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Title:  France Human Rights Practices, 1995  
Author:  U.S. Department of State   
Date:  March 1996   
 
 
 
 
                                    FRANCE 
 
 
France is a constitutional democracy with a directly elected president 
and National Assembly and an independent judiciary. 
 
The law enforcement and internal security apparatus consists of a 
Gendarmerie, national police, and municipal police forces in major 
cities, all of which are under effective civilian control. 
 
France's highly developed, diversified, and primarily market-based 
economy provides residents with a high standard of living. 
 
The Government fully respected the human rights of its citizens, and the 
law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with instances of 
individual abuse.  Racially motivated attacks by extremists caused the 
death of two members of ethnic minorities.  The Government has taken 
important steps to combat violence against women and gender-based job 
discrimination.  Abuse of children is a serious problem.  A series of 
apparently politically motivated terrorist bombings killed 8 persons in 
mainland France and 37 in Corsica.  
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings by 
government officials.  
 
A series of apparently politically motivated terrorist bombings killed 8 
persons and wounded more than 160 others in Paris.  In two other cases, 
extreme rightwing youths attacked and killed members of minority ethnic 
groups (see Section 5). 
 
In Corsica, there were 37 assassinations and an average of one bombing a 
day, some of which were politically motivated. 

In October a court found a police officer guilty of involuntary 
manslaughter for shooting 17-year-old Rachid Ardjouni during the course 
of a 1993 arrest.  The police officer was sentenced to 24 months in 
prison, 16 of which were suspended, and ordered to pay damages to 
Ardjouni's family.  In another 1993 case, an appeals court ordered a 
police officer to stand trial for murder in the fatal shooting of Makome 
M'Bowole, a 17-year-old youth from Zaire, during an interrogation at a 
Paris police station.  Still under judicial investigation are two cases 
from 1994 where police were accused of using force which resulted in 
deaths. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearance. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
The law prohibits such practices and the authorities punish officials 
who employ them.  Isolated instances of police misconduct occurred, but 
there is no evidence of a pattern of such abuses.  
 
In August three Marseille police officers severely beat a young 
Frenchman of North African origin.  All officers have been suspended and 
are under investigation for the assault.  An appeals court found 
sufficient grounds to order a Paris police officer, previously found 
innocent of assault and battery during a 1994 identity check, to pay 
damages to Dr. Pierre Kongo of the Central African Republic. 
 
Prison conditions generally exceed international standards and the 
Government permits visits by human rights monitors.  Most prisons 
provide opportunities for paid employment as well as recreational 
facilities.  Foreign prisoners are offered courses in the French 
language.  In its 1994 report the French organization, "International 
Observer of Prisons (IOP)," noted cases of overcrowding and mistreatment 
in some prisons.  The report questioned whether the deaths in prison of 
two inmates in 1994 were really suicides, as determined by the 
authorities.  The IOP also noted that prisoners have greater access to 
health care, following implementation of a 1994 law.   
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile and the 
Government observes this prohibition. 
 
During 1994 and 1995, however, the European Court of Human Rights found 
in five of the seven cases brought for review that authorities had 
exceeded a "reasonable delay" in bringing defendants to trial.   
 
In narcotics trafficking convictions, courts often assess a customs fine 
based on the estimated street value of the drugs in addition to a jail 
sentence.  At the end of their jail terms, prisoners who cannot pay the 
fine are detained for up to 2 years while customs officials attempt to 
reach the largest possible settlement.  This practice has been 
criticized by the European Court of Justice. 
 
On June 20, in a coordinated action police arrested 140 persons around 
the country who were suspected of supporting Islamic militants in 
Algeria through arms trafficking or of being linked to the wave of 
terrorist bombings in France.  All were released within 1 to 4 days, 
except for 20 who remain in custody under investigation for charges 
related to terrorism.   
 
