France: Legal case seeks an end to ethnic profiling by police


A group of human rights organisations have initiated legal proceedings against the French state for its failure to halt police racism, in particular as manifested through the long-standing practice of ethnic profiling by police officers.

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Using a 2016 law that allows class action suits on discrimination, the organisations - Maison Communautaire pour un Dévelopement Solidaire (MCDS), Pazapas, Réseau Egalité, Antidiscrimination, Justice Interdisciplinaire (Reaji), Amnesty International France, Human Rights Watch, and Open Society Justice Initiative - have sent a letter of formal notice to the French authorities.

There is now a four-month period in which the two sides can negotiate. If the parties bringing the case are not satisfied with the solutions proposed by the French state, they can initiate legal proceedings.

The practice of ethnic profiling by the French police is long-standing and well-documented, and studies have confirmed its drastic negative effects on those subjected to it.

Public anger and opposition to police racism has grown in recent years, particularly following a series of high-profile deaths in custody of young black men. Activists and press reports say that the measures introduced to prevent the spread of coronavirus have further intensified discriminatory policing practices.

In a press release announcing the case against the French state, Human Rights Watch said:

"Deep structural reforms are needed to address this systemic discrimination, the organizations said. Piecemeal measures such as the use of body cameras by the police are insufficient. Based on years working on police discrimination in France and elsewhere, the organizations said that the government needs to carry out comprehensive reforms, including:

    • Amending the Code of Criminal Procedure to explicitly prohibit discrimination in identity checks, abolish preventive identity checks, and circumscribe police authority to ensure that stops are based on an objective and individualized suspicion;
    • Adopting specific regulations and instructions for stops targeting children;
    • Creating a system to record and evaluate data on identity checks, and to provide those stopped with a record of the stop;
    • Creating an effective, independent complaints mechanism;
    • Ratifying Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights on Non-Discrimination; and
    • Changing the institutional objectives, guidelines, and training of the police, including with respect to interactions with the public."


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Image: Jeanne MenjouletCC BY 2.0

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