On 3rd October 2017, French parliamentarians voted by 415 votes to 127 to approve a new security law, making permanent some extra powers granted to police under a state of emergency which has been in operation since the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. Under this long-running state of emergency, French police have expanded powers of arrest, detention and surveillance without adequate judicial oversight and without due regard for the proportionality of measures taken to restrict fundamental freedoms
Despite France’s generally enabling legal framework, conditions for civil society organisations have worsened since the state of emergency was imposed, and after a series of terrorist attacks over the past two years. The state of emergency has been extended until at least 1st November 2017, following a decision by France’s new president Emmanuel Macron in May. This expands authorities’ powers, including controlling the movement of suspects close to their residence (so-called “assigned residence” orders), conducting searches without the normal judicial oversight and shutting down meeting places.
The draft law approved on 3rd October makes permanent a lot of these powers. French civil society groups, international human rights organisations and senior United Nations officials have all raised concerns about the potential threat posed by this law to civic groups, particularly those representing the Muslim community in France. An open letter written by the Ligue des droits de l’homme to parliamentarians stressed:
“…that the existing law, which has already been significantly strengthened in this area…is largely operational and has proved its worth, under the supervision of a judge, who is the guarantor of freedoms. Conversely, the slippages and abuses identified over the last twenty months [under the state of emergency] have deeply undermined national unity and confidence in our institutions”.
In advance of the vote, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, wrote to the French authorities, expressing her “grave concerns” about the new law:
“I express my deep concern about its far-reaching scope and its potential adverse 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. Your Excellency’s Government’s derogation from certain obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights…and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights…does not give a carte blanche to ignore all requirements under these conventions.”