Blog Article

France’s State of emergency- fight against terror or liberty?

By: Nicolas Seidman

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A man is searched by police a few days after the Bataclan attacks. Source: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

“The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.” -Leon Trotsky ‘Their morals and ours’

The 13th of November will, for many years to come, mark a day of remembrance in France. Where on that night in 2015 one hundred and thirty Frenchmen and women, along with hundreds of others, were either wounded or killed in six different locations in Paris.[1] That same night French President François Hollande implemented a nationwide state of emergency. A move that has not been seen since the Algerian war in 1961[2]. This decision was taken by the state to improve its capabilities to tackle terrorism. Clearly prior initiatives in counter-terrorism policy failed, such as the intrusive surveillance laws post-Charlie Hebdo attack[3]. However the state of emergency suspends vital key human rights for French citizens. Rights that ensure a fair democratic rule; basing itself on the crucial three foundations of liberty, equality and fraternity. Currently citizens lacking ties to radical Islamic jihadism are collateral damage in the fight against terrorism.[4] They are subject to raids, house arrests and mass surveillance.[5] State of emergencies are meant to be a temporary band-aid while the State finds a more suitable, less radical, long-term solution. Despite this men like Prime Minister Manuel Valls strive to extend and even implement it in the constitution.[6] The French government should therefore understand that continuing with the state of emergency is not the way forward for a stabilized France.

This State of emergency is going to permanently leave its mark on French society. The government has allocated extraordinary powers to law enforcement without judicial oversight[7]. It includes the ability of the police to conduct mass raids, press suppression, dismantle groups threatening public order, detain and put under house arrest all those deemed potential threats to the State.[8] This capability of the police has both great merits, as well as flaws. 10 Mosques have been closed due to incriminating evidence of weapons and explosives. 578 guns have been seized, 400 people have been put under house arrest and 395 people have been detained by the police[9]. The state of emergency has made the state safer and neutralized many potential threats to human life. But at what cost? Since the beginning of the State of emergency in November over 3,000 raids have been conducted[10]. Many of the raids concerned Islamic religious moderates[11]. A considerable number of raids that reflect the extent at which the government will go to capitalize on its power. The authorities were able to engage in these activities without the necessity of a warrant. In this manner law enforcement base themselves off of negligible concrete evidence and most of the time solely on suspicion[12]. According to Human Rights Watch, the majority of raids on homes, businesses and mosques were unlawful[13]. Raids not only causes physical damage to private and religious property, but also to the individual[14]. More times than not damaging both their personal as well as social lives. Many lost their jobs, experienced anxiety and understandably sparked a sense of betrayal by the government[15].

The state of emergency is showing itself to be inefficient by indirectly dragging individuals, not involved with extremism, into the fight. Between the months of November to January there had been 563 judicial proceedings concerning offences against the state[16]. Despite the focus on counter-terrorism only 28 out of these 563 offences were considered terror related[17]. A far cry from prosecuting terrorists. The majority of these offences were related to everyday organized crime. Over 300 those prosecutions were drug or arms trafficking related[18]. The government has also used its power directly in non-terror related ways. During the COP21 climate conference in Paris 27 environmentalist activists were put under house arrest.[19]This was done despite their lack of jihadi radicalism terrorist intentions[20]. The Prime Minister explicitly expressed that the state of emergency would stay in place until Daesh is no longer a threat .[21] The real target are therefore individuals connected to this so called Islamic State. Hence, can the cause be considered just if those most targeted don’t fit in this description? The power allocated to the government can be seen as inefficient and a cause for extensive collateral damage. Therefore, on the short run, these policies may allow to detain current ‘radicals’ and seize weapons, but what does the future hold?

