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Human Rights Watch - Defending Human Rights Worldwide

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 03:30:33 +0000

01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Latest Updates of Venezuela’s Crisis

Police fire tear gas toward opposition supporters during clashes while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, April 20, 2017.

© Reuters 2017

We will no longer be updating this blog as frequently. For recent developments on Venezuela’s crisis, please visit our Venezuela webpage at: 

01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Macron Preserves China Contracts, Ignoring the Persecuted

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands during a press conference in Beijing, China, January 9, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters
President Emmanuel Macron addressed many topics with ardor and conviction during his first trip to China since his election, ranging from the balance of trade, with negotiations on cheese and French beef, to the climate, nuclear power, and technology. Horse and baby panda were also honored. But human rights did not receive such attention from the French president. 

Yet President Macron was visiting a country with a particularly long list of human rights abuses. Since 2013, Xi Jinping has dampened hopes of improvements in human rights, expressing contempt for them and rejecting any democratic impulse. The country is still among those that carry out the most executions. The government stifles any form of dissent, violates religious freedom, persecutes ethnic minorities, exercises massive control over the Internet and independent groups, and arbitrarily suppresses and detains rights defenders and government opponents.

The death last July from cancer of Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, surrounded by his jailers was undoubtedly one of the most symbolic images of the ruthless repression under Xi Jinping. The enforced disappearance of his widow, Liu Xia, confirms the brutality of the Chinese authorities.  China extends its abusive policies beyond its borders, trying to obstruct United Nations human rights protections and even to manipulate Interpol.
This seems to have in no way disturbed the French President, who even offered the autocrat Xi  a horse of the Republican Guard as a sign of friendship. During the news conference with his counterpart – where journalists did not have the opportunity to ask questions, Macron alluded  to fundamental rights and freedoms, but mainly to indicate that diplomacy between France and China would take place while respecting the “differences” between the two countries on this matter. At the end of the visit, Macron said that he had discussed these matters privately with Xi, without specifying the nature of their exchanges.

President Macron’s extreme shyness over China’s multiple human rights violations contradicts his statement, at the end of last summer, to an audience of French ambassadors that “diplomatic and economic exchanges with (…) China cannot justify that we cover up with a modest veil the question of human rights because then it is ourselves that we betray.” His behavior in China also contrasts with his vibrant statements on the importance for France to promote freedom and justice internationally. He promoted these values vigorously with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his visit to France last week.

Macron positions himself as a firm president and wants France to appear strong on the international scene. To slip principles under the heavy carpet of the country's strategic and economic interests appears, on the contrary, to be sign of inconsistency and weakness in the light of his own commitments. It sends the autocrats the message that France can accommodate massive violations for lucrative contracts, reinforcing their power. And to the persecuted like Liu Xia and countless others, that they cannot count on France to defend them.

01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Trapped: Asylum Seekers in Lesbos, Greece

More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017. Greece, with support from its European Union partners, should urgently transfer thousands of asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.

01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Support for Rights Grows at Bonn Climate Talks

When it was announced that the government of Fiji would chair this year’s climate talks in Bonn, Germany, expectations were high. As a small island, Fiji sees climate change as an existential threat.

Indigenous peoples demand their rights at climate negotiations in Marrakesh, Morocco, November 2016,

© 2016 Katharina Rall / Human Rights Watch

The talks wrapped up on Friday, and during the last two weeks, advocates for gender equality and indigenous peoples made their voices heard and won hard-fought battles to better respect their rights. Notably, governments agreed to create a platform to promote the participation of indigenous peoples in United Nations climate responses, and adopted a Gender Action Plan that aims to better integrate gender equality in climate change policies.

There was also increased attention given to environmental rights defenders and indigenous people who have been killed, attacked, and threatened for their activism. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that governments often fail to conduct serious and timely investigations.

