Far-Right National Front Gains Seats in French Regional Elections

Washington, D.C.—Today Human Rights First called on the U.S. government to redouble its efforts to promote tolerance in France in the wake of today’s regional elections, where the far-right National Front had a strong showing.

“We are concerned that, in the aftermath of last month’s tragic attacks in Paris, far-right groups in France have been escalating their xenophobic and islamophobic rhetoric, and mobilizing supporters to turn their anger against vulnerable minorities,” said Human Rights First’s Susan Corke, who recently returned from a research trip in France. “As the National Front gains political traction, this kind of rhetoric will continue to fuel polarization in French society. The influence of far-right groups on policy measures in France should not be underestimated, as the Paris attacks have triggered a debate on the extent to which human rights and civil liberties should be compromised in favor of security measures.”

Violent extremism poses a threat to the human rights of all. Human Rights First is concerned that the French government’s response to the Paris attacks, under the broad authority granted by the three-month state of emergency, risks engendering a counterproductive outcome. Heavy-handed measures that sweep broadly—from warrantless raids to house arrests, detentions, and the closure of places of worship—may lead to the intimidation and further alienation of the broader Muslim and North African community. This provides additional risks of a backlash in the form of antisemitic attacks. In order to disrupt the cycle of violence, the United States should urge the French government to step back from a “perpetual emergency” approach and drop plans to seek a constitutional reform that would allow for an indefinite state of emergency to be declared.

Today’s election’s results are in line with Human Rights First’s findings that the past decade has seen the ascendance of far-right political parties across Europe, many of which have been roundly criticized for their antisemitic, islamophobic, xenophobic, and racist rhetoric and policy proposals.

“The ascent of extremist parties in France and elsewhere in Europe risks corroding respect for the fundamental principles of democracy, human rights, and protection of minorities on which the European Union was founded, and the transatlantic alliance is based,” noted Corke. “The U.S. government should take into account the political clout of these parties in its strategy to combat antisemitism, islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and related human rights abuses, by exposing their hateful rhetoric and working with France and other allies to put forward a counter-narrative that emphasizes tolerance and pluralism.”

On January 7, to mark the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket attacks, Human Rights First will release a major report that examines how the rise of the far-right, Islamic extremism, and antisemitism are converging to fuel intolerance and violence in France. Human Rights First has released preliminary recommendations that stem from ongoing research, including recommendations for how the United States can best support France in the fight against extremism.

Human Rights First’s recommendations include:

  • Combating hatred and violent extremism should not only occur through military, intelligence, and police measures. Governments should see this tragedy as a call to strengthen the transatlantic security institutions based on democratic principles.
  • A commitment to upholding human rights and the rule of law must be at the heart of counterterrorism measures. The United States and France, with participation from civil society, should share experiences around advancing human rights to build more cooperative relationships with communities affected by terrorism and violent extremism.
  • Many of the refugees who have fled Syria to Europe are fleeing terrible violence, in many cases at the hands of the same group of people that share responsibility for the Paris massacre and other extremist groups. They deserve a Europe-wide inclusive solution to the current crisis; they should not be a focus of exclusion, hatred or violence.
  • Public statements from U.S. officials should be sensitive to the current marginalization of many Muslims in France. In France, the Muslim community is diverse and also suffering from hate crimes, discrimination and social and economic marginalization. How U.S. officials speak about this tragedy should avoid fueling a “clash of civilization” narrative and instead urge tolerance and inclusion.
  • Better information is needed to understand the root causes of extremism, antisemitism, and intolerance in France. The United States should work in partnership with France to boost capacity for data collection on hate crimes, victimization surveys, and the factors driving radicalization.
  • The United States should support the strengthening of civil society cooperation to build partnerships and exchange of experiences to develop strategies to combat intolerance – particularly the interrelated forces of extremism and antisemitism. This should include funding exchanges, educational opportunities, and grants to collaborative civil society initiatives.
  • A joint task force including government officials, civil society, youth and religious leaders should be created to look at concrete and tangible areas where collaborative effort could yield outcomes such as combating hatred on the Internet.

Published on December 6, 2015


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