A 1994 case where French police detained 26 resident non-French Muslims 
suspected of supporting Algerian terrorists continues.  The 26 were held 
several weeks before 20 were deported to Burkina Faso.  French human 
rights groups claimed that the detainees' constitutional rights were 
violated in that:  they were never charged with a crime; they were not 
permitted to remain in their own place of residence; and those deported 
were not given a hearing.  The Government argued that the 26 presented 
an imminent danger to public order and security, and that it therefore 
acted within the law.  One individual has since been permitted to return 
to France.  At least seven deportees appealed to the administrative 
courts; a court has overturned one deportation order, involving several 
defendants, but the Government has appealed this decision.  Other 
deportees' cases were awaiting decision at year's end. 
 
There are no provisions for exile, and it does not occur. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government 
respects this provision in practice. 
 
The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial 
process.  There is a system of local courts, 35 regional courts of 
appeal, and the highest criminal court, the Court of Cassation, which 
considers appeals on procedural grounds only. 
 
There were no reports of political prisoners.  
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The law prohibits such practices, government authorities generally 
respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective 
legal sanction. 
 
A wiretap of an official who was believed to be involved in a political 
corruption case was found to be illegal in February by a Paris appeals 
court. 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the 
Government respects these rights in practice.  An independent press, an 
effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system 
combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic 
freedom. 
 
In January the Government ordered a 24-hour shutdown of Skyrock Radio on 
the grounds that a talk show host had broken the law concerning "respect 
for human beings" in praising the recent killing of a police officer.  
The station ignored the Government request and stayed open.  The 
Government subsequently took the station--which remains on the air--to 
court.  In a separate proceeding, a civil court ruled in favor of the 
dead officer's family, which had brought suit against the talk show 
host. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The law provides for these rights and the Government respects them in 
practice. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
The law provides for separation of church and state, and the Government 
respects this right in practice.   
 
The State subsidizes private schools, including those that are church-
affiliated.  Central or local governments also own and provide upkeep 
for other religious buildings constructed before 1905, the date of the 
law separating church and state.  Cultural associations with religious 
affiliations may also qualify for government subsidies.  Contrary to 
practice in the rest of France, the Jewish, Lutheran, Reformed, and 
Roman Catholic religions in three departments of Alsace and Lorraine 
enjoy special legal status.  Adherents of these four religions may 
choose to have a portion of their income tax allocated to their church 
in a system administered by the central Government. 
 
Debate continues in France over whether denying some Muslim girls the 
right to wear headscarves in public schools constitutes a violation of 
the right to practice their religion.  In 1989 the highest 
administrative court ruled that the "ostentatious" wearing of these 
headscarves violated a law prohibiting proselytizing in schools.  After 
much media attention--mainly unfavorable--to the wearing of such 
headscarves, in 1994 the Ministry of Education issued a directive that 
prohibits the wearing of "ostentatious political and religious symbols" 
in schools.  The directive does not specify the "symbols" in question, 
leaving school administrators considerable authority to do so.  France's 
highest administrative court affirmed in 1995 that simply wearing a 
headscarf does not provide grounds for exclusion from school, and 
several hundred students continue to wear them. 
 
In April the highest administrative court ruled that Jewish students 
could be excused from attending classes on Saturdays, the Jewish 
Sabbath.  The court said that a 1991 law laying out the rights and 
responsibilities of students in public schools could not be used to 
prevent authorized absence from school for religious worship or the 
celebration of a religious holiday. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in 
practice.  The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for 
Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.  
There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim 
to refugee status. 
 
Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  the Right of Citizens to 
Change their Government 
 
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to peacefully change 
their government, and citizens exercise this right in  practice through 
periodic, free and fair elections held on the basis of universal 
suffrage. 
 
There are no restrictions in law on the participation of women in 
politics or government, but they remain significantly underrepresented 
in public offices, especially at the national level.  Four of 32 cabinet 
members, 18 of 321 Senators, and 29 of 577 Deputies in the National 
Assembly are women.  To increase women's participation, some parties 
have established quotas for them on electoral lists or in party 
management. 
 
