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France: Candidates Pledge to Address Human Rights Issues

They Respond to a Survey, but Some Questions Go Unanswered


A survey of candidatesfor the upcoming French presidential election, which both candidates still in the race completed, reveals differences in approach on some significant international and domestic human rights topics, Human Rights Watch said today. The survey's purpose was to establish the position of each candidate on pressing human rights issues that the new president will have to tackle. The runoff between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, the Socialist challenger, will be on May 6, 2012.

Sarkozy and Hollande, along with six other candidates in the first round, answered questions on a variety of issues including events in and relationships with Syria, Russia, China, Afghanistan, and the US. They were also asked to state their position on accountability, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights, and some specific issues related to France, such as violence against women, the rights of the Roma people, and abusive police identity checks.

"The two candidates' replies to our survey, each in their own way, tell us a lot about their respective approaches to some key international and domestic human rights issues," said Jean-Marie Fardeau, France director at Human Rights Watch. "We hope that these answers will help voters make an informed choice."

The two candidates' main answers are summarized below, and are posted in their entirety.

  • Questions Regarding France

Human Rights Watch sought the candidates' point of view on three human rights issues of particular relevance to France: abusive police identity checks, a European convention on violence against women, and the rights of the Roma community.

Abusive Identity Checks
In a report published in January, Human Rights Watch documented discriminatory and humiliating identity checks by the police of minority youth and recommended that police officers conducting identity checks systematically provide each person stopped with a written explanation of the legal basis for the identity check. When asked whether the candidate would implement such a recommendation, Sarkozy did not answer the question. Hollande said he will "ensure that France is a model of respect for individual freedoms as set forth in the Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union." A separate letter from his office affirmed his commitment to fight racial profiling ("delit de facies") in identity checks "through a procedure respectful of all citizens."

Violence Against Women
France has signed the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, but has yet to ratify it. When asked if they would ratify the convention, Sarkozy said that he supported ratification, and Hollande indicated his intention to establish a "dedicated body in charge of specific monitoring of violence against women, supporting the victims of violence, training professionals, organizing research on violence against women, and making recommendations to guide public action" to consider ratification.

Roma Rights
In August 2010, an administrative circular from the Interior Ministry ordered prefects to take "systematic action to dismantle illegal camps, priority given to those of Roma" and associated these measures with the "immediate expulsion of irregular foreigners." In the wake of criticism, France adopted a new circular in September 2010 that removed the discriminatory reference to Roma, who are European Union citizens and have the same rights to freedom of movement and non-discrimination as any other EU citizen. However, as Human Rights Watch has documented, discrimination against Romapersists in France. Asked about their approach on this specific topic, Hollande called for "discriminatory measures against Roma populations ... to be abolished," while Sarkozy said that "the same rules apply" to Roma as to "all other citizens," adding that their freedom of movement "is the same as for nomadic persons in our country," specifying that they also have "the same "obligations to meet."

  • Questions Regarding International Human Rights Issues

Human Rights Violations in Syria
Concerning continuing rights abuses in Syria, Sarkozy defended his record, saying that, "France has played a leading role in the negotiations within the Security Council for reaching a resolution on Syria." He said he "has personally very firmly denounced the human rights violations committed by the Syrian authorities." Moreover, he said that "the negotiations within the UN framework must be continued with the aim of ... an effective end to all violence" and said that, "In order to bring the Security Council to the French and European position on this issue, we must continue the work that has been started, so that China and Russia withdraw their support for Bashar Al-Assad."

Hollande said that under his presidency, "France will be on the side of those who oppose and denounce the crimes committed against peoples ... and our country will use all its weight so that dissuasive measures are taken to put an end to such situations."

Dialogue with Russia and China on Rights Issues
Sarkozy emphasized a need to establish a "constructive dialogue" with both Russiaand China, saying that, "This dialogue has never prevented us from reasserting how important respect for human rights is for us." He also indicated that public statements about such issues should be made at the European level instead of the national level, and said he had pushed for France to "take the initiative in the European declarations calling for the liberation of Liu Xiaobo." Hollande focused on political prisoners in both countries and asserted that if he is elected, "France ... will request the freeing of or the end to legal proceedings against people harassed because of their opinion, and will support the civil society organizations that campaign for the respect of fundamental rights."

Promoting the Rule of Law in Afghanistan
Human Rights Watch asked the candidates to describe the strategy they would put in place to promote the respect of rule of law and women's rights in Afghanistan. Hollande said that if he is elected, "France will put its diplomacy at the service of the rule of law and equal respect due to each person." Sarkozy said that, "Educating the future generations seems to us to be the surest way to promote the cause of women and the rule of law."

Accountability for Rights Abuses
Two questions in the survey referred to the issue of accountability, one specifically about three African states - Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Guinea- and one about the United Statesin the context of allegations of abuses against Guantanamo Bay detainees. Both candidates stressed their commitment to the fight against impunity. Sarkozy said that, "Whatever their nationality, those responsible for crimes involving serious violations of human rights must be prosecuted, tried and sentenced." He said he is "prepared to intervene so that France's partners respect, effectively, the individual rights guaranteed by French and international law." Hollande said France "will support the strengthening of international criminal justice."

LGBT Rights Around the World
Regarding the rights of LGBT people, Sarkozy described persecutions based on sexual orientation and gender identity as "shocking and unacceptable" and said he wants "France to be able to take a clear stand, especially within the UN Human Rights Committee, against states planning to penalize homosexuality with the death penalty." Hollande said French diplomacy will support the "equal respect due to each person, whatever his or her gender or sexual orientation."

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.