LONDON: Human Rights Watch has called on the French government to reform its policing policies to help eliminate racial profiling and other discriminatory practices following unrest in France sparked by an officer’s killing of a 17-year-old boy.
HRW said in a statement on Wednesday: “In addition to the particularly lax rules governing police use of their weapons during a traffic stop, the current dramatic situation in France has brought back into the public debate the all-too-often discriminatory nature of police interaction with a segment of the population. The government should take urgent action to reform the system of police stops.
“These practices are not only illegal under French and international human rights law, but they are above all violent, humiliating, and degrading, and make those who experience them feel like second-class citizens.”
HRW has joined the UN and several international human rights organizations in calling on French authorities to address the issues of police violence, ethnic profiling and discrimination in the country, saying it was a “well-documented, widespread problem.”
A 38-year-old motorbike traffic officer, named as Florian M., shot and killed Nahel Merzouk, a French youth of Algerian descent, just outside Paris on June 27. The incident has sparked widespread protests in around 500 cities and towns across France.
HRW said that in July 2021 six human rights associations filed a class action suit that is still pending with France’s highest administrative court to end racial profiling, “given the inaction of the French authorities on the issue, who have allowed these illegal and devastating practices to continue for too many years.”
It added: “Systemic racism in the police forces, and the widespread and persistent discriminatory practices, demonstrate a deeply rooted public policy.
“It is important to note that these practices are the product of a system that encourages them, and cannot be seen as the sole act of isolated officers who have abandoned their professional and ethical obligations.”
The New York-based organization said it is calling on the court to require the French authorities to reform identity checks, adopt specific measures for checks targeting children, modify police training, and create an independent and effective complaints mechanism.
HRW added: “An open letter signed by 84 associations, collectives, and trade unions stressed the urgent need ‘to put an end to this scourge’ and noted that the young people targeted by these discriminatory controls and their families live ‘in fear that a future control will be accompanied by violence and that their name will become the next hashtag in a ‘Justice and Truth’ campaign.’”
French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that his government will formulate a response to the riots in the country’s deprived, multi-ethnic suburbs once events have been properly analyzed.
“We all lived through an important moment in the life of our nation,” Macron said in the southern city of Pau on the edge of the Pyrenees.
He added that France now needs “order, calm, unity. And then to work on the deep causes of what happened.”