Just when the talks were nearing their end, human rights were pushed to the fore when Fijian prime minister and president of the climate talks, Frank Bainimarama, convened a high-level event about the importance of rights in climate negotiations. Why was this such a big deal? Because never before has any government presiding over the talks hosted an official event on human rights.

Bainimarama has also long been among those who have been silent on human rights issues. But on Thursday, he announced that integrating human rights in the implementation of the Paris Agreement was an important element of Fiji’s presidency, which will continue through the coming year. Costa Rica’s environment minister, Edgar Gutiérrez-Espelata, also proposed concrete ways to integrate rights into the current negotiations about the so-called Paris Rulebook. For example, governments could reference human rights obligations in climate change action plans and climate negotiators could agree to build capacity among states on promoting human rights in climate action.

Of course, such commitments are worth little unless governments are willing to turn rhetoric into reality. If they are serious about fighting climate change, governments should also do more to integrate the protection of human rights in climate policies, while defending the rights of people working to protect the environment.

01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Turkey: Arrest of Civil Society Leader Arbitrary, Punitive

Osman Kavala.

© 2017 Anadolu Kültür

(Istanbul) – An Istanbul court decision on November 1, 2017, to imprison a businessman and civic leader is an example of the politicized and arbitrary nature of Turkey’s justice system, Human Rights Watch said today.

Osman Kavala is the head of the Kavala group of companies, inherited from his father, and the founder of the nonprofit cultural organization Anadolu Kültür. He is well-known for his active engagement with the community and involvement in many initiatives in support of cultural dialogue, peace and reconciliation, and the arts. He faces a criminal investigation on alleged suspicion of attempting to overthrow the government and the constitutional order in connection with widespread anti-government protests in 2013 that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and the 2016 attempted coup, charges that carry a penalty of life in prison without parole.

“The case against Osman Kavala is a disgraceful example of how politicized court decisions in Turkey follow a calculated smear campaign in pro-government media,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “We have seen a pattern of prosecutors producing outlandish allegations with no evidence and courts complying, demonstrating how Turkey’s justice system acts as a handmaiden to politicians.”

The case against Kavala is also another dramatic setback for all groups in Turkey that, like Kavala, work on initiatives to strengthen human rights and the rule of law and to promote pluralism and tolerance. It comes days after 10 human rights defenders who had been held for more than three months were released on bail. They are being prosecuted for aiding terrorist organizations and, like Kavala, had been subjected to an intense smear campaign accusing them of coup plotting, fomenting chaos in Turkey, and links to outlawed armed groups.

The court decision to keep Kavala in custody relies on the prosecutor’s allegations that he “is publicly known as being a director and organizer of the actions known as the Gezi events,” and that he was in “unnaturally intense contact with [US-Turkish academic] Henri Jak Barkey and foreigners who were among the organizers of the [July 15, 2016] coup attempt.” Neither allegation has been supported with any credible evidence. The court’s decision repeats similar reports about Kavala in the media and earlier smear campaigns against him.

Police detained Kavala on October 18, after a report on a website and other writings that attempted to discredit both his business activities and his wide-ranging civic initiatives and connections with various nongovernmental organizations. Once he had been detained, several newspapers close to the government ran headlines accusing him of financing terrorism and coup plotting, holding him responsible for the Gezi protests in Istanbul and suggesting he was involved in the 2016 coup attempt. These accusations apparently also form the basis of the prosecutor’s investigation, which continues.

“Days after release of the Istanbul 10 human rights defenders, the arrest of Osman Kavala shows that the government is intent on continuing the crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society,” Williamson said. “The Kavala case demonstrates that Turkey’s justice system has become an instrument of deep injustice.” 

01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Saudi Arabia: Official Hate Speech Targets Minorities

Some Saudi state clerics and institutions incite hatred and discrimination against religious minorities, including the country’s Shia Muslim minority. 

