New York City—Human Rights First today praises French President Francois Hollande’s decision to abandon proposed constitutional amendments that would have undermined human rights, civil liberties, and equal treatment for all citizens. The amendments were proposed in the wake of November’s terrorist attacks in Paris, and would have amended the French constitution to include terms for declaring a state of emergency and permit the government to strip convicted terrorists of their French nationality. The minister of justice resigned in January in opposition, and the amendments proved deeply controversial in the French Parliament, as well as with civil society and the general public.
“Today’s announcement is not merely a rejection of these amendments; it is a rejection of the ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative perpetuated by those who peddle extremism and hate,” said Human Rights First’s Susan Corke. “Nations are stronger—not less safe—when we adhere to our universal values and promote tolerance and inclusivity. France is sending a message that will not only help its own citizens heal and come together but can also serve as a positive example for other countries.”
The provisions rejected today would have expanded authority to impose prolonged state-of-emergency restrictions on basic rights, with serious privacy and due process implications. This legislation would have increased the potential for government overreach and discrimination in the use of surveillance, raids, detention, and prosecution of individuals during a state of emergency. The legislation would have also stigmatized persons in France who hold dual nationality, by insinuating that such persons are more likely to be radicalized and to commit terrorist acts.
Experts have already raised concerns that current emergency measures are being applied in France in an overly-broad and in some cases discriminatory manner. Over the past decade and a half since the 9/11 attacks the United States has learned, sometimes painfully, that we are more successful, not less, in confronting violent extremism with strategies founded in respect for human rights. This learned experience has been highlighted in President Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiative, and is at the core of the U.N. Secretary General’s Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism.
Human Rights First had previously called on U.S. government officials to urge their French counterparts to reject any constitutional reforms that would compromise human rights, civil liberties, and equal treatment for all citizens. The French government, with support from the United States, should instead combat xenophobia, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim attitudes by sending messages of tolerance and strengthening civil society.
In a recent report, Human Rights First researchers found that marginalization of French Muslims and other minorities endangers other communities, including Jews. The report identifies a complex array of root causes that contribute to rising hate crimes against Jews which includes the exclusion of marginalized groups from French identity and “republican values.” It finds that French Muslims, immigrants, and French citizens of Middle Eastern, North African, and Sub-Saharan African heritage also suffer from hate crimes, prejudice, and discrimination that arises in an environment in which racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic discourse is on the rise.
In order to break the cycle of extremism in France, Human Rights First identifies a number of ways in which the U.S. government can promote greater transatlantic cooperation in addressing the root causes of antisemitism and extremism to prevent future attacks. These recommendations for the U.S. government include:
- Senior U.S. officials should continue to condemn antisemitic violence in France. Official statements should avoid fueling a “clash of civilizations” narrative between Jewish and Muslim communities, and instead develop messaging that is sensitive to current forms of marginalization.
- The U.S. Departments of State and Justice should conduct intergovernmental exchanges on current strategies to prevent and respond to hate violence.
- The U.S. government and French government should create a joint action task force on combating antisemitism and racism, and should advance exchanges for French civil society leaders to learn about U.S. experiences in building coalitions, combating discrimination, and developing evidence-based strategies.
- The U.S. government should consistently uphold respect for human rights as a critical means of combating violent extremism, and should strengthen transatlantic security institutions based on these democratic principles.
“Today, level-headed and measured voices prevailed. The French government resisted the temptation to give into its worst fears by enacting proposals that would further divide our societies and ultimately foment tensions that make us less safe,” said Corke. “We encourage the French government to renew its efforts to strengthen civil society and crack down on hate crime as a means of building stronger and more inclusive communities.”