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France: Human rights review 2015

This review presents the key human rights events and European court cases, in a tragic year for France.

January

The new year is barely into its stride when terrorists attack the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland and Parliamentary Assembly President Anne Brasseur are shocked.

Jagland, in Ankara for a meeting with Turkey’s Prime Minister Davutoğlu, describes the murders in the French capital as “very worrying” and adds : “This terrorist attack was clearly targeted to hit journalists and undermine freedom of expression. It was an outrageous attack on our democratic and European values. It is another example of the threatening radicalisation of our societies, which we must resolutely resist.”

Brasseur says: “My thoughts are with the victims of this horrendous act and particularly with the families of the dead, journalists and policemen. I hope that the killers will be brought to justice swiftly.”

The later murders of a police officer and shoppers at a Jewish supermarket only sharpen concern about the Islamist threat. Didier Reynders, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Belgium and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, joins the chorus of condemnation.

“We must mobilise in defence of our values and our freedoms, including freedom of expression,” he says. “We must also strive to ensure that the spirit of tolerance holding our societies together prevails over the hatred and division which the terrorists seek to provoke. The Council of Europe is determined to pursue its action to that end.”

Later in the month, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Roma Issues Ulrich Bunjes, expresess his shock at the refusal of a French mayor to bury a Roma child.

February

The Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, publishes a new report warning of an increase in racism, discrimination and hate speech.

March

The European Committee of Social Rights says the smacking of children is not “prohibited in a sufficiently clear, binding and precise manner under French law or case-law.”

The fight against anti-Semitism has failed in the last years,” writes Strasbourg Rabbi Mendel Samama, marking the 21 March International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, with his views on how to tackle anti-Jewish prejudice and discrimination.

April

The Comissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks declares that France’s new anti-terrorist laws are “not the right answer” to security threats. It follows comments made in the previous month, when Muižnieks said it would be a “serious mistake” for France to block “extremist” websites without judicial oversight.

June

The European Court rules that there would be “no violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in the event of (France’s) implementation of the Conseil d’État judgment of 24 June 2014″ – the withdrawal of tetraplegic patient Vincent Lambert’s artificial nutrition and hydration.

Later this month, the European Court rules that a judicial declaration of paternity based, among other factors, on a refusal to undergo genetic testing was not contrary to the convention.

As concern about the impact of human trafficking mounts, Henriette Akofa reveals just what it is like to be modern day slave in Europe.

September

The Parliamentary Assembly’s Monitoring Committee rules out monitoring of France after complaints of police harassment following the ‘Manif pour tous.’

October

At a ceremony in Latvia, France signs the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism. It is focussed on tackling the problem of ‘foreign terrorist fighters’ and criminalises intentionally participating in a terrorist group, receiving training for terrorism, travelling abroad for the purpose of terrorism and the funding or organising of such travel.

November

With terrible symetry, the year nears its end with another three devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, which leave 130 people dead and more than 350 injured. The atrocities generate grief and anger in equal measure among Council of Europe leaders.

Following a Committee of Ministers statement, Secretary General Jagland writes to French President François Hollande to offer his condolence. “We must come together to fight violent extremism and terrorism,” the Secretary General writes to the French Head of State.

Parliamentary Assembly President Anne Brasseur, confirms she is “deeply shocked and utterly appalled” by the barbaric terrorist attacks.

Jean-Claude Frécon, the President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, said: ”By targeting Paris, by targeting France, it is the free world that is being targeted and it is the free world that must respond as one. We need, more than ever before, both courage and determination to bring the spirit of resistance alive wherever we are attacked.”

At the Council of Europe’s World Forum for Democracy, Stéphan Leyenberger, Mayor of Saverne, a French town which has seen young people leaving to fight in Syria and Iraq, discusses why he thinks jihad is attractive to sections of his community.

Later in the month, the European Court published its judgement that a decision not to renew the contract of a social worker who refused to remove her veil, did not breach human rights law.

The court also dismisses a free expression complaint against France from comedian Dieudonné on the grounds that human rights law does not protect negationist and anti-Semitic performances.

In a very busy month for human rights in France, Strasbourg judges confirm that a French court ruling against Paris Match for publishing information about Prince Albert of Monaco’s private life breached the right to freedom of expression

December

The assembly’s Political Affairs Committee reveals that more than 4,000 Iraq and Syria-trained fighters pose threat to Europe’s security. The largest number are drawn from France, the United Kingdom and Germany, according to a report to the Parliamentary Assembly’s . Belgium, Denmark and Sweden are also home to ‘foreign fighters.’

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