Rights groups denounce French police profiling of Arabs, Africans
PARIS - A group of NGOs on Wednesday threatened the French state with a class-action lawsuit over racial profiling by the police during ID checks, a longstanding complaint among French people of colour.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and four other groups gave the government four months to act to end the “discriminatory identity checks” or face legal action.
The move comes as allegations mount of police racism, poisoning relations between the force and residents of high-rise housing estates with large immigrant populations.
In December, President Emmanuel Macron admitted to a problem of discrimination against people of African or Arab descent.
“When you have a skin colour that is not white, you are stopped much more (by police). You are identified as a problem factor. And that cannot be justified,” he told the Brut video news portal.
He was speaking after video showing white officers beating up an unarmed black music producer in his Paris studio went viral in November.
The 350-page warning letter sent on Wednesday to Prime Minister Jean Castex, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti includes testimony from alleged victims of racial profiling in nine French cities.
The groups demanded a change in the criminal code to “explicitly ban discrimination during identity checks.”
Their other demands included setting up an independent mechanism for hearing allegations of racial profiling and giving people subjected to an ID check a written record of the operation.
Failure by the state to act could lead to the first ever class-action lawsuit against the state, lawyer Antoine Lyon-Caen said.
The warning comes a few days before the start of a summit convened by Macron to discuss how to improve relations between the police and communities following mass demonstrations in November that turned violent.
– Blacks, Arabs targeted –
A study carried out in 2009 in Paris by the Open Society Justice Initiative and French state research body CNRS showed that black people were six times more likely to be stopped for their ID than whites.
People with features seen as “Arab” were eight times more likely to be asked to show their papers.
In a more recent report in 2017, the French rights ombudsman said that young men “seen as black or Arab” were 20 times more likely to be asked for ID than young white men.
Rights groups have long called for people targeted by ID checks to be given a receipt which they could produce to avoid being asked repeatedly for their papers.
Socialist ex-President Francois Hollande vowed to combat racial profiling during his 2012-17 tenure but proposals to trial a receipt scheme were torpedoed by then Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
Macron, in the Brut interview, announced plans to set up a website where people could file complaints of discrimination.
His remarks caused anger among police unions, which deny any problem of institutional racism and complain that they are the victims of an increasingly hostile public.