France is a multiparty constitutional democracy. The president of the republic is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. Voters elected Francois Hollande to that position in 2012. The upper house (Senate) of the bicameral parliament is elected indirectly through an electoral college, while the public elects the lower house (National Assembly) directly. The 2012 presidential and National Assembly elections, the 2014 elections for the Senate, and the 2015 regional elections were considered free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
In November 2015 President Hollande declared a nationwide state of emergency following terrorist attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis. The parliament subsequently extended the state of emergency five times. Following the July terrorist attack in Nice, it was extended to the middle of July 2017. The state of emergency gives significantly expanded powers to police and state authorities. Prefects in all regions may prohibit public demonstrations or gatherings and close provisionally concert halls, restaurants, or any public place. Police and prefects also may search homes without a warrant and authorities may place persons of interest and their relatives under house arrest if they are deemed to pose a threat to national security. United Nations human rights experts, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and Green Party members of parliament expressed concern the state of emergency negatively affected the balance between security and individual rights, but it enjoyed widespread legislative and public support throughout the year.
The most significant human rights problems during the year included a number of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, although incidents decreased substantially in comparison to 2015. Government evictions of Roma from illegal camps were also reported. Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem.
Other reported human rights problems included instances of excessive police use of force against detainees at time of arrest and against migrants and asylum seekers; overcrowding and unhygienic conditions in prisons; societal violence against women, trafficking in persons; and employment discrimination based on sex, gender, disability, and national origin.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish security forces and other officials who committed abuses. Impunity was not widespread.
During the year the country suffered one major terrorist attack, at least three terror-related individual killings targeting police and clergy, and several attempted terrorist attacks that led to investigations and prosecutions. As of the end of the year, police and prosecutors continued to investigate elements of the attacks.
Note: The country includes 11 overseas administrative divisions covered in this report. Four overseas territories in French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and La Reunion have the same political status as the 22 metropolitan regions and 101 departments on the mainland. Five divisions are overseas “collectivities”: French Polynesia, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna. New Caledonia is a special overseas collectivity with a unique, semiautonomous status between that of an independent country and an overseas department. Citizens of these territories periodically elect deputies and senators to represent them in parliament, like the other overseas regions and departments.
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 and law prohibit such practices, and security and military personnel usually respected human rights principles in their work. There were, however, occasional accusations of abuses.
As of September 15, the defender of rights, the equivalent of an official ombudsman for civil liberties, registered 68 citizen claims of violence committed by security forces.
There were reports police beat, kicked, and used pepper spray on migrants and asylum seekers in the port city of Calais (see section 2.d.).
Credible allegations surfaced during the year that French peacekeepers committed acts of sexual abuse in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015. These accusations were under investigation by the Ministry of Defense. The allegations emerged in 2015 and included the sexual abuse of homeless children by French troops stationed in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui as part of Operation Sangaris. The Ministry of Defense condemned the alleged abuse. The case was separately under investigation by the Paris prosecutor’s office. In February prosecutors widened their probe after two children submitted rape accusations against French soldiers. On April 5, a French judicial source stated that prosecutors opened a third investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Operation Sangaris troops, which continued at year’s end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
While prisons and detention centers met many international standards, credible NGOs and government officials reported overcrowding and unhygienic conditions in prisons.
In 2015 the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) carried out a periodic visit to the country. The CPT investigated the conditions of deprivation of liberty in three prisons affected by overcrowding and alleged discrepancies in treatment of certain categories of detained and convicted prisoners in different establishments, including in a unit holding “radicalized” prisoners. In addition the CPT carried out a detailed analysis of the involuntary commitment of patients to psychiatric establishments and visited 12 police and gendarmerie stations to examine the material conditions provided for detainees.
In April the UN Committee against Torture considered the report submitted by France. The country corapporteur for France, Alessio Bruni, noted that, despite measures taken by the government, prison overcrowding continued in Marseille, Paris, and Nimes, with the worst detention conditions being in French Polynesia and other overseas territories. He regretted those placed in disciplinary wings and isolation were increasingly at risk of committing suicide, and noted with concern such placement could last up to 30 days. He also criticized the use of isolation in psychiatric hospitals, sometimes for more than 20 hours per day and for periods of up to several months.
