UN urges France to protect fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

The current state of emergency in France and the law on surveillance of electronic communications impose excessive and disproportionate restrictions on fundamental freedoms, a group of United Nations human rights experts warned yesterday. In a list of concerns shared with the French government, the independent experts stressed the lack of clarity and precision of several provisions of the state of emergency and surveillance laws, related to the nature and scope of restrictions to the legitimate exercise of right to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the right to privacy.

“As France debates the strengthening of measures in the fight against terrorism, and considers a reform of the criminal procedure, we call on the authorities to revise the provisions and possible reforms adopted to that end, to ensure they comply with international human rights law,” they noted.

In order to guarantee the rule of law and prevent arbitrary procedures, the experts recommend the adoption of prior judicial controls over anti-terrorism measures. The state of emergency law in force since the recent terrorist attacks in France, which temporarily expands the powers of the executive in the fight against terrorism, only allows judicial review a posteriori.

The UN says that the experts also noted that the law on surveillance of international electronic communications, adopted in November 2015, expands the power of the executive over the collection, analysis and storage of communications content or metadata, without requiring prior authorization or judicial review.

“Ensuring adequate protection against abuse in the use of exceptional measures and surveillance measures in the context of the fight against terrorism is an international obligation of the French State,” they stated.

In their communication with the French authorities, the UN experts expressed alarm that environmental activists have been under house arrest in connection with the state of emergency invoked following the November attacks. “These measures do not seem to adjust to the fundamental principles of necessity and proportionality,” they said highlighting the risks faced by fundamental freedoms in the fight against terrorism.

“While exceptional measures may be required under exceptional circumstances, this does not relieve the authorities from demonstrating that these are applied solely for the purposes for which they were prescribed, and are directly related to the specific objective that inspired them,” they said calling on the French government not to extend the state of emergency beyond 26 February 2016.

The independent experts expressed their solidarity and deepest sympathy to the victims of the terrorist attacks committed in France and many other places in the world.

The UN notes that the Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

— Read more in Déclaration publique sur la loi relative à l’état d’urgence et sur la loi relative à la surveillance des communications électroniques internationales (UNCHR, 19 January 2016)

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