Council of Europe Calls Out French Police for Excessive Force
Human rights watchdogs, including the Council of Europe, have criticized French police for using excessive force during protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform.
The French authorities arrested more than 450 people, Thursday, in the fiercest day of demonstrations since the beginning of the year against a bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.
In the days leading up to Thursday’s protests, rights groups had expressed concerns about “arbitrary” arrests and excessive use of force by the police.
But security officials have defended their actions, saying they are responding to violent rioters and anarchist groups they claim often infiltrate French demonstrations to spark clashes.
The French Human Rights League accused the authorities of “undermining citizens’ right to protest through the disproportionate and dangerous use of public force”.
“The authoritarian transformation of the French state, the brutality in social relations through its police, violence of all kinds and impunity is a major scandal,” said Patrick Baudouin, president of the League, on Friday.
Rights groups have raised concerns about the frequent use by police of “kettling”, also known as “trap and arrest” in the United States, which is a crowd control technique of cordoning off protesters in a small area.
They sounded the alarm after reports from recent protests of police detaining foreign school students, firing tear gas at discharged protesters, and even hurting a man so badly he had to have his testicles amputated.
Council of Europe criticizes ‘excessive’ police force
The Council of Europe – the continent’s top human rights watchdog – on Friday criticized the “excessive use of force” by French police during demonstrations against an unpopular pension reform.
“There have been violent incidents, including some targeting the forces of law and order,” said UN Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović.
“However, sporadic acts of violence by some demonstrators or other disgraceful acts by other persons during a protest cannot justify excessive use of force by state agents. Nor are these acts sufficient to deny peaceful demonstrators their right to freedom of assembly,” she said.
“It is up to the authorities to allow the effective exercise of these freedoms by protecting peaceful protesters and journalists covering these protests against police brutality and against violent individuals acting within or on the sidelines of the rallies,” she added.
Teens, Arrested Jogger
Macron’s government last week used controversial executive power to pass the pension law without a parliamentary vote, sparking spontaneous protests in major cities.
In the days that followed, videos of police actions appeared on social media showing police knocking or hitting protesters.
Human Rights Watch told Agence France-Presse that it was deeply concerned about “what appears to be abusive police practices”.
The organization said they echoed similar “crowd control and riot tactics” during the anti-government “yellow vest” movement of 2018-2019 during Macron’s previous presidency.
“It appears that the French authorities have not drawn lessons from this or reviewed their crowd control policies and practices,” said Benedict Janerod, France director of Human Rights Watch.
Critics decried police making sweeping “preventive” arrests, saying blameless bystanders were caught in their nets.
Liberation reported that in one case on Thursday night last week, two 15-year-old Austrians on a school trip were among those stopped by the police.
The teens, who were trying to find their host families, spent the night in jail before their embassy intervened.
A jogging man was arrested the same night.
He told France Inter radio that he had been booked on allegations randomly recorded on the charge sheet, and was not released until the following afternoon.
While the security forces arrested 292 people that night, 283 of them were released without charge.
Amnesty International has sounded the alarm about the “widespread use of excessive force and arbitrary arrests”.
Reporters Without Borders said the police assaulted a number of “clearly identifiable” journalists.
“particularly apt to disperse”
On Friday, Macron denounced the Friday night violence and claimed that the security forces had worked “perfectly”.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the police had responded to “hooligans, often from the far left”, who had injured 441 police officers.
AFP saw suspected anarchists and other protesters burning rubbish, smashing shop windows and throwing rocks and fireworks at security forces.
Darmanin said 11 internal investigations into alleged police brutality have been opened in the past week.
“It is possible for individual police officers, often because they are tired, to commit acts that are inconsistent with what they have learned,” he said, defending police brutality.
In one incident on Monday, a woman complained that a member of the notorious police motorcycle unit, known as the BRAV-M, beat her with a baton while being caught against a wall in Paris, a source close to the case told AFP.
Earlier this year, on January 19, police beat a man severely with a truncheon, his lawyer told AFP, resulting in the amputation of his testicles.
Paris police chief Laurent Nunez insisted earlier this week that there were no “unjustified” or “preventive” arrests. But he admitted that the security forces detained members of the groups that were formed “with the aim of committing acts of violence” in what they described as.
Despite the protest, he also defended the notorious police motorcycle unit, which critics have called for its disbandment, as a unit “particularly equipped to disperse” such groups.
Right-wing groups have long accused the French police of brutality and racism, and say internal investigations appear to result in few penalties.
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