(Beirut) – Some Saudi state clerics and institutions incite hatred and discrimination against religious minorities, including the country’s Shia Muslim minority, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 62-page report, “‘They Are Not Our Brothers’: Hate Speech by Saudi Officials,” documents that Saudi Arabia has permitted government-appointed religious scholars and clerics to refer to religious minorities in derogatory terms or demonize them in official documents and religious rulings that influence government decision-making. In recent years, government clerics and others have used the internet and social media to demonize and incite hatred against Shia Muslims and others who do not conform to their views.

“Saudi Arabia has relentlessly promoted a reform narrative in recent years, yet it allows government-affiliated clerics and textbooks to openly demonize religious minorities such as Shia,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This hate speech prolongs the systematic discrimination against the Shia minority and – at its worst – is employed by violent groups who attack them.”

Human Rights Watch found that the incitement, along with anti-Shia bias in the criminal justice system and the Education Ministry’s religion curriculum, is instrumental in enforcing discrimination against Saudi Shia citizens. Human Rights Watch recently documented derogatory references to other religious affiliations, including Judaism, Christianity, and Sufi Islam in the country’s religious education curriculum.

Government clerics, all of whom are Sunni, often refer to Shia as rafidha or rawafidh (rejectionists) and stigmatize their beliefs and practices. They have also condemned mixing and intermarriage. One member of Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Religious Scholars, the country’s highest religious body, responded in a public meeting to a question about Shia Muslims by stating that “they are not our brothers ... rather they are brothers of Satan…”.

Such hate speech may have fatal consequences when armed groups such as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, or Al-Qaeda use it to justify targeting Shia civilians. Since mid-2015, ISIS has attacked six Shia mosques and religious buildings in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and Najran, killing more than 40 people. ISIS news releases claiming these attacks stated that the attackers were targeting “edifices of shirk,”(polytheism), and rafidha, terms used in Saudi religious education textbooks to target Shia.

Saudi Arabia’s former grand mufti, Abdulaziz Bin Baz, who died in 1999, condemned Shia in numerous religious rulings. Bin Baz’s body of fatwas and writings remain publicly available on the website of Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Issuing Fatwas.

Some clerics use language that suggests Shia are part of a conspiracy against the state, a domestic fifth column for Iran, and disloyal by nature. The government also allows other clerics with enormous social media followings – some in the millions – and media outlets to stigmatize Shia with impunity.

Anti-Shia bias extends to the Saudi judicial system, which is controlled by the religious establishment and often subjects Shia to discriminatory treatment or arbitrarily criminalizes Shia religious practices. In 2015, for example, a Saudi court sentenced a Shia citizen to two months in jail and 60 lashes for hosting private Shia group prayers in his father’s home. In 2014, a Saudi Arabia court convicted a Sunni man of “sitting with Shia.”

The Saudi Ministry of Education religion curriculum al-tawhid, or (monotheism) which is taught at the primary, middle, and secondary education levels, uses veiled language to stigmatize Shia religious practices as shirk or ghulah (exaggeration). Saudi religious education textbooks direct these critiques to the Shia and Sufi practice of visiting graves and religious shrines and tawassul (intercession), to call on the prophet or his family members as intermediaries to God. The textbooks state that these practices, which both Sunni and Shia citizens understand as Shia, are grounds for removal from Islam, punished by being sent to hell for eternity.

International human rights law requires governments to prohibit “[a]ny advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” Implementation of this prohibition has been uneven and sometimes used as a pretext to restrict lawful speech or target minority groups. Any steps to counter hate speech should be carried out within overall guarantees of freedom of expression.

To address this problem, experts in recent years have proposed a test to establish whether any particular speech can be lawfully limited. Under this formula, the speech Human Rights Watch documented by Saudi religious scholars sometimes rises to the level of hate speech or incitement to hatred or discrimination. Other statements don’t cross that threshold, but authorities should publicly repudiate and counteract it. Given the influence and reach of these scholars, their statements advance a system of discrimination against Shia citizens.

