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France

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were a limited number of accusations that security and military personnel committed abuses.

On April 11, the Defender of Rights, a constitutionally created, independent civil rights watchdog institution, reported registering 1,228 complaints against the security forces’ intervention methods in 2017, virtually unchanged from the previous year (1,225), including reports that police beat, kicked, and used pepper spray on migrants and asylum seekers in Calais (see section 2.d.).

In May the newspaper Le Parisien reported a judge ordered a new inquest into the death of Adama Traore, a teenager whose death in gendarmerie custody in 2016 sparked riots, in order to ascertain if the cause of death could be determined more precisely. After the release of the results of the inquest was postponed, his family organized a march in Beaumont in July in Traore’s memory and to protest the postponement. The march included politicians from several parties of the left. In October medical experts concluded the gendarmes were not responsible for Traore’s death, attributing it to lowered oxygen levels in the blood due to a combination of sickle cell disease, sarcoidosis, stress, and heat.

On September 13, President Macron apologized for the French state’s responsibility for the disappearance and death of Maurice Audin, a young mathematician, communist, and anticolonial activist, in Algeria in 1957. Macron stated that Audin died due to torture by soldiers who abducted him from his home and that authorities employed systemic use of torture at that time. Macron announced the government would open its archives to allow the search for information about other persons who disappeared during the war.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the use of crowd control and antiriot tactics by police during demonstrations of the so-called Yellow Vest protesters who took to the streets every Saturday across the country beginning on November 17 in mass demonstrations, primarily to show their opposition to the government’s tax policy and to highlight socioeconomic inequality. Cases of police violence were also reported against high school students who protested against education reforms launched by the government. On December 6, lawyers acting for demonstrators lodged two formal legal complaints against yet unknown persons for injuries caused by GLI-F4 “instant” tear gas grenades, which contain 25 grams of high explosives, used by police in Paris on November 24. The lawyers wrote to the prime minister calling for an end to use of this weapon for crowd control. According to Human Rights Watch, as of December 11, media reports indicated the General Inspectorate of the National Police, the internal oversight body, had opened 22 investigations into alleged police misconduct following complaints from 15 Yellow Vests, six high school students, and a journalist.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

While prisons and detention centers met international standards, credible NGOs and government officials reported overcrowding and unhygienic conditions in prisons.

In April 2017 the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on its most recent visit to the country in 2015. The report expressed concerns regarding overcrowding in detention centers and prisons, derogatory comments against detainees, particularly against minors, a lack of windows and ventilation systems in detention centers, and prolonged isolation of violent inmates in psychiatric centers.

Physical Conditions: As of November the overall occupancy rate in the country’s prisons stood at 118 percent (70,708 prisoners for 60,108 spots), with the rate at some facilities reaching 200 percent. NGOs agreed that detention conditions for women were often better than for men because overcrowding was less common.

Overcrowding in overseas territories tracked the national trends. The Ministry of Justice reported in July that the occupancy rate for all prisons in overseas territories was 112.6 percent and reached 204.2 percent at the Baie-Mahault prison in Guadeloupe.

On July 25, the administrative court of Basse-Terre ordered the state to pay 10,000 euros ($11,500) in damages to an inmate from the Baie-Mahault prison in compensation for the unacceptable living conditions to which he was subjected. The inmate spent four years in a cell of 96.6 square feet which he shared with two others.

Administration: Authorities generally conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, both local and foreign. In addition to periodic visits by the CPT, the UN Committee against Torture regularly examined prisons, most recently in 2016.

Gabon

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits such practices, but security force personnel sometimes employed cruel and degrading treatment.

For example, in January, Bertrand Zibi Abeghe, a former member of parliament, stated he was subjected to mistreatment and torture while in detention after a mobile phone was found in his cell at the Libreville Central Prison. His lawyer stated that prison officials beat him with police batons, pickaxe handles, and electric cables. After his lawyer filed a complaint concerning mistreatment, the prison director was replaced.

Refugees complained of harassment and extortion by security forces. According to reports from the African immigrant community, police and soldiers occasionally beat noncitizen Africans who lacked valid resident permits or identification. Authorities sometimes detained noncitizen Africans, ordered them to undress to humiliate them, and exacted bribes from them.

The United Nations reported that it received one allegation of sexual exploitation (transactional sex) and abuse against two Gabonese peacekeepers deployed with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Investigations by UN and Gabonese authorities were pending at year’s end along with investigation of three allegations of sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships) and abuse (rape, including of minors) against at least 20 Gabonese peacekeepers reported in prior years.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to low-quality food, inadequate sanitation, lack of ventilation, gross overcrowding, and poor medical care. Conditions in jails and detention centers mirrored those in prisons. There were no specific accommodations for persons with disabilities in prisons.

Physical Conditions: Libreville’s central prison was severely overcrowded; it was built to hold 500 inmates but held approximately 3,000. Reports also indicated overcrowding in other prisons.

No credible data or estimates were available on the number of deaths in prisons, jails, and pretrial detention or other detention centers attributed to physical conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities.

In some cases authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and men with women. Authorities separated juvenile prisoners from adults in Libreville and Franceville prisons. There were separate holding areas within prisons for men and women, but access to each area was not fully secured or restricted. Prisoners had only limited access to food, lighting, sanitation, potable water, and exercise areas. On-site nurses were available to provide basic medical care, but prison clinics often lacked sufficient medication. For serious illnesses or injury, authorities transferred prisoners to public hospitals. Management of the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, was inadequate.

Administration: Prisoners filed few complaints. Observers believed the low incidence of complaints was due to ignorance of, or lack of faith in, the process, or fear of retribution. There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority available to respond to prisoner complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted human rights organizations to conduct independent monitoring of prison conditions, but there were reports of difficulties in obtaining access to prisons. The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Malachie visited prisons.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future