(OHCHR) GENEVA (14 February 2019) — The right to protest in France has been disproportionately curtailed during the recent “gilets jaunes” protests and the authorities should rethink their law enforcement policies to guarantee the exercise of freedoms, say a group of UN human rights experts*.
“Since the start of the yellow vest protest movement in November 2018, we have received serious allegations of excessive use of force. More than 1,700 people have been injured as a result of the protests across the country,” the experts said.
“The restrictions on rights have also resulted in a high number of arrests and detentions, searches and confiscations of demonstrators’ possessions, and serious injuries have been caused by a disproportionate use of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons like grenades and defensive bullets or ‘flashballs’,” they added.
“Ensuring public order and security in the context of crowd management or event management measures implies the need to respect and protect protesters who peacefully participate in a demonstration to express themselves,” the experts stressed.
“We are aware that some demonstrations have become violent and have spilled over but we fear that the disproportionate response to these excesses may deter the population from continuing to exercise its fundamental freedoms. It is very disturbing to note that despite weeks of demonstrations, the restrictions and tactics of managing rallies and the use of force have not improved.”
The experts also expressed deep concern about a proposed law claiming to prevent violence during demonstrations and to punish the perpetrators, pointing out that some of the provisions of this law are not in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which France is a Party.
“The proposed administrative ban on demonstrations, the establishment of additional control measures and the imposition of heavy sanctions constitute severe restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. These provisions can be applied arbitrarily and lead to extremely serious abuses,” the experts emphasized.
“We encourage France to rethink its law enforcement policies and encourage the French authorities to establish avenues for dialogue to reduce tension and to recognize the important and legitimate role that social movements play in governance,” the experts said.
(*) The experts: Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (Republic of Korea), Chair-Rapporteur; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr.Michel Forst (France), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule (Togo), Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.