Saudi authorities should order an immediate halt to hate speech by state-affiliated clerics and government agencies.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has repeatedly classified Saudi Arabia as a “country of particular concern” – its harshest designation for countries that violate religious freedom. The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act allows the president to issue a waiver if it would “further the purposes” of the act or if “the important national interest of the United States requires the exercise of such waiver authority.” US presidents have issued such waivers for Saudi Arabia since 2006.

The US government should rescind the waiver and work with Saudi authorities to end incitement to hatred or discrimination against Shia and Sufi citizens, as well as other religions. The US should also press for removal of all criticism and stigmatization of Shia and Sufi religious practices, as well as practices of other religions, from the Saudi religion education curriculum.

“Despite Saudi Arabia’s poor record on religious freedom, the US has shielded Saudi Arabia from possible sanctions under US law,” Whitson said. “The US government should apply its own laws to hold its Saudi ally accountable.”

01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Lebanon: Deaths, Alleged Torture of Syrians in Army Custody

(Beirut) – Lebanese authorities should conduct an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation into the deaths of Syrians in military custody and allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 4, 2017, the Lebanese military issued a statement saying four Syrians died in its custody following mass raids in Arsal, a restricted access area in northeast Lebanon where many Syrian refugees live. On July 14, Human Rights Watch received credible reports that a fifth Syrian detainee had also died in custody.

A Lebanese soldier at an army post in the hills above the Lebanese town of Arsal

© 2016 Reuters

A doctor with expertise in documenting torture reviewed photos of three of the men provided by their family lawyers to Human Rights Watch, which showed widespread bruising and cuts. He said the injuries were “consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture” and that “any statement that the deaths of these individuals were due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.” Human Rights Watch also spoke with five former detainees, who said that army personnel beat and ill-treated them and other detainees. A military officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was investigating the deaths and would publish its findings.

“While the Lebanese army’s promise to investigate these shocking deaths is a positive step, the promise will be meaningless without transparent and independent accountability for anyone found guilty of wrongdoing,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone who supports the Lebanese army should support efforts to tackle such serious allegations of military abuse.”

Photos of the bodies of three Syrians who died in Lebanese military custody, provided to Human Rights Watch by their families' lawyers. © 2017 Private

On June 30, the Lebanese army announced it had raided two unofficial refugee camps in Arsal that day, and was met with suicide bombers, a bomb, and a grenade, resulting in the injury of seven soldiers. On July 15, the army released a statement saying that it detained 356 people following these raids. It referred 56 for prosecution and 257 to the General Security agency for lack of residency. A humanitarian organization official told Human Rights Watch that children were among those detained.

The Lebanese army regularly conducts raids on unofficial refugee camps in Lebanon, but has not responded to questions from Human Rights Watch about the purpose of these raids. The raids came amid calls from Lebanese politicians for the return of refugees to Syria and reports of an impending military operation against armed groups on the Syrian border near Arsal.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm reports that Syrians died during the raids themselves, but a source in Arsal said the municipality received nine bodies, not including the five men who were reported to have died in custody.

The army’s July 4 statement said that four detainees who “suffered from chronic health issues that were aggravated due to the climate condition” died before being interrogated. It identified them as Mustafa Abd el Karim Absse, 57; Khaled Hussein el-Mleis, 43; Anas Hussein el-Husseiki, 32; and Othman Merhi el-Mleis. The army did not specify where it had detained them.

Human Rights Watch spoke with a family member and a close acquaintance of two of the deceased, who said that they had no known serious health conditions. Both said that the army gave no reason for the arrests and did not notify the families of the deaths.

On July 14, Human Rights Watch received reports that a fifth Syrian detainee, Toufic al Ghawi, 23, died in detention after the army transferred him to the Elias Hrawi government hospital. A witness in Arsal who saw the body before burial said, “Toufic didn’t look human anymore. His flesh was torn apart.” Human Rights Watch has not received photographs of the body.

