By Annie Glasser and Rebecca Sheff
Almost exactly six months after the November 2015 Paris attacks, the French Senate voted last Tuesday to extend the state of emergency for two months, from May 26 to July 26. The vote was overwhelmingly favorable with 309 in favor and 30 against. Next the National Assembly will vote on May 19.
The National Assembly should reject this extension of the state of emergency, which has already been applied in a broad and discriminatory manner. A near-indefinite state of emergency runs roughshod over fundamental freedoms, and these human rights violations further fuel the grievances of those already marginalized in French society.
The French government declared the state of emergency in response to the attacks on November 13, 2015 on a Parisian concert hall, stadium, restaurants, and bars—leaving 130 people dead. The state of emergency grants extraordinary powers to the French state, including heightened security in public spaces, schools, and transport terminals; tightened border controls; restricted freedom to protest and assemble publicly; and the ability for police to search homes without court orders. It has yielded little in terms of terrorism-related prosecutions, and the government has invoked it to suppress other unrelated protests, including the COP 21 climate change demonstrations and the popular protests against French labor laws.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who has stood behind the heightened security measures since last November, justified the proposed extension by citing upcoming events: “The security challenges will be even more complex as we prepare to welcome a very large number of foreign visitors for Euro 2016,” a European soccer tournament. The extension will also cover the Tour de France which will take place in July. While proportional security measures should be pursued to ensure public safety, the government should not use these events as a pretext to continue invoking extraordinary powers.
The state of emergency has been extended twice, in November 2015 and three months later in February. This extension is the first one whose rationale, as articulated by the government, is not related to security measures in response to the November attacks, but rather the risk of future attacks linked to major sporting events. As such, it signifies the real risk that the state of emergency could continue to be extended indefinitely, since there is a perpetual risk that these kinds of high-profile events could be targeted.
The French Human Rights League (LDH) noted that extending the state of emergency to protect Euro 2016 and the Tour de France shows that the government is becoming “addicted” to exceptional powers. LDH warned that French people should not become accustomed to this exceptional regime, and that “the defense of our liberties is also one of the essential means of combating terrorist acts.”
French officials previously indicated that they would not seek to extend the state of emergency beyond May 26 because a legislative package was expected to be passed into law by then, considerably expanding the powers of the police and prosecutors to respond to terrorism threats. It includes concerning provisions about surveillance, house arrest, and short-term administrative detention without access to legal representation, among other items. The French Senate and National Assembly both approved it, a committee harmonized the two versions passed, and with one more review pending it is on the verge of being enacted.
But this has not stopped the French government from surging ahead with its efforts to further extend the state of emergency. Prime Minister Manuel Valls also recently unveiled a “deradicalization” plan that includes “social reintegration centers” in each region of the country. It remains to be seen the extent to which participation would be voluntary or mandated by court order.
Ahead of the National Assembly vote on May 19, the U.S. government should offer lessons learned from its own counterterrorism efforts and urge its French counterparts to reject any extension of the state of emergency.