A future of split French identity

If a state no longer considers you as a citizen and does not respect your rights, then what is the point of abiding by its rules? What if the State does not keep its promise of a fair society? The religious moderates, who find themselves in the crossfire of the law, might be less inclined to empathise with the State. They are, however, are not the only ones that may feel betrayed. The ‘Projet de loi constitutionnelle de protection de la nation’[22] is a bill aims to strip French citizens, with dual-nationality, of their French citizenship if convicted of terrorism[23]. This would create, for lack of a better word, a second-class citizen. Someone that has been deprived of a certain right due to her/his position in society. This is not the view sprouting only from human and civil rights groups, but also from policymakers too. Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, resigned due to her unwillingness to implement such a discriminatory bill[24]. She served four long years regardless of political instability in her party, racial remarks from the far-right for being black[25] and fought against major parties to pass the bill for the right to same-sex marriage[26]. Despite her dedication she would rather walk away from a position she dedicated herself to than implement a bill. This is a tell-tale sign the government is treading into waters it should not be in.

Do the ends justify the means?

The State of emergency is an effective tool in preventing terrorist attacks in the short term. However, the government is shooting itself in the foot if it is trying to maintain its ideological freedom and democracy. The freedom of privacy offered to their citizens is diminishing. Continuous raids, house arrests and mass surveillance offer no prospect of securing personal affairs from the government. The freedom of displacement can no longer be ensured when suspects are needed to report to the police three times a day to ensure authorities they have not left the country. Equal rights no longer persist as citizens are being targeted for their religious faith and especially when some of them are considered second class citizens. Unrest is beginning to stirrup amongst many who find the acts of the government non-democratic[27]. Protests broke-out at the end of January, spanning 70 towns, involving thousands of protesters. The Fraternity of many citizens, who once felt unified, is beginning to waver. The democratic cornerstone that has propped-up the Republic of France since its formation is crumbling. The Republic can no longer ensure a standard of rights for its citizens. President Hollande is attempting to amend the constitution to facilitate the extension of the state of emergency ‘until the threat of Daesh is gone’[28]. This could suggest indefinitely.

An end in sight?

The State of Emergency extension has been agreed upon, mid-February, to extend to May 26th. This happened despite recommendations from the UN, stating that France should not extend it[29]. The UN claimed that France has engaged in ‘excessive and disproportionate’ restrictions on key rights[30], attempting to dissuade them from extending past February. In the eyes of President Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls the State of emergency is a necessary evil if in order to obtain security. The people of France must therefore ask themselves. What price must we pay?

 

 

Nicolas Seidman is a first-year War Studies student at King’s College London.

 

 

 

Notes:

[1] “Paris Attacks: What Happened on the Night.” BBC News. Accessed March 1, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34818994.

[2] “Mise En œuvre De L’état D’urgence Sur Le Territoire National / L’actu Du Ministère / Actualités – Ministère De L’Intérieur.” http://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Actualites/L-actu-du-Ministere/Mise-en-aeuvre-de-l-etat-d-urgence-sur-le-territoire-national. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Actualites/L-actu-du-Ministere/Mise-en-aeuvre-de-l-etat-d-urgence-sur-le-territoire-national.

[3] “Le Projet De Loi Sur Le Renseignement Massivement Approuvé à L’Assemblée.” Le Monde.fr. Accessed March 1, 2016. http://www.lemonde.fr/pixels/article/2015/05/04/que-contient-la-loi-sur-le-renseignement_4627068_4408996.html

[4] “Muslims in France Say Emergency Powers Go Too Far – The New York Times.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/world/europe/frances-emergency-powers-spur-charges-of-overreach-from-muslims.html?_r=0.

[5] “France – Hollande seeks to extend state of emergency despite critics – France 24.” France 24. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.france24.com/en/20160126-france-state-emergency-hollande-civil-liberties-security-terrorism.

[6] “France Considers Extending National State of Emergency | World News | The Guardian.” The Guardian. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/22/france-considers-extending-national-state-of-emergency.

[7] “France – What does a ‘state of emergency’ mean in France? – France 24.” France 24. Accessed March 1, 2016. http://www.france24.com/en/20151115-what-does-france-state-emergency-mean.