Additional evidence supports the allegations of abuse and torture during the arrests in Arsal and at military detention facilities. A witness in Arsal told Human Rights Watch that he had seen 34 former detainees with marks on their hands, legs, and backs, and in one case, on a former detainee’s head.

Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees who said they were mistreated, physically abused, and denied food and water, along with scores of other detainees during four to five days of detention without charge before being released.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the military on July 10 to verify the number of those arrested, injured, or killed during the army raids; those still in custody; and the conditions of their detention, but has not received a response. Human Rights Watch also requested permission to enter Arsal to interview witnesses, but has not received permission. An army officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was not allowing “media organizations” to enter Arsal. Human Rights Watch shared its findings with the military and military prosecutor.

Under international law, Lebanon has an obligation to investigate deaths in custody and hold those responsible to account. Human Rights Watch and local human rights organizations have long documented reports of torture and ill-treatment by security services including the army. Impunity for violence is a recurring problem in Lebanon. Even when officials have initiated investigations into deaths, torture, or ill-treatment, they have often not been concluded or made public. Human Rights Watch is not aware of cases where military personnel have been held to account.

“The Lebanese public and the Syrian families of those who died in detention deserve a clear accounting of what happened to them and punishment for those found responsible,” Whitson said. “Unfortunately, Lebanese authorities have a history of opening investigations in response to public pressure, but failing to conclude them or publish the results.”

Photographic Evidence of Torture
Human Rights Watch received 28 photographs of three of the deceased men, taken at the Elias Hrawi government hospital in Zahle, from the law firm representing the families of the deceased. The lawyers said they were not able to locate Othman el-Mleis’s body. Dr. Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights, who has expertise in documenting torture, reviewed the photographs and shared his report:

The photos reveal widespread physical trauma of the upper and lower extremities. The lack of defensive wounds suggests that these injuries were inflicted while the victims were restrained or otherwise incapacitated and the distribution of these injuries are consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture. Several of the photos are consistent with lacerations caused from being suspended by the wrists. It would be reasonable to conclude that the deaths of these men is the result of in-custody violence, although the precise cause of death cannot be predicted based on the information and photographs submitted. Any statement that the deaths of these individuals was due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.

Corroborating Evidence of Torture and Mistreatment of Arsal Detainees
Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees from Arsal who said they were detained without charge for four to five days. They said soldiers handcuffed them, hooded them with their shirts, put them on the ground in the sun, and stomped or hit anyone raising their head. “I moved my head up slightly, and immediately a soldier hit me with his boot,” one man said.

The men said soldiers then loaded them onto trucks “one over the other, as if they’re shipping potato bags,” and took them to multiple detention sites including Rayak Air Base in the Bekaa Valley and the military intelligence and military police bases in Ablah. At Rayak Air Base, they said, army personnel held more than 100 of them in one room overnight, denied them food and water, and did not allow them to use the bathroom. “They would beat whoever asked to go to the bathroom,” said a former detainee in his 60s.

They said that army personnel at Rayak beat, insulted, and threatened them and others. “They beat people, some with batons, others with the butt of a gun,” one said. “I saw one soldier on the outside poking one of the detainees from the window with a bent skewer. He beat him, then he started cutting his face…until blood came out.”

The men interviewed said they were finally transferred to General Security, the agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency, who did not mistreat them and released them. The former detainees said that the army never told them why they had been detained.

One former detainee, interviewed on July 11, said: “I had to leave my son behind [in detention]. To this day, I don’t know what has happened to him.” Lebanese law limits pre-charge detention to 96 hours.

Medical Reports
Human Rights Watch also reviewed medical reports for three of the deceased, dated July 1 and 2, and prepared by a forensic doctor at the request of the general prosecutor, concluding that they had suffered heart attacks and a stroke, and that the bodies did not show marks of violence.

