Human rights in France

Human rights in France

The preamble of the Constitution of the French Fifth Republic, founded in 1958, recalls the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. France has also ratified the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000). All these international law instruments takes precedent on national legislation. However, human rights abuses take place nevertheless. The most frequent cases are of police abuse, while France is regularly condemned, both by French citizens and institutions and also by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the scandalous detention conditions in the penitentiary system. The state of detention centres for unauthorized migrants who received an order of deportation has also often be criticized. Furthermore, although freedom of press and of expression is included in the Constitution, it has suffered over the years from some restrictions in specific cases.

Conventions and Acts

During the French Revolution, deputies from the Third Estate drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, voted by the General Estates on August 26, 1789. Inspired by the philosophy of the Enlightenment and by the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence — Lafayette participated in the drafting of both — in that it proclaims the "inalienable rights of Man," and is protected by a "Supreme Being," it mainly granted to the people the right of freedom of expression, of freedom of thought, freedom of association, liberty, security and the protection of private property, which was later criticized by Karl Marx.


In standard conditions, France does not have censorship laws, being a liberal democracy respectful of freedom of press. However, before its repeal under François Mitterrand in the early 1980s, the ORTF used to control the mass media. The CSA has since replaced it, but is only charged of surveillance of the respect of French law in the media, in particular concerning the 1990 Gayssot Act which prohibits racist and/or religious hate speech (under which negationism, in particular but not only Holocaust denial falls under), and time period allocated to each political party during pre-electoral periods. Furthermore, other laws prohibit homophobic hate speech, and a 1970 law prohibits the advocacy of illegal drugs.

Police abuses and detention conditions

Torture and inhumane treatments during the Algerian War

During the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962), the French military systematically used torture against the National Liberation Front and the civilian population. The French interrogators were notorious for the use of man-powered electrical generators on suspects: this form of torture was called "(la) gégène".
Paul Aussaresses, a French general in charge of intelligence services during the Algerian war, defended the use of torture in a 2000 interview in the Paris newspaper "Le Monde." In an interview on the CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes", in response to the question of whether he would torture Al-Qaeda suspects, his answer was, "It seems to me it's obvious."

Foucault and the GIP: the struggle against the penitentiary system

Philosopher Michel Foucault condemned in "" (1975) not only the detention conditions in prison, but the existence of the penitentiary system in itself. He showed that since its creation, reformists had tried to "humanize" prisons, but that it was impossible. According to him, prisons had a specific role to play in the control of the population, by pitting against them some members of the popular classes, called and created by power mechanisms as "delinquents," that is "professional criminals" against the rest of the popular class, bravely recompensed by the dominant bourgeoisie as honest and hard-working. Foucault thus observed that since its creation, prison reformers had seen that prison fed and created criminality by putting together people forced in a desperate situation. Far from redeeming people or helping them "integrate" society, he showed that it created a specific criminal population, which the police used, via infiltrators, to control the rest of the population, and to carry out covert operations.

This contrasted with the previous "popular illegalisms" tolerated by the Ancien Régime before the Revolution, when the whole of the popular classes engaged in illegal behaviours, such as taking wood from the sovereign's territory or poaching. Along with Daniel Defert, Jean-Marie Domenach, editor of the Catholic left-wing Esprit magazine, historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet and other left-wing intellectuals, Foucault created the Groupe d'information sur les prisons (GIP) in 1971, which had as aim to make the discourse of prisoners possible to hear. His thesis was that power mechanisms blocked society from hearing this discourse. Thus, society prohibited prisoners from speaking for themselves, giving the right to speech (and be listened) to criminologists, psychiatrists and other "experts," as well as intellectuals (represented by the classic figures of Emile Zola or Jean-Paul Sartre. The GIP was particularly active against the QHS (Quartiers de Haute Sécurité), which are the French version of high security quarters. It reinvidicated the repeal of such instruments. Along with other left-wing intellectuals and activists, among them Sartre and Gilles Deleuze, they protested against the detention conditions of the "Action Directe" prisoners, the assassination of Black Panthers member George Jackson in the US, the detention of Mumia Abu-Jamal, etc.

Death penalty

France is the last western European country to have practised death penalty, by executing Hamida Djandoubi (and not Christian Ranucci as it is usually believed), on September 10, 1977. Capital punishment has been abolished on 9th October, 1981.


On the other hand, police abuse remains a reality in France today, while France has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the conditions of detention in prisons, including the use of torture on detainees. Although the law and the Constitution prohibits any kind of torture whatsoever, such practices happen. In 2004, the Inspector General of the National Police received 469 registered complaints about illegitimate police violence during the first 11 months of the year, down from 500 during the same period in 2003. There were 59 confirmed cases of police violence, compared to 65 in the previous year. In April 2004, the ECHR condemned the Government for "inhumane and degrading treatments" in the 1997 case of a teenager beaten while in police custody. The court ordered the Government to pay Giovanni Rivas $20,500 (15,000 euros) in damages and $13,500 (10,000 euros) in court costs. [ [ 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in France] , Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004; Released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor - URL accessed on February 18, 2007 en icon ] The head of the police station in Saint-Denis, near Paris, has been forced to resign after allegations of rape and other violences committed by the police force under his orders. Nine investigations concerning police abuse in this police station were done in 2005 by the IGS inspection of police. [ [ Viols, vols, violences : neuf enquêtes visent des policiers du commissariat de Saint-Denis] , "Le Monde", 9 September 2005 fr icon ] [ [ Mais que fait la Police ?] (But What Is Doing The Police?), "Marianne", September 14, 2005 fr icon ] Conditions in detention centers for unauthorized immigrants have also been widely criticized by human rights NGO. In 2006, a young 20 year-old Serbian girl accused a policeman of attempting to rape her in such a centre in Bobigny, in the suburbs of Paris, the year before [ [ Anita, expulsable, accuse un policier de tentative de viol] , "Libération", August 9, 2006 fr icon ]

Long delays in bringing cases to trial and lengthy pretrial detention has been a major problem.


