France

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Mechanisms to investigate security force killings and pursue prosecutions include the police disciplinary body, the Inspector General of the National Police (IGPN), the Gendarmerie police disciplinary body, the Inspector General of the National Gendarmerie (IGGN), and a separate and independent magistrate that can investigate police abuses.

As of November 20, the country had experienced seven terrorist attacks during the year in Paris, Metz, the southeastern town of Romans-sur-Isere, Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, and Nice. A total of seven persons were killed and 12 injured. Each attack was carried out by a single individual. Police killed three attackers, injured one, and arrested three others for the attacks. In one of the attacks on January 3, for example, a man stabbed several persons in the Parisian suburb of Villejuif while reportedly yelling “Allahu akbar.” He killed one person and injured two others before police killed him. The national antiterrorist prosecutor’s office (PNAT) took jurisdiction of the investigation due to the suspect’s evident radicalization and planning for the attack. On October 29, a Tunisian terrorist killed three Christian worshippers in a church in Nice.

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

On March 24, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on its 2018 visit to examine the treatment and conditions of persons detained under immigration and asylum law. In each of the five administrative detention centers visited, a small number of persons claimed to have been physically abused by border police officials, most often in the context of verbal altercations. Several persons also reported insults, in particular of a racist nature, and disrespectful remarks on the part of border police officials, in the detention centers and in the waiting area (terminals and ZAPI 3) of the Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport.

During the year there were reports that police used excessive force during regular antigovernment demonstrations by “Yellow Vest” protesters over perceived social inequality and loss of purchasing power, demonstrations against pension reforms in late 2019 and at the beginning of the year, and protests against alleged police racism and brutality. The annual report of the Inspector General of the National Police (IGPN), published on June 8, found that the number of investigations carried out by the inspectorate increased by nearly a quarter, compared with the same period in 2019. More than half of the 1,460 investigations pertained to “willful violence” by officers, a 41 percent increase from 2018, while nearly 39 percent of the cases of alleged police use of force pertained to public demonstrations. The report noted that the Yellow Vest protests had led to “an overload for the IGPN” with 310 related complaints.

On July 16, judicial sources announced three police officers were charged with manslaughter after the January death of a Paris delivery driver from asphyxia during his arrest by police. A fourth police officer was under investigation but had not been charged. The victim, Cedric Chouviat, was stopped by police close to the Eiffel Tower on January 3 in a routine traffic stop. In a video acquired by investigators, Chouviat was heard saying, “I’m suffocating,” seven times in 22 seconds as police held him down, allegedly in a chokehold.

Following several protests across the country against police violence and racism, on June 8, then interior minister Castaner announced adoption of new measures, including banning police use of chokeholds, improving and continuing training, requiring law enforcement officers to make their police identification number visible, increasing the use of body cameras, suspending officers under investigation for racism, and strengthening the IGPN to make it more “coherent” and independent.

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

Physical Conditions: As of July 1, the overall occupancy rate in the country’s prisons stood at 97 percent (58,695 prisoners for 60,592 spaces), with the rate at some facilities reaching 150 percent. Due to COVID-19 prevention measures, the number of prisoners hit a record low, the first time in decades the overall prison population was below capacity.

On May 20, the Ministry of Justice released an internal memo directing its prosecutors and judges to apply fully a March 25 legal reform that limits new prison entries and ensures the prison population remains within capacity. The internal memo requires “sustained mobilization in favor of penalty adjustment,” which in practice leads to curtailing some sentences as they near completion and limits courts’ ability to apply short prison sentences.

NGOs agreed that detention conditions for women were often better than for men because overcrowding was less common.

The CPT visited five administrative detention centers, four waiting areas, and the Franco-Italian border to examine the situation of persons not admitted to French territory. In its March 24 report, the CPT expressed concern regarding the austerity of the facilities, the absence of activities for detainees, and the lack of contact with staff. The visit to the “sheltering” premises at a police station in Menton-Pont-Saint-Louis for detained migrants revealed substandard physical conditions. A small number of detainees also claimed to have been subjected to violence by codetainees.

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 100 percent and reached 149 percent at the Faa’a Nuutania prison in French Polynesia.

On January 30, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the state violated protections in the European Convention on Human Rights against inhuman and degrading treatment by allowing overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in its prisons after it heard complaints from 32 inmates held in prisons in Nice, Nimes, and Fresnes as well as the overseas territories of Martinique and French Polynesia. In response to the decision, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on July 8 that allows judges to release prisoners when they determine detention conditions to be degrading. The Supreme Court reversed case law, ruling that it was up to the judge to ensure adequate detention conditions and that if conditions violating human dignity could not be remedied, the judge should order the prisoner’s immediate release.

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. On July 6-10, a CPT delegation carried out an ad hoc visit to assess the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in Alsace, a region particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The delegation visited various detention facilities and examined measures taken to protect both detainees and staff before, during, and after the two-month COVID-19 lockdown imposed by authorities.

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements, but lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem.

The law requires police to obtain warrants based on sufficient evidence prior to detaining suspects, but police may immediately arrest suspects caught committing an illegal act. While in police custody, a person has the right to know the legal basis and expected duration of the detention, to remain silent, to have representation by counsel, to inform someone such as a family member or friend, and to be examined by a medical professional. Defense lawyers have the right to ask questions throughout an interrogation. Authorities generally respected these rights.

The law allows authorities to detain a person up to 24 hours if police have a plausible reason to suspect such person is committing or has committed a crime. A district prosecutor has the authority to extend a detention by 24 hours. A special judge, however, has the authority to extend detention by 24-hour periods up to six days in complex cases, such as those involving drug trafficking, organized crime, and acts of terrorism. A system of bail exists, and authorities made use of it.