The citizens of the "collective territory" of Mayotte and the 
territories of French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, and New Caledonia 
determine their legal and political relationships to France by means of 
referendums, and they elect Deputies and Senators to the French 
Parliament. 
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
A wide variety of local and international human rights organizations 
operate freely, investigating and publishing their findings on human 
rights cases.  Government officials are generally cooperative and 
responsive to their views.  The French National Consultative Commission 
on Human Rights (NCCHR)--which has nongovernmental as well as government 
members--also monitors complaints and advises the Government on policies 
and legislation.  It is an independent body within the Office of the 
Prime Minister. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
Statutes ban discrimination based on race, religion, sex, ethnic 
background, or political opinion, and the Government effectively 
enforces them. 
 
   Women 
 
The penal code prohibits abuse as well as violence against women.  Wife 
beating is a felony.  The penalty for rape ranges from 5 to 20 years in 
prison, with no differentiation between spousal and other rape.  There 
were 6,540 reported rapes or sexual assaults in 1995.  Some 15,700 
incidents of wife beating (including 98 which resulted in death) were 
reported to police in 1993 (latest data).  The Government offers 
shelter, counseling, and financial assistance, and operates a telephone 
hot-line, and in 1995 added 500 additional staff members at these 
welcome centers.  About 60 private associations also help battered 
women. 
 
While the law requires that women receive equal pay for equal work, this 
is often not the reality.  A 1994 study (latest data) found a mean 
discrepancy between wages of women and men of 20 percent in the private 
sector and 18 percent in the public sector.  The same study found that 
the unemployment rate for women averaged about 4 points higher than that 
for men. 
 
   Children 
 
The government demonstrates a strong commitment to children's rights and 
welfare through well-funded systems of public education and medical 
care.  The Ministry for Family Affairs oversees implementation of the 
Government's programs for children.  There are strict laws against child 
abuse, particularly when committed by a parent or guardian.  In 1994 
(latest data) there were 15,000 reported cases of mistreatment (physical 
violence, sexual abuse, mental cruelty, or severe negligence) against 
children.  Special sections of the national police and judiciary are 
charged with handling these cases.  The Government provides counseling, 
financial aid, foster homes, and orphanages, depending on the extent of 
the problem.  Various associations also help minors seek justice in 
cases of mistreatment by parents. 
 
Some immigrants from countries where female genital mutilation (FGM) is 
customary subject their children to this practice, which is widely 
condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical 
and psychological health.  Authorities have prosecuted some cases 
involving FGM and have undertaken an information campaign to inform 
immigrants that FGM is contrary to the law and will be prosecuted. 
 
   People with Disabilities 
 
There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment, 
education, or in the provision of other state services.  The Government 
announced several measures this year to boost employment opportunities 
for the handicapped.  A 1991 law requires new public buildings to be 
accessible to the physically handicapped, but they are unable to enter 
most older buildings and public transportation. 
 
   Religious Minorities 
 
The annual NCCHR report released in March noted a 10 percent decrease in 
the number of threats or attacks against Jews, from 181 in 1993 to 162 
in 1994 (latest data).  There were eight arrests in 1994.  These cases 
are under judicial investigation.  
 
   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
Anti-immigrant sentiments sparked incidents including occasional attacks 
by skinheads on members of the large Arab/Muslim and Black African 
communities, and the Jewish population.  In March the annual report of 
the NCCHR (see Section 4) noted a 13 percent rise in racist attacks and 
threats, from 172 in 1993 to 194 in 1994 (latest data).   
 
On the fringes of a May 1 National Front political rally a skinhead 
reportedly pushed Brahim Bouraam, a young Moroccan bystander, off a quay 
to his death.  An attacker has been charged in the case and is awaiting 
trial.  The Government denounced the attack and then-President 
Mitterrand participated in a large anti-racism demonstration held 
shortly thereafter.  Three National Front youths have been arrested and 
charged in the February murder in Marseille of Ibrahim Ali, a 17-year-
old Comoran.  The Government strongly condemns such attacks, has strict 
anti-defamation laws and prosecutes perpetrators whenever possible.  
Government programs attempt to combat racism and anti-Semitism by 
promoting public awareness and bringing together local officials, 
police, and citizen groups.  There are also antiracist educational 
programs in some public school systems. 
 
