French terror laws are contradicting basic principles of justice, according to the human rights group Amnesty International. It argues that legislation introduced to replace the state of emergency following recent terror attacks places restrictions on would-be terrorists before they have committed a crime, with little judicial oversight.
France, which this month marked the third anniversary of the Paris attacks that killed 130 people, says the new laws are needed to counter the scale of the terror threat.
Following the November 2015 attacks on Paris’ Bataclan theater and surrounding streets, and at the national stadium in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, the government imposed a two-year state of emergency. It was replaced in 2017 by an anti-terror law framework known as SILT, “Strengthening Internal Security and the Fight Against Terrorism.”
Amnesty International’s Eda Seyhan says the new law gives the French government wide-ranging powers with little oversight, such as the ability to impose “administrative” control orders.
“Control orders allow the government to effectively control an individual’s movement completely outside the criminal justice system, so without charge, without giving them the benefit of a trial,” Seyhan said. “So they control an individual’s movement by, for example, banning them from leaving a specific town, by requiring them to report to the police, by banning them from coming into contact with certain individuals.”
France has suffered several large-scale terror incidents in recent years, including the shootings at the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, the Paris 2015 attacks, and the 2016 Bastille Day truck attack in Nice that killed 87 people.
The government insists the nature and scale of the threat means exceptional measures are needed to monitor suspects and prevent possible attacks. Elsewhere in Europe, several countries are following suit, says Amnesty’s Seyhan.
“The Dutch parliament passed a law which embeds many of the same powers we see in France in the Dutch context,” she said. “We saw the German Federal Police expand their powers also. We have, right now in the Swiss federal parliament, a law going through which would see potentially dangerous individuals — that’s how they’re defined — subject to quite severe restrictions as well.”
Amnesty says it recognizes that states must enact laws to deter terrorism but argues they should still operate under existing fundamental principles of justice and human rights.