French police use excessive violence against immigrants, Amnesty claims

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The Independent Online

French police have been accused of excessive use of force, torture and unlawful killings, particularly in incidents involving immigrants, in a report published by Amnesty International.

French police have been accused of excessive use of force, torture and unlawful killings, particularly in incidents involving immigrants, in a report published by Amnesty International.

An investigation into cases of police violence between 1991 and 2005 revealed that racism was a "major element" in such incidents. Most of the victims are of Arab or African origin.

"People have been racially abused, beaten and even killed by the police in France, yet the French judicial system is failing to investigate and punish human rights abuses by police officers," said the charity's UK director, Kate Allen.

Entitled France: The Search for Justice, the 70-page document fiercely condemns the justice system as a whole, claiming that police are free to use excessive and occasionally lethal force without fear of serious repercussions. Unnecessary identity checks and excessive reliance on physical force and firearms are among the police practices criticised.

Complaints concerning police conduct jumped by 18.5 per cent in 2004. However, Amnesty claims that few of these will reach court and those that do rarely end with a conviction.

The report outlines numerous case studies, including that of Omar Baha, a 32-year-old French actor of Algerian origin. In December 2002 M. Baha witnessed several officers beating a youth outside a Paris Metro station. Threatening to report their misconduct, M. Baha was violently attacked despite protests from onlookers. Charged with "insulting police officers", "resisting arrest" and "incitement to riot" (a crime which does not exist in France's penal code), he was refused medical treatment and held in extended custody for two days.

At a hearing in 2003 all charges against M. Baha were dismissed. His complaints against the officers involved have still not reached court.

Several victims in the study appeared at a press conference held in Paris yesterday.

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