When a Temporary State of Emergency becomes Permanent

France as a Case Study
05 November 2020
Report

This framing paper details the international legal framework that underpins the establishment of a state of emergency and uses France as a case study to show how a state of emergency was introduced and repeatedly extended before eventually becoming permanent.

Download the full report in English or French.

 

In November 2015, France declared a State of Emergency as an immediate response to two violent attacks in Paris causing the deaths of 130 people and injuring close to five hundred others, 100 of them seriously. Although states of emergency, as enshrined in law, are conceived as temporary measures to return to a “normal” state of affairs as soon as possible, in the French example, the declared state of emergency was extended five times, until November 2017, when many of the emergency powers and measures were codified and written in to ordinary law. In effect, restrictions introduced during the temporary state of emergency became permanent.

Yasser Louati, director of the Comité Justice et Liberté pour Tous, speaks to TNI about France as a colonialist, authoritarian, police state and the laboratory of Islamophobia in Europe.

This framing paper details the international legal framework that underpins the establishment of a state of emergency and uses France as a case study to show how a state of emergency was introduced and repeatedly extended before eventually becoming permanent.

Human rights guarantees were significantly weakened by the introduction of emergency powers that, among other measures, granted search and seizure operations without judicial oversight and far below the legal threshold that had previously been upheld under French law. The emergency measures were systematically implemented in a discriminatory manner targeting Muslims in particular, who were treated with suspicion for no other reason beyond their religious beliefs or practices. Searches could be carried out based solely on suspicion, rather than on material proof, and those targeted were often subsequently stigmatised within their communities or removed from their workplace, although there was no evidence to suggest their involvement in criminal behaviour. By the end of 2015, physical violence and symbolic actions (such as attacks on mosques) against Muslims in France had increased by 150% and 140%, respectively.

Beyond the systematic targeting of Muslims, emergency measures were used as a justification to restrict freedom of movement, assembly, association, and expression across French society. Environmental activists, groups acting in solidarity with refugees, trade unionists, workers, and other organised civil society actors and movements were repeatedly prevented from exercising their legitimate right to protest under the terms of the emergency measures. Significantly, the fact that the state of emergency was repeatedly extended, although violent attacks continued to occur, and that it was used to target Muslims, environmentalists, and other civil society actors where no link to criminal behaviour was established, raises serious questions about the justification given for the state of emergency. It seems that it was used not so much to restore a “normal” state of affairs in the face of a threat of terrorism, but as a pretext to curtail fundamental human rights norms and to pacify dissent across French society.

At a time when many states around the world have announced emergency measures to deal with the onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic, France acts as a case in point reminding us that we must be vigilant in the face of states of emergency and rigorously monitor which emergency powers are granted, to whom, to what end, and for how long. History has shown that measures taken under a state of emergency tend to stick, causing serious repercussions for exercising human rights and upholding the rule of law.

Download: 
When a Temporary State of Emergency becomes Permanent(pdf, 1.41 MB)
Average time to read: 
20 minutes
Quand un état d’urgence temporaire devient permanent(pdf, 1.47 MB)
Average time to read: 
20 minutes