Physical Conditions: The maximum acceptable capacity for the country’s 191 prisons was 58,507 inmates. As of August the Prison Service reported the country’s prisons held 68,819 inmates, representing 118 percent of prison capacity. The number of inmates increased from the end of 2015. Detention conditions for women were often better than for men because overcrowding was less common. The occupancy rate was 223 percent of capacity at the Faa’a Nuutania prison in French Polynesia and 146 percent at the Ducos prison in Martinique.
Although there were no known deaths in prison due to mistreatment or adverse conditions during the year, prison suicides remained a problem. According to the Ministry of Justice, 113 inmates committed suicide in 2015, a rate considerably higher than that outside prison.
On July 19, the administrative court of Caen ordered the state to pay 1,300 euros ($1,430) compensation to an inmate for failing to provide minimum required space in his cell.
In its 2012 report, the CPT raised concerns regarding inadequate medical and psychiatric staffing and degrading treatment of prisoners by prison staff during medical evaluations in some prisons. The CPT report also mentioned detainee complaints of derogatory comments by staff and the lack of opportunities for detainees to work or engage in other activities.
Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner.
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 April.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions, although lengthy pretrial detention was a problem.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior, Overseas France, Local Authorities, and Immigration, a civilian national police force of 145,000 and a national gendarmerie of 98,155 maintained internal security. In conjunction with specific gendarmerie units used for military operations, the army was responsible for external security under the Ministry of Defense. Observers considered police and gendarmes generally effective.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police force, the gendarmerie, and the army, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Official impunity was not widespread. The inspector general of national police and the Office of Judicial Police investigated and prosecuted allegations of brutality in the police force and the gendarmerie, a unit within the armed forces responsible for general law enforcement. The defender of rights investigated allegations of misconduct by municipal police, gendarmes, and private security forces and reported its findings to the prime minister and parliament. According to the 2015 defender of rights report, individuals filed 910 complaints against security forces in 2015.
In July 2015 the defender of rights called for a ban on police use of flash ball guns during demonstrations following several cases in which demonstrators sustained injuries from the weapon. In 2013 and 2014, the defender of rights was called upon to examine seven cases in which serious injuries or permanent infirmities were allegedly sustained due to the use of flash ball guns. In July 2015 Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced he would not ban police use of flash-balls. On June 24, in five decisions, the Paris Court of Appeals ordered the government to pay damages to five men who were subjected to unwarranted police identity checks that observers believed constituted racial profiling. The government must pay a 1,500 euro ($1,650) fine to each. The complaints were initially dismissed in a 2013 trial. The plaintiffs claimed they were subjected to unjustified identity checks because of their skin color. The State appealed the ruling.
On November 9, the Supreme Court definitively condemned the government for three unjustified identity checks conducted by police forces.
On September 30, a Caen criminal court sentenced a police officer to a two-month suspended prison sentence for violence committed on May 26 in Caen against a man who was demonstrating against the labor law (see section 2.b.).
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires police to obtain warrants based on sufficient evidence prior to detaining suspects, but police can immediately arrest suspects caught committing an illegal act. Individuals have the right to a judicial notification on the legality of their detention during their first hour in custody, and authorities generally respected this right.
By law police must inform persons taken into custody of their right to remain silent and their right to have a lawyer present during questioning. Authorities must inform detainees of charges against them once they are in police custody, and defense lawyers may ask questions throughout the interrogation. If a medical examination is required, the examiner must respect professional confidentiality. The law forbids complete strip searches except in cases where authorities suspect the accused of hiding dangerous items or drugs. A system of bail exists, and authorities made use of it. Detainees generally had access to a lawyer, and the state provides legal counsel to indigent detainees. The law allows police to detain individuals for up to 24 hours if police suspect them of having committed a crime punishable by a prison sentence. Authorities may extend this period of detention for an additional 24 hours regardless of the seriousness of the crime.
Under the state of emergency in effect during the year, authorities may place persons of interest and their relatives under house arrest if they deem them to pose a threat to national security. As of November 7, authorities had placed 95 persons under house arrest.
In cases involving terrorism or drug trafficking, the law allows extended periods of detention before notification to counsel. Authorities may hold suspects for up to 96 hours without charge or access to a lawyer and may petition a judge to extend detention by an additional 48 hours. Following this maximum six-day period, authorities must either charge suspects or release them.