[8] “Mise En œuvre De L’état D’urgence Sur Le Territoire National / L’actu Du Ministère / Actualités – Ministère De L’Intérieur.” http://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Actualites/L-actu-du-Ministere/Mise-en-aeuvre-de-l-etat-d-urgence-sur-le-territoire-national. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Actualites/L-actu-du-Ministere/Mise-en-aeuvre-de-l-etat-d-urgence-sur-le-territoire-national.

[9] “Le Sénat Prolonge De Trois Mois L’état D’urgence | Public Sénat.” Public Sénat. Accessed March 1, 2016. http://www.publicsenat.fr/lcp/politique/senat-prolonge-trois-mois-l-etat-d-urgence-1230235.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “France: Abuses Under State of Emergency.” Human Rights Watch. Accessed March 9, 2016. https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/03/france-abuses-under-state-emergency.

[12] “My House Was Searched Because of France’s State of Emergency | United Kingdom.” VICE. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/house-search-state-of-emergency-france-paris-terrorism-bataclan-876.

[13] “France: Abuses Under State of Emergency.” Human Rights Watch. Accessed March 1, 2016. https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/03/france-abuses-under-state-emergency.

[14] “Muslims in France Say Emergency Powers Go Too Far – The New York Times.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Accessed March 1, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/world/europe/frances-emergency-powers-spur-charges-of-overreach-from-muslims.html?_r=0.

[15] “Upturned Lives: The Disproportionate Impact of France’s State of Emergency.” Amnesty International USA. Accessed March 1, 2016. http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/upturned-lives-the-disproportionate-impact-of-france-s-state-of-emergency.

[16] “Le Sénat Prolonge De Trois Mois L’état D’urgence | Public Sénat.” Public Sénat. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.publicsenat.fr/lcp/politique/senat-prolonge-trois-mois-l-etat-d-urgence-1230235

[17] Ibid.

[18] “État D’urgence: 488 Procédures Judiciaires.” Le Figaro. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/2015/12/16/97001-20151216FILWWW00127-etat-d-urgence-488-procedures-judiciaires.php.

[19] “Le Sénat Prolonge De Trois Mois L’état D’urgence | Public Sénat.” Public Sénat. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.publicsenat.fr/lcp/politique/senat-prolonge-trois-mois-l-etat-d-urgence-1230235

 [20] Ibid.

[21] “France – Hollande seeks to extend state of emergency despite critics – France 24.” France 24. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.france24.com/en/20160126-france-state-emergency-hollande-civil-liberties-security-terrorism.

[22] Constitutional bill to protect the nation

[23] “Déchéance De Nationalité : Qui Serait Concerné Par Le Projet De Loi Constitutionnelle ?” Le Monde.fr. Accessed March 1, 2016. http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2016/01/04/decheance-de-nationalite-qui-serait-concerne-par-le-projet-de-loi-constitutionnelle_4841434_3224.html.

[24] “Upturned Lives: The Disproportionate Impact of France’s State of Emergency.” Amnesty International USA. Accessed March 1, 2016. http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/upturned-lives-the-disproportionate-impact-of-france-s-state-of-emergency.

[25] “The Justice Minister and the Banana: How Racist is France?” The New Yorker. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-justice-minister-and-the-banana-how-racist-is-france.

[26] “How the Maverick Christiane Taubira is Transforming French Politics | Agnès Poirier | Opinion | The Guardian.” The Guardian. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/14/christiane-taubira-french-politics.

[27] “Etat D’urgence : « Ce N’est Pas Tous Les Jours Qu’on Touche à Notre Constitution ».” Le Monde.fr. Accessed March 1, 2016. http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2016/01/31/manifestation-contre-l-etat-d-urgence-ce-n-est-pas-tous-les-jours-qu-on-touche-a-notre-constitution_4856665_3224.html.

[28] “France – Hollande seeks to extend state of emergency despite critics – France 24.” France 24. Accessed March 1, 2016. http://www.france24.com/en/20160126-france-state-emergency-hollande-civil-liberties-security-terrorism.

[29] “United Nations News Centre – UN Experts Urge France to Protect Fundamental Freedoms While Combatting Terrorism.” UN News Service Section. Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=53045.

[30] Ibid.

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