A lawyer representing the families said she had received permission from a Judge of Urgent Affairs for a forensic doctor to examine the bodies, conduct an autopsy, and take medical samples to ascertain the cause of death. After she took the medical samples to the Hotel Dieu hospital in Beirut for analysis, the lawyer said, Military Intelligence personnel there demanded she turn them over, by order of the Military Information Directorate. She handed them over after the general prosecutor, Samir Hammoud, instructed her to do so. Following the military’s intervention, she said that the X-ray, CT scan, and autopsy results have not been released to her or made public.

The investigation into the men’s deaths is now before the military court, the family’s lawyer said. Human Rights Watch has previously raised concerns about the independence, impartiality, and competence of the Military Tribunal, where the majority of judges are military officers who are not required to have law degrees, and where trials take place behind closed doors.

01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Whose Bastille Day?

President Emmanuel Macron is hosting President Donald Trump for Bastille Day to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I. The invitation is highly symbolic and ironic: the NATO- and EU-bashing Trump presiding over a military parade that celebrates the end of the splendid isolation that kept the United States out of the allied war effort through April 6, 1917, when Congress declared war on Germany.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump confer at the start of the first working session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/John MacDougall/Pool

The nativist and isolationist agenda Trump preaches for the United States is squarely at odds with the legacy that will be commemorated on the Champs-Elysées. Trump’s views dismiss  historic allies and tarnish values and principles that are the foundation of the multilateral order first ushered in by the victorious allies at the end of World War I. His agenda  is also at odds with the values and principles that will be at the heart of the joint cabinet meeting Macron will be hosting alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel the eve of Bastille Day to mark the heightened entente between France and Germany on key issues from climate change to human rights to the future of the EU and the United Nations. On all of these fronts, as Merkel hinted in a veiled reference to Trump, “the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over.”

Whereas Macron will be on comfortable ground when meeting Merkel, the encounter with Trump is more risk-laden. It also comes on the heels of a lack-luster-yet-protest-mired G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, last week where, according to Merkel, “differences were not papered over, they were clearly stated.” Macron already navigated a similarly risky encounter with President Vladimir Putin quite skilfully, so here’s to him holding his ground and faithfully promoting the principles and values he has often defended in discourse if not yet in practice.

In a lofty and lengthy speech before an extraordinary joint session of congress in Versailles on July 3, Macron laid down the guiding principles for his administration. The first real foreign test since his attachment to these principles, absent other allies, will be his upcoming meeting with Trump. Regarding climate change and our common universal heritage, he is likely to insist on the “need to defend the planet from climate change” as he already did when Trump unsigned the Paris Climate Agreement. But, will Macron speak more generally of “the vice that poisons our public debate: the denial of reality” he warned against in Versailles, and take issue with Trump for propagating and feeding off the vice?

Regarding refugees, will Macron speak of them again “not as a burden but a chance” and advocate “fair, humane treatment and protection” to “welcome political refugees at risk,” including in the United States? Regarding multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, will he insist that “the multilateral order is without doubt more necessary today than ever before” and call on the United States to cease any ongoing efforts to weaken it? Regarding human rights, will he remain true to his call for the “concrete, tangible and visible application of the principles that guide us: liberty, equality, fraternity”?

Will he make clear to Trump that implementation of his administration’s draconian and expansionist “Global Gag Rule” against abortion will have a hugely negative impact on AIDS relief, efforts to stem the spread of infectious disease, and global health?

In short, will Trump be appeased or faced with the “resistance and coherence” that Macron promised would be his “only north”? Will Macron have the courage and spine to break through the nativist and isolationist walls that Trump seeks to create, under the flimsy guise of greater safety and security for the United States? It is not the ceremonial saber-rattling of the military parade but the face-to-face discussion between Macron and Trump that will determine whose Bastille Day it turns out to be.

