France: Government Promises UN to End Ethnic Profiling

GENEVA—France should act on its promise to prohibit and prevent ethnic profiling and provide effective remedies to victims, the Open Society Justice Initiative and Human Rights Watch said today. France officially accepted recommendations to end ethnic profiling at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 6, 2013.

“France has acknowledged that it is wrong for police to stop people on the streets and treat them like criminals or second-class citizens just because of the way they look,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Now it has to make sure that these abusive episodes stop, once and for all.”

“The French government has made an important commitment to reform the laws and policies that have allowed discriminatory police practices to continue unchecked,” said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. “Now France needs to put concrete measures in place to carry out the reforms.”

National and international organizations have for years highlighted abuses during identity checks in France, including ethnic profiling. These abuses damage relations between the police force and the population, and make the victims of these checks feel like second-class citizens, the two organizations said.

The Open Society Justice Initiative and Human Rights Watch work together in a coalition with six French nongovernmental groups to press the government to end abusive police identity check powers.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, François Hollande made a commitment to “fight against discriminatory identity checks through a procedure respectful of citizens.” In September 2012, the new prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, also promised that the government would soon introduce “stop forms,” which would provide anyone stopped by police with a written record and generate data about the way the police use their authority to stop people on the street.

Unfortunately, the government quickly back-pedalled on these commitments and has taken only minor steps toward reform, such as introducing an amended code of police ethics. These measures fall far short of what is needed, the two organizations said.

Four countries—Mexico, Egypt, India, and Pakistan—made recommendations to France to end ethnic profiling practices during France’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in January. The UPR is a regular peer review of each UN member state’s human rights record carried out by the UN Human Rights Council. The French government accepted all of these recommendations.

To carry out these recommendations, the government should pass legislation that explicitly bans the use of ethnic profiling during identity checks, and amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to require reasonable suspicion—objective and individual grounds—for all police stops. It should also introduce stop forms that provide everyone stopped with information about the legal basis and grounds for identity checks and frisks. Without such changes identity checks will remain a grey zone of police practice in which it is impossible for judges to monitor whether stops are carried out in a manner that respects fundamental rights, the two groups said.

“These changes are long overdue,” the two organizations said. “The government should move quickly to fulfil its new promises to the UN and its previous commitments to the French electorate to put an end to ethnic profiling practices.”