COUNCIL OF EUROPE: Commissioner Mijatović provides her initial observations on human rights issues relating to the “yellow vest” movement

(Council of Europe)

“The high level of tension currently prevailing in France gives me cause for concern and I believe that there is an urgent need to calm the situation,” said Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović today following her mission to Paris on 28 January to discuss human rights issues relating to the “yellow vests” movement.

During this mission, the Commissioner listened to the concerns voiced by those she met regarding the violence, including against journalists, committed during the protests by members of the security forces and by certain protesters.

The Commissioner is particularly concerned about the large number of people injured, some very seriously, in or on the sidelines of the protests, including by projectiles from so-called intermediary defence weapons such as the defensive bullet launcher. She acknowledges that the police, among whom there have also been many casualties, are operating in difficult conditions, in particular due to the hostility of some of the protesters, but also to an excessive workload and, for some of the units involved, insufficient training in crowd control techniques and in the use of certain weapons. Nonetheless, the Commissioner is seriously concerned about the number and severity of injuries resulting from the use of force by law enforcement officers.

Reiterating the need to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms while safeguarding security and public peace, the Commissioner underlined the importance of ensuring that the private member’s bill to prevent violence during demonstrations and punish the perpetrators currently being debated in the National Assembly does not result in any unnecessary or disproportionate restriction of the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and the right to freedom and security, in compliance with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. In this respect, the Commissioner is particularly concerned about the provision to prohibit participation in a demonstration as a preventive measure, on the basis of an administrative decision and without any prior review by a court. She is also concerned about the provision making it a criminal offence to intentionally conceal part or all of the face in or near a demonstration.

“I do not believe that such measures, whose proportionality I find to be questionable, are necessary to effectively guarantee freedom of assembly; they could, on the contrary, be seen as an obstacle to the exercise of that freedom. In such a sensitive context, I call on the government and parliament not to go down this path and to give priority to dialogue and to guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

A more detailed memorandum will be published shortly.