French Court to Hear Unprecedented Challenge to Police Ethnic Profiling

On Wednesday 3 July a court in Paris will hear an unprecedented lawsuit that accuses the French police of illegally singling out young men of African or Arab ethnicity for intrusive and discriminatory identity checks and searches.

Thirteen young French men of North or Sub-Saharan African origin jointly filed the  complaint against the Interior Ministry in April last year. They assert that they have been subject to  identity checks based on what they look like, rather than something they did. All of the checks were carried out in public; some involved full body pat-downs as well as searches of belongings.

Identity checks and searches carried out based on physical appearance, presumed origin, or ethnicity are illegal according to European and international human rights standards.

Senior French officials have argued that constitutional, European and international non-discrimination norms do not apply to these police practices. 

Discontent over the issue in minority communities was a factor in the 2012 presidential elections, leading François Hollande, the victorious Socialist candidate, to pledge measures to address the problem. But the limited steps proposed by his government so far have fallen well short of best practices elsewhere in Europe.

A quantitative study by Open Society Justice Initiative and the French National Research Institute (CNRS), carried out in Paris in 2009, demonstrated that individuals identified as “Blacks” and “North Africans” are checked respectively 6 and 8 times more than “Whites”.

The claimants are represented by attorneys Slim Ben Achour and Felix de Belloy.