Pretrial Detention: Long delays in bringing cases to trial and lengthy pretrial detention were problems. Although authorities generally allowed pretrial detention only in cases involving possible sentences of more than three years in prison, some suspects spent many years in detention before trial. As of August pretrial detainees made up approximately 11.5 percent of the prison population.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On June 16, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a study warning that children living in refugee camps such as Calais and Dunkirk were exposed to sexual exploitation, trafficking, and abuse on a daily basis. UNICEF estimated there were approximately 500 unaccompanied children living across seven refugee sites in northern France. It identified cases of debt slavery and forced criminal activity and a “constant threat” of sexual violence. Some young women reported being promised safe passage to the United Kingdom in exchange for sex.
On February 13, seven migrants living in the Calais refugee camp filed lawsuits alleging violent acts committed by police against them between January 21 and February 10. At year’s end an investigation into the allegations continued.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
In October, the government cleared the Calais refugee camp and resettled an estimated 5,600 individuals, including 1,600 unaccompanied minors, in refugee welcome and orientation centers around the country. Migrants had access to basic services, medical care, and information on applying for asylum at these centers. Unaccompanied minors were placed in separate specialized centers that provided additional education and health services for children.
In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic, although applicants must complete them in French, generally without government language assistance.
In July 2015 the parliament adopted a law on asylum reform to improve procedures for assessing asylum cases. The law requires the reduction of application processing times, from 24 to nine months, and introduces a directed housing system so that asylum seekers are not concentrated in a handful of regions and enjoy better reception conditions.
On September 20, an administrative court ordered the government to pay a 5,500 euro ($6,050) fine to a 16-year-old Iraqi minor of Kurdish origin who was living in the Calais refugee camp after the prefecture did not promptly register his asylum request. The court also found that the prefecture failed to alert the child protection services.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating from a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary residence status that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Macedonia, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and Kosovo.
Refoulement: While the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened, human rights groups regularly criticized its deportation practices for their strict adherence to the law. During the year several French NGOs provided legal advice to migrants and asylum seekers and criticized individual cases of deportations.
Freedom of movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners who could not be immediately deported. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 45 days. There were 26 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.
On June 28, five associations (Assfam, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, Cimade, and Ordre de Malte) providing help to foreigners released a joint annual report on migration for 2015. The report stated that 47,565 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2015, representing a slight decrease from 2014, when 49,537 were held.
On July 12, the European Court of Human Rights condemned the country for the practice of detaining foreign children in holding centers while their parents were undergoing deportation proceedings. In view of the children’s age and the duration and conditions of their administrative detention, the court found that authorities had subjected them to an inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Access to Basic Services: In 2013 the defender of rights submitted his report on the overall migration situation in the department of Mayotte, located in the Indian Ocean. Observing that approximately 3,000 unaccompanied foreign minors on the island were not receiving assistance, the defender of rights sent a letter to the interior minister in 2014 that urged the government to establish a representation of the French Office for Immigration and Integration on Mayotte to provide better support to minors. Since 2012 local police have been allowed to detain suspected undocumented migrants up to four hours for not having a residency permit.
Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2015 the government voluntarily repatriated 4,211 undocumented migrants to their countries of origin.
According to a public statement by President Hollande, since 2011 the country has admitted 10,000 Syrian refugees.
Temporary Protection: Temporary protection is a procedure that provides for immediate temporary protection in the case of a mass influx of migrants and asylum seekers or an imminent influx of displaced persons. Authorities often initiated this protection when the asylum system was unable to process such an influx. Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit that could be extended for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2015.
OFPRA reported there were 1,326 stateless persons in the country as of December 2015. It attributed statelessness to various factors, including contradictions among differing national laws, government stripping of nationality, and lack of birth registration. As the agency responsible for the implementation of international conventions on refugees and stateless persons, OFPRA provided benefits to stateless persons. The government provided a one-year residence permit marked “private and family life” to persons deemed stateless that allowed them to work. After two permit renewals, stateless persons could apply for and obtain a 10-year residence permit.
The laws afford individuals the opportunity to gain citizenship. A person may become a citizen if: either parent is a citizen; he or she is legally adopted by a citizen, he or she is born in the country to stateless parents or to individuals whose nationality does not transfer to the child; or he or she marries a citizen. A person who has reached the legal age of majority, 18, may apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years of habitual residence in the country. Applicants for citizenship must have good knowledge of both the French language and civics.