01/01/1970 01:00 AM
France is addicted to the state of emergency. Put an end to it, Mr. President

“This bill will be the last one. The first and the last one.” That is how Emmanuel Macron answered the question I had just asked him: “What would happen, Mr. President, if France were hit by another terrorist attack in the coming months? Would you propose yet another bill?”

French police and anti-crime brigade (BAC) members secure a street as they carried out a counter-terrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris, France, July 21, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters/Charles Platiau

The exchange took place last Friday, in the late afternoon. I was in the Elysée as part of a delegation of leading human rights organizations, lawyers and magistrates to meet President Macron and two of his advisors. We had come to express our concerns and criticisms of two bills drafted by the government and submitted to Parliament: a sixth extension of the state of emergency until November, and a counterterrorism bill directly inspired by the provisions of the state of emergency. This bill would make permanent special powers which were supposed to be temporary, introduced as necessary only for the extraordinary circumstances of a time-limited state of emergency.

For over an hour and a half, we set out methodically the abuses committed against ordinary citizens when those powers were used under the state of emergency. We warned the President that the counterterrorism bill would entrench what were exceptional powers into regular law and pose grave dangers for fundamental rights and the rule of law. We denounced the lack of evaluation of the effectiveness of state of emergency measures and of the existing legal arsenal for counterterrorism. We lamented the choice of an accelerated procedure for the parliamentary review of these two proposed bills, depriving the country of what ought to be a meaningful democratic debate about the concept of liberty, one of France’s founding values.

But despite this discussion, President Macron did not waver.

Far from reinforcing freedoms, as the President claimed this past Monday in his speech to Parliament, the new bill would entrench in regular law abusive powers introduced under the state of emergency. It would normalize the considerable powers awarded by the state of emergency to the Ministry of the Interior and the administrative police. The drastic weakening of judicial safeguards, which are the foundation of the rule of law and an essential defense against abuse, would become permanent. In effect it treats France as if it is always in a state of emergency. By authorizing “assigned residence orders”, whereby individuals’ freedom of movement is severely limited even though they have not been accused of a crime, this new bill also confirms a dangerous shift towards so-called preventive justice. Just this week we’ve learned that since the state of emergency was declared in November 2015, there have been 708 assigned residence orders. More than one a day. This is a trend, not a small set of isolated actions. The “logic of suspicion”, on which these orders are predicated, opens the door to significant abuse.

During the meeting, the President admitted that the state of emergency can foster “arbitrary behaviors” and has led to « excesses ». Emmanuel Macron, then a candidate, had himself expressed in his book, Revolution “that reducing the freedoms of all, and the dignity of each citizen, has never anywhere led to an increase in security.” Despite that, Emmanuel Macron chose to follow in the footsteps of governments that, over the last two decades, have responded to the threat of terrorism with ever harsher laws, turning France into the country with the most expansive counterterrorism laws in Europe. Members of Parliament, a large majority of whom are supportive of the President, will most likely adopt the bill without much opposition. Macron may well say this is his “first and last law” on security; but recent history in France and elsewhere teaches us that once states start down this legislative slope, more repressive laws follow.

If we refer to the past 18 months, France may well be addicted to emergency powers. As a responsible leader, however, the French President’s job is to break that dependency and resist the temptation to react to the fear of another attack with laws that do more harm to rights than they do good to security. As activists, lawyers, and voices of civil society, that is what we will keep telling the President and our elected representatives. End the state of emergency, don’t simply inject a dose of it into ordinary law. 

01/01/1970 01:00 AM
What Do the UK Party Manifestos Say About Human Rights?

Human rights have so far barely featured in the British election campaign. Yet in their manifestos theConservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats as well as the Scottish National Party have set out distinctive positions on a range of rights issues relating to both domestic and foreign policy.  These policies warrant public attention and political debate. To help encourage this, we highlight the parties’ commitments in seven key areas, offer some brief context, and make links to other relevant material. 



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