Section 6   Worker Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of association for all workers.  
French trade unions exercise significant economic and political 
influence, although only about 10 percent of the total work force is 
unionized.  Unions have legally mandated roles (as do employers) in the 
administration of social institutions, including social security (health 
care and most retirement systems), the unemployment insurance system, 
labor courts, and the economic and social council, a constitutionally-
mandated consultative body. 
 
Unions are independent of the Government, and most are not aligned with 
any political party.  Many of the leaders of the General Confederation 
of Labor and its unions, however, belong to the Communist Party.  Unions 
can freely join federations and confederations, including international 
bodies. 
 
Workers, including civil servants, are free to strike except when a 
strike threatens public safety.  One-fourth of all salaried employees 
work for the Government:  strikes in the public sector tend to be fairly 
numerous and receive extensive media coverage.  The end of 1995 saw 
large-scale industrial action against government efforts to reduce 
budget deficits.  These actions brought out large numbers of trade union 
demonstrators and involved significant work stoppages. 
 
The law prohibits retaliation against strikers and strike leaders, and 
the Government effectively enforces this provision. 
 
    b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
Workers, including those in the three small export processing zones, 
have the right to organize and bargain collectively.  The law strictly 
prohibits antiunion discrimination; employers found guilty of such 
activity are required to correct it, including reinstatement of workers 
fired for union activities. 
 
A 1982 law requires at least annual bargaining in the public and private 
sector on wages, hours, and working conditions at both plant and 
industry levels, but does not require that negotiations result in a 
signed contract.  In case of an impasse, government mediators may impose 
solutions that are binding unless formally rejected by either side 
within a week.  If no new agreement can be reached, the contract from 
the previous year remains valid.  Over 90 percent of the private-sector 
work force is covered by collective bargaining agreements negotiated at 
national or local levels.  Trilateral consultations (i.e., unions, 
management, and government) also take place on such subjects as the 
minimum wage, temporary work, social security, and unemployment 
benefits.  Labor tribunals, composed of worker and employer 
representatives, are available to resolve complaints. 
 
The law requires businesses with more than 50 employees to establish a 
works council, through which workers are consulted on training, working 
conditions, profit-sharing, and similar issues.  Works councils, which 
are open to both union and nonunion employees, are elected every 2 
years. 
 
The Constitution's provisions for trade union rights extend to France's 
overseas departments and territories. 
 
   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law, and the Government 
effectively enforces this provision.  In its 1993 report, however, the 
International Labor Organization's  
 
Committee of Experts (COE) questioned the French practice of obliging 
French prisoners to work for private enterprises at less than the 
national minimum wage.  In June 1995, the Government officially 
responded to the COE, pointing out that prisoners participate in a work 
program on a voluntary--not a mandatory--basis, that more prisoners 
request work than can be accommodated, and that the work is designed to 
prepare prisoners for reentry into the labor force.  The Government is 
awaiting a response from the ILO to its submission. 
 
   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
With a few exceptions for those enrolled in certain apprenticeship 
programs, children under the age of 16 may not be employed.  Generally, 
work considered arduous or work between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. 
may not be performed by minors under age 18.  Laws prohibiting child 
employment are effectively enforced through periodic checks by labor 
inspectors, who have the authority to take employers to court for 
noncompliance with the law. 
 
   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
France has an administratively determined minimum wage, revised whenever 
the cost-of-living index rises 2 percentage points, and it is sufficient 
to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.  The 
wage was raised to $7.62 (F 36.98) per hour as of July 1. 
 
The legal workweek is 39 hours, with a minimum break of 24 hours per 
week.  Overtime is restricted to 9 hours per week. 
 
The Ministry of Labor has overall responsibility for policing 
occupational health and safety laws.  Standards are high and effectively 
enforced.  Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous 
work situations.  The law requires each enterprise with 50 or more 
employees to establish an occupational health and safety committee.  
Over 75 percent of all enterprises, covering more than 75 percent of all 
employees, have fully functioning health and safety committees. 

(###)

[end of document]

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