secure zones where people can be monitored and close public spaces such as theatres, bars, museums and other meeting places.

It also gives more powers to the security services and police, such as the right to conduct house searches at any time without judicial oversight, enforce house arrest and confiscate certain classes of weapons, even if people hold them legally.

Meanwhile, the electronic surveillance law, adopted in November, widens the executive's power to collect and store data without judicial authorisation.

The UN experts expressed alarm that environmental activists have been under house arrest in connection with the state of emergency laws.

“These measures do not seem to adjust to the fundamental principles of necessity and proportionality,” they said in the communication sent to French authorities.

“While exceptional measures may be required under exceptional circumstances, this does not relieve the authorities from demonstrating that these are applied solely for the purposes for which they were prescribed, and are directly related to the specific objective that inspired them,” they said.

The UN group comprises David Kaye, specialist on freedom of opinion, Maina Kiai who works on peaceful assembly, Michel Forst, expert on human rights workers, Ben Emmerson, an expert on human rights and counter-terrorism and Joseph Cannataci, a specialist on the right to privacy.

‘Threat’ to democracy

It is not the first time France’s response to the terror attacks has been questioned.

Human Rights Watch has warned that the state of emergency measures “interfere with the rights to liberty, security, freedom of movement, privacy, and freedoms of association and expression”, while last Tuesday, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks warned that they could constitute a "threat" to democracy.

"There is a risk that these measures could sap the system of democratic control," said Muiznieks, citing concerns over ethnic profiling of suspects facing police searches.

That provoked a stern response from government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll who said that Muiznieks’s concerns were “absolutely contrary to what has happened”.

"I challenge what was said, particularly on ethnic profiling,” he said. "The state of emergency was put in place, rules were set in a debate in the National Assembly and they have been strictly respected and applied."

Nearly seven out of 10 French people support a further extension of the state of emergency beyond February, according to a YouGov poll for Huffington Post and iTele published last Wednesday.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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