French parliament votes to write controversial state of emergency powers into constitution as counter-terror measures spark protests

The United Nations warned current measures were imposing 'excessive and disproportionate restrictions' on human rights 

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 10 February 2016 17:24
A protester holds a banner reading: " Stop of state of emergency" during a protest, in Paris, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016.
A protester holds a banner reading: " Stop of state of emergency" during a protest, in Paris, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016.

The French parliament has voted for controversial changes to its constitution to enshrine powers implemented under its state of emergency and removing citizenship for terror suspects.

Politicians voted by 317 votes to 199 to give a new status to emergency security powers, after previously supporting stripping convicted extremists’ French citizenship by 162 votes to 148 against.

Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister, said a “long debate” had preceded the National Assembly’s decision.

A message reading 'In the name of democracy, do not change the constitution!' on the walls of the French National Assembly building on the night before the 10 February vote.

“It is a reform that seeks to protect the country and our compatriots,” he added, according to iTele.

“I do not doubt for an instant that the Senate will demonstrate the same sense of responsibility.

“It is a good day for the Republic, for the country, for France, for unity in the face of terrorism.”

The decision to revoke a person's French citizenship will be made by a judge and apply only to terrorism-related crimes if passed as law.

The bill must still be voted on by the Senate in March and pass with a three-fifths majority in both houses to be adopted as a constitutional amendment.

It has already revealed deep divisions in France’s governing Socialist party, seeing the resignation of Justice Minister Christiane Taubira over a now-dropped clause referring to dual-nationals born in France.

“Sometimes resisting means staying on, sometimes resisting means leaving,” she said at the time.

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Ms Taubira stood down a fortnight ago, citing a “major political disagreement” with the government over plans that opponents say effectively singles out dual-nationality French Muslims, as under international law citizens cannot be made stateless.

Critics have also argued that the measures will increase, rather than reduce, the alienation of young Muslims, undermining efforts to increase cohesion and fight radicalisation.

Despite the shock and mourning still resonating after November’s Paris attacks, the measures have proved divisive in a nation that still centres itself around the values of “liberté, égalité, fraternité”.

Even as politicians voted in favour of changes to the constitution, protesters gathered outside the building in Paris.

Demonstrators waved banners reading “stop the state of emergency” and “we will not give in”, while chanting against restrictions, police searches and Islamophobia.

Protesters carry a banner reading: 'State of Emergency, NO to the decline' as thousands demonstrated by the Council of State against the extension by the government of the state of emergency period, in Paris, France, 30 January 2016.

It was the latest in a series of demonstrations against changes to the constitution and the continuing state of emergency, which the United Nations warned was imposing “excessive and disproportionate restrictions” on fundamental human rights last month.

Special rapporteurs on freedoms of opinion, expression, assembly and privacy were among those raising concerns with the Francois Hollande’s government.

“Ensuring adequate protection against abuse in the use of exceptional measures and surveillance measures in the context of the fight against terrorism is an international obligation of the French State,” they said in a joint statement.

“While exceptional measures may be required under exceptional circumstances, this does not relieve the authorities from demonstrating that these are applied solely for the purposes for which they were prescribed, and are directly related to the specific objective that inspired them.”

Human rights groups warned about the scope for rights abuses in November, when the state of emergency was extended for three months.

The laws allow police to place anyone deemed to be a security risk under house arrest, dissolve groups thought to be a threat to public order, carry out searches without warrants and copy data, and block any websites that “encourage” terrorism.

Curfews can be imposed, large gatherings or protests forbidden and movement limited.

The UN called on the government not to extend the powers beyond their deadline on 26 February, but they are widely expected to be extended.

Isis militants killed 130 people in Paris in a series of shooting and suicide bombings at the Bataclan concert hall, Stade de France, restaurants and bars on 13 November last year.

The terrorist group claimed the massacres were revenge for French air strikes against its militants in Syria and members have threatened further attacks.

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