The so-called “idéal républicain” (republican ideal) intends to achieve equality in right between French citizens. But, France is a highly centralized Republic, with power concentrated in the national government, at the expense of local or regional governments. French attitude against discrimination show this defiance against communitarism. For example, ethnic or religious statistics are forbidden.

That's why France has expressed reservations about article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ::"In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language."

Minority acculturation

Before the Revolution, French (which is, in fact, only a dialect of Langue d'Oïl was spoken in only slightly more than half of the territory of France. In western Brittany, southern Flanders, Alsace-Lorraine and most of the southern half of France (Occitania), local people had their own distinct cultures. Breton is a Celtic language akin to Welsh, Alsace-Lorraine was part of the German-speaking world, while Occitan is a separate Romance language whose literature flourished in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance and served as a model for Italian, Spanish and French. With the Revolution came the ultranationalist idea of uniformity which saw in the French language the only possible vehicle of cultural and political development, and a serious persecution of the other languages and cultural peculiarities began. The Revolution eventually subsided, but the quest for uniformity continued. Whereas in most of Europe local languages were able to get some official recognition during the 19th and 20th century and begin recovery, in France any official status is still denied on the grounds that the Constitution says (article 2) that the language of the Republic is French and special rights cannot be bestowed on groups of individuals (that is, the speakers of a language other than French cannot have the right to use their language officially). Promotion of a local language or culture has finally been allowed, but under severe restrictions which effectively make it difficult to publish, organize classes, or media broadcasts.The French stance in regard to its own cultural and linguistic minorities has been thus the complete opposite of its position in support of a more autonomous or independent Quebec.

Freedom of religion

Women rights

France allowed women's suffrage on April 21, 1944.

The Neuwirth law legalized birth control methods on December 28, 1967. Youths were given anonymous and free access to them in 1974.

Abortion was legalized by Simone Veil law on January 17, 1975.


Jean Diot and Bruno Lenoir were the last homosexuals burned to death on January 1750 [ fr] . Homosexuality has been unpenalized during the Revolution by the law of the September 25-October 6 1791.

On August 6, 1942 Vichy government introduced a discriminative law in penal code: article 334 (moved to article 331 on 8 février 1945 by the Provisional Government of the French Republic) increased age of consent to 21 for homosexual relations. This law remained valid until August 4, 1982.

A less known discriminative law ("ordonnance" n°60-1245 on 1960, November 25 ) doubled penalty for indecent exposure in case of homosexual activity, between 1960 and 1980 (penal code article 330). This text is also known as the Mirguet amendment [ fr] .

Today homosexual activists try to make legal LGBT adoption and same-sex marriage in France. The "pacte civil de solidarité", a form of civil union, has been introduced in 1999.

Disabled people

Since July 1987 , all companies with at least 20 workers have to employ at least 6% handicaped people.

Equal opportunity

Despite the opening up of public service appointments to European citizens, a fair number of public sector posts are reserved only for French nationals, especially when related to Defence, Justice, Heritage issues. Many areas theoretically open such as Education are in practice not so.

Human trafficking

There has been a growing awareness of human trafficking as a human rights issue in Europe ("see main article: trafficking in human beings"). The end of communism and collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia has contributed to an increase in human trafficking, with the majority of victims being women forced into prostitution. [] [] France is a transit and destination country for persons, primarily women, trafficked mainly from Central and Eastern Europe and from Africa for the purpose of labour exploitation and sexual exploitation. The Government of France fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The French government was called on to make sure that implementation of the 2003 Domestic Security Law did not result in re-victimizing trafficking victims by improving the screening of foreign prostitutes so that trafficking victims are properly identified and protected from their traffickers. []

Mass surveillance and databases

"See Government databases#France".

The CNIL is supposed to authorize government databases which may imbreach on privacy.

Human rights organisations

*Amnesty International (AI)
*Human Rights Watch (HRW)
*Ligue des droits de l'homme (LDH, Human Rights League - created during the Dreyfus Affair at the end of the 19th century)
*MRAP anti-racist NGO
*SOS Racisme
*CIMADE (the only organization authorized to visit internment camp for illegal aliens ("sans-papiers", literally "without-papers", that is people who do not possess identity documents)
*GISTI (immigrants support NGO)


ee also

*Paris massacre of 1961
*Freedom of information in France
*High authority for the struggle against discrimination and for equality (HALDE)
*Humanism in France
*La Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Déportation

External links

* [ French Government Website on Human rights]
* [ UN Website]
* [ US Government report]
* [ HRW website on France]

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