In October 2020, a bill called “global security” was proposed in France, which was highly controversial and triggered major protests that turned violent. Although several articles of the draft have been criticized, Article 24, which prohibits documenting and sharing the face or identity of any police officer on duty, has drawn more attention in particular. Whereas Macron’s government argued that the law is necessary to protect police officers and their integrity, critics highlighted that it makes it more difficult for police officers to be held accountable in cases of police misconduct and also curtails freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Police accountability is particularly important for France, since “the number of fatalities caused by French police has more than doubled in the past five years, now standing at an average of 25 to 35 victims a year.” (Mathieu Rigouste, 2020, para. 9), which is very much concerning. Furthermore, discriminatory and abusive practices against Arab and black citizens by the police are considered to be prevalent. In “They Talk to Us Like We’re Dogs’: Abusive Police Stops in France”, a report prepared by the Human Rights Watch in June 2020, it is stated that “repetitive, baseless police stops targeting minorities including children as young as 10, older children, and adults. These stops often involve invasive, humiliating body pat-downs and searches of personal belongings and “most stops are never recorded, the police don’t provide written documentation or usually tell people why they were stopped, and measures to improve accountability have been ineffective”. It is undeniable that Article 24 would have made it even more difficult to prove police brutality, considering that there are countless cases, in which police misconduct was exposed with the release of video footages, such as the death of Cedric Chouviat, a delivery driver, after a traffic violation in June 2020 and the beating of Michel Zecler, a music producer, by two police officers in November 2020. Moreover, there are multiple occasions in which excessive use of force was employed by the police in demonstrations, especially after the Yellow Vests movement and “the new legal provision would be a hurdle for any journalist trying to cover public protests, or any event involving potential police action” (Rokhaya Diallo, 2020, para. 4), which seriously threatens press freedom, an important pillar of democracy.
For these reasons, thousands marched in nationwide protests over the global security bill and demonstrations turned violent as protestors clashed with the police, and almost 150 of them were arrested. On the other hand, “the filing of this law is received with concern and alarm not only by the population, who violently protested over the bill in the last days, in spite of the lockdown, but also by all the national and international bodies that guarantee fundamental rights. While an online petition has been already signed, as we write, by 90,000 people, the UN High Commissioner to Human Rights, the Defender of Rights, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, the League of Human Rights, the Journalist National Unions, Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, Greenpeace plus a collective of 65 organizations, have all expressed concern about the potential threat to right to privacy, right to image, freedom of expression, press freedom, right to demonstrate represented by the global security law” (Paola Pietrandrea, 2020, para. 8). As a consequence, violent protests and criticisms from international organizations, civil rights activists, and journalist groups are important examples of resistance to democratic erosion in France, and these events eventually forced the parliament to rewrite Article 24 because of the opposition they faced.
However, this move did not please the public as the bill includes other concerning articles, such as Article 22, which gives authorization for the use of drones to survey the public and, therefore, “has serious implications for the right to privacy, the freedom to gather peacefully and freedom of expression in the country” (Kim Willsher, 2020, para. 7).
In conclusion, as the process is still ongoing, it is important to keep track of how events will unfold, however, there is no doubt that serious measures need to be taken to tackle the problem of state-conducted violence since it is an important precursor of democratic erosion, and “where the rule of law is scorned, democracy disappears.” (Emma Justum, 2020, para. 11)
Diallo, R. (November 2020). France’s new national security bill could jeopardize freedom of expression. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com
Human Rights Watch. (June 2020). They Talk to Us Like We’re Dogs: Abusive Police Stops in France. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org
Justum, E. (February 2020). France – state violence: when does democracy cease to exist? Retrieved from https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/
Pietrandrea, P. (November 2020). France’s ‘global security’ bill. Retrieved from https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/
Rigouste, M. (February 2020). The violence of the French police is not new, but more people are seeing in now. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/international
Willsher, K. (December 2020). France security law incompatible with human rights, say UN experts. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/international