French Justice Minister quits in protest over anti-terror measure

Friday 22/01/2016
Often at centre of controversy

PARIS - French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira quit Wednesday in protest over the government's efforts to strip convicted French-born terrorists of their citizenship if they have a second nationality.

Taubira, popular among the ruling Socialists of President Francois Hollande but a target of criticism from right-wing politicians, tweeted: "Sometimes to resist means staying, sometimes resisting means leaving."

The outspoken 63-year-old, who is from French Guiana, became France's most senior black politician when she was given the justice portfolio in 2012.

Taubira has often been at the centre of controversy, whether as the victim of racial slurs or for pushing through a same-sex marriage bill despite fierce opposition from conservatives.

Her latest battle brought her into conflict with President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls over their proposals to strip dual-national convicted terrorists of their French passports.

"I am leaving government over a major political disagreement," she said in her resignation speech.

Hollande called for the measure to be written into the constitution in the aftermath of the November jihadist attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead.

It is part of a string of reforms meant to boost security as hundreds of French citizens -- many of them dual nationals -- take up arms alongside the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and in the case of the Paris attackers, return to wreak devastation in France.

"Removing French nationality from those who blindly kill other French in the name of an ideology of terror is a strong symbolic act against those who have sidelined themselves from the national community," Valls said after the measure was announced.

But many in the Socialist party see the proposal as an act of ideological treason that discriminates against a section of the population.

Other critics say the measure would be ineffective anyway, in the face of jihadist fanaticism.

Just a day before the reforms were presented, Taubira announced the measure would be dropped, only to be overruled at the last minute by Hollande.

The reforms also aim to inscribe the right to declare a state of emergency in the constitution, including powers to raid homes and place people under house arrest without judicial oversight.

Valls presented the revised article of the constitution to parliament on Wednesday, ahead of a debate scheduled to start in early February.

Hollande named Jean-Jacques Urvoas, the current president of the parliamentary laws committee, as Taubira's successor to "carry out... the constitutional reform", according to a statement from the presidency.

- Some more French than others? -

One of the main criticisms of the nationality clause is that it will drive a wedge between those who are French only, and those who hold a second nationality.

Under current French law, those with dual nationality who were born abroad may be stripped of their nationality if convicted of serious crimes.

But if the latest reform passes, France would become "the first democracy in the world" to enshrine the principle of unequal treatment of dual nationals in its constitution, political scientist Patrick Weil told AFP.

Valls said Wednesday that the phrase "dual citizen" would not feature in the constitution or related laws -- to avoid discrimination.

He said this solution would avoid the "stigmatisation" of those holding two passports.

To avoid French citizens with no other passport being stripped of their nationality, Valls said France would ratify a 1954 UN convention against the creation of stateless persons.

Valls said the measure would concern those convicted of serious crimes such as "criminal conspiracy, financing terrorism or individual terrorist undertaking".

While left-wing politicians paid tribute to Taubira, those on the right revelled in her resignation.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said Taubira's resignation was "good news for France".

Taubira, who tweeted that she was "proud" of her time in office, has previously admitted it was "very hard" at times, including being depicted as a monkey by far-right politicians and magazines.

She became a hate figure among many in French society for her involvement in two landmark pieces of legislation -- a 2001 law that classified the slave trade as a crime against humanity and the 2013 gay marriage act, which triggered massive protests.

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