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Our gallant allies

Posted by Richard Friday, April 08, 2005

A report produced by Amnesty International this week is entitled: "France – The Search for Justice".

The subtitle gives a little more away: "The effective impunity of law enforcement officers in cases of shootings, deaths in custody or torture and ill treatment".

According to the authors, the criminal justice system in France is failing to provide victims of human rights violations with the right to redress and to obtain reparations.

More seriously, there is good evidence that a significant number of French Police officers have systematically murdered, tortured, ill treated and abused members of (mainly) ethnic communities. Prisoners have been refused medical care, contact with relatives and in some cases not informed of their rights. In many cases, access to lawyers has been refused.

Interview rules have been ignored, custody records have been doctored and prisoners blackmailed into signing them, on threat of extended detention. Police routinely refuse to record complaints. Those attempting to complain are often charged with insulting officers or resisting arrest (outrage ou rébellion) (a system clearly modelled on that used by West Yorkshire Police). Some have been charged and detained for "offences" that do not exist in the penal code.

Many cases of suspicious deaths at the hands of police officers have been reported, but these are rarely investigated by the judiciary and, even when they are, there are glaring examples of no action having been taken, or action delayed until families of the deceased have taken their own civil actions.

Prosecutors often act for the police officers in court, asking for acquittals. Even where officers have been found guilty of causing unlawful death, they are most often given suspended sentences, in some cases with no criminal record entered against them so that they can resume their careers as police officers.

All this is happening in a country which has adopted the European Charter of Human Rights, is a member of the European Union which subscribes to the Charter and which is urging its population to sign up to an EU constitution which incorporates the Charter. Yet it is also a country of which even Le Monde was moved to report: "Justice is at a special tariff for police officers: they are never seriously punished."

And this is a country with which the UK government wishes to co-operate and Justice and Home Affairs, and to which it is quite happy to cede powers under the terms of the European Arrest Warrant, while allowing its officers, within the structure of Europol, to take a direct part in British policing.

Perhaps Blair, as leader of the Zanu-Labour Party, should have got the French police in to investigate the allegations of electoral fraud in Birmingham. But then, possibly, he will next time.