Detainees generally have access to a lawyer, and the government provides legal counsel to indigent detainees. The law also requires medical examiners to respect and maintain professional confidentiality. The law forbids complete strip searches except in cases where authorities suspect the accused of hiding dangerous items or drugs.

Pretrial Detention: Long delays in bringing cases to trial and lengthy pretrial detention were problems. Although standard practice 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 July pretrial detainees made up 34 percent of the prison population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. The government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality, although delays in bringing cases to trial were a problem. The country does not have an independent military court; the Paris Tribunal of Grand Instance (roughly equivalent to a district court) tries any military personnel alleged to have committed crimes outside the country.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The usual length of time between charging and trial was approximately three years. Defendants enjoyed a presumption of innocence, and authorities informed defendants of the charges against them at the time of arrest. Except for those involving minors, trials were public. Trials were held before a judge or tribunal of judges, except in cases where the potential punishment exceeded 10 years’ imprisonment. In such cases a panel of professional and lay judges heard the case. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Authorities provided an attorney at public expense if needed when defendants faced serious criminal charges. Defendants were able to question the testimony of prosecution witnesses and present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Authorities allowed defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to remain silent and to appeal. Defendants who do not understand French are provided with an interpreter.

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters and access to a court to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Individuals may file complaints with the European Court of Human Rights for alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the government once they have exhausted avenues for appeal through the domestic courts.

France endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. The government has laws and mechanisms in place for property restitution, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The country has restitution and reparation measures in place covering all three types of immovable property: private, communal, and heirless.

In 2014 France and the United States signed the bilateral Agreement on Compensation for Certain Victims of Holocaust-Related Deportation from France Who Are Not Covered by French Programs. The agreement provides an exclusive mechanism to compensate persons who survived deportation from France (or their spouse or other designee) but did not benefit from the pension program established by the government for French nationals or from international agreements concluded by the government to address Holocaust deportation claims. Pursuant to the agreement, the government of France transferred $60 million to the United States, which the United States used to make payments to claimants that it determined to be eligible under the agreement.

France endorsed the 1998 Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated Art and set up a commission to address the restitution of and/or compensation, primarily providing compensation to individual victims or their heirs. As of year’s end, few artworks had been returned, in part because France had not yet passed a law permitting state museums to deaccession objects in their collections. Critics contend that restitution was haphazard and that French museums were slow or even loathe to return Nazi-looted art.

The country’s government launched an official mission in 2019 for the discovery and restitution of Nazi-looted art held in French museums. A newly dedicated office within the Ministry of Culture, the Mission for Research and Restitution of Stolen Cultural Property, employed a five-person staff and a 200,000 euro ($240,000) annual budget to seek out the rightful owners or heirs of artworks, including those in museums and galleries, stolen or sold under duress during the country’s occupation. The office coordinated research and investigated claims submitted to the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation (CIVS). It also mobilized museum experts, supported university-level research, and aided in the appointment of in-house specialists at art institutions. As of April 2019, the Ministry of Culture did not have the final say on restitution; the authority for final decisions on restitution rests with the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation under the Office of the Prime Minister. The separation of authority seeks to address criticisms that museum officials would be reluctant to hand over valuable artwork. The office worked closely with counterparts in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, in addition to museums and universities. The Ministry of Culture also stated it would take a more active role in the search and restitution of stolen properties.

On July 1, in a final and definitive ruling, the Supreme Court upheld a decision to restore a Camille Pissarro painting to the descendants of a Jewish family who owned the artwork before it was seized during World War II. “The Picking of Peas,” painted in 1887 and stolen in 1943, reappeared in Paris in 2017. A foreign couple claimed to own it, but several courts ruled the work belonged to the descendants of Jewish collector Simon Bauer and ordered its restitution.

On September 30, a Paris appeals court ordered the French state to return three pieces of art to the heirs of a Jewish collector who died in a German concentration camp in 1945. The artworks by Andre Derain were housed at the modern art museum in Troyes and the Cantini museum in Marseille. They had initially been in the collection of Parisian gallery owner Rene Gimpel, who was denounced by a rival dealer after joining the resistance. The works were expropriated when he was arrested. In the ruling, the court overturned the judgment of a lower court that in 2019 rejected a bid for the artworks’ restitution to Gimpel’s heirs. The lower court had found there were doubts regarding the authenticity of the paintings, but appeals judges stated there were “accurate, serious and consistent indications” that the works were the same ones taken from Gimpel.

On September 25, the Council of State–the country’s top administrative court–rejected two travelers’ associations’ claims for restitution of goods looted during World War II. The UDAF and FLV associations asked the Council of State to annul or expand provisions of a 1999 decree that provides compensation for “victims of looting under the anti-Semitic laws.” But in a ruling that closely followed prior decisions, the court found it legal to differentiate between victim groups, because only Jews were subject to a “policy of systematic extermination” under the Nazi occupation and laws.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

The constitution and law prohibit interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and there were no reports of government failure to respect these prohibitions.

The government continued implementing amendments to the law passed in 2015 that allow specialized intelligence agencies to conduct without approval from a judge real-time surveillance on both networks and individuals for information or documents regarding a person identified as posing a terrorist threat. Following passage of the amendments, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court that hears cases in first and last instance and is both advisor to the government and the Supreme Administrative Court, issued three implementing decrees designating the agencies that may engage in such surveillance, including using devices to establish geolocation.

To prevent acts of terrorism, the law permits authorities to restrict and monitor the movement of individuals, conduct administrative searches and seizures, close religious institutions for disseminating violent extremist ideas, implement enhanced security measures at public events, and expand identity checks near the country’s borders. The core provisions of the antiterrorism law were to expire at the end of the year unless renewed by parliament.

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select a Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future