France

together, six NGOs take legal action against the state

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After having put the French government on formal notice to initiate “structural reforms” to put an end to police checks on the face, a group made up of six NGOs decided on Thursday to seize the Council of State in order to obtain success.

The approach is unprecedented in France: a group of associations took legal action on Thursday, July 22, through a group action to urge the State to stop “discriminatory identity checks” by the police.

This procedure, carried out by six associations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, was launched in January.

The associations had initially put the government on notice to initiate “structural reforms” and “take concrete measures” in order to put an end to these controls.

The authorities had four months to respond. The deadline having come to an end, the associations pass Thursday to the second stage by submitting their request to the Council of State.

The highest administrative court “then has several ways of proceeding”, explains Antoine Lyon-Caen, lawyer who carries the file with My Slim Ben Achour and Alexandra Denis.

“It can ask the State what it intends to do, then check whether the proposed responses are satisfactory”, as when it was asked by the municipality of Grande-Synthe on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions , details the lawyer.

“He can also be more interventionist and draw lines by saying: things must evolve on such and such a point,” adds Me Lyon-Caen.

In their request, the associations demand in particular the modification of the code of criminal procedure to “explicitly prohibit discrimination in identity checks” or to make available “to any person checked a proof of check”, on the model of the receipt.

Their procedure is inspired by an American precedent: in 2013, after a “class action”, the American justice had “decided to transform the police practice of identity checks in New York State, which led to a drastic drop in controls “, explains Me Lyon Caen.

“Feeling of exclusion”

Their request, which has 450 pages, is also based on testimonies, studies or French procedures documenting this discrimination.

The latest dates back to June with the condemnation of the State for the identity check, deemed “discriminatory” by the Paris Court of Appeal, of three high school students from Seine-Saint-Denis by police at Gare du Nord , in 2017.

Already in 2016, the Court of Cassation had for the first time definitively condemned the State for so-called “facial” identity checks.

“This is something that comes up very often in the stories of young men in particular”, explains Issa Coulibaly, president of Pazapas Belleville, another association involved in the procedure. This type of control has “a strong impact on their feeling of exclusion, with the impression of not being full-fledged French people because they are treated differently”, he explains.

In January 2017, a report by the Defender of Rights concluded that a “young man perceived as black or Arab (…) is 20 times more likely” to be controlled than the rest of the population as a whole.

“Today when we have a skin color that is not white, we are much more controlled (..) We are identified as a problem factor and it is unbearable”, had recognized President Macron during an interview with Brut in December 2020.

Police unions reacted sharply to these statements, rejecting accusations of racism and calling for a complete end to identity checks.

“It is a subject that has advanced: we talk about it more than before but in terms of solutions, we are at zero point,” said Issa Coulibaly. “This is why we have decided to go, collectively, through the law, which can perhaps force the state to put in place the measures that many have been proposing for years and which exist in other countries. “, justifies the associative activist.

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