Yet another international body has criticised France's policing of the 'yellow vest' protests in recent months. But so far the authorities in Paris appear unmoved by their critics. The first criticism came from the European Parliament which on February 14th 2019 passed a resolution attacking the “disproportionate” use of force by police in France at the demonstrations, which began last November. Now it is the turn of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights to raise the alarm about the “excessive use of force” against the yellow vest protestors.
On Wednesday March 6th the human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet, speaking at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, called for a “full investigation” into claims of police violence. These incidents have been recorded since the start of the protests by the documentary maker David Dufresne (see Mediapart's graphic on this, 'Allô place Beauvau', here). The latest figures are 500 people injured during the protests, some of them with irreversible injuries.
The official French government spokesperson, Benjamin Griveaux, quickly reacted to the commissioner's words, making it clear the government did not appreciate being “cited in a list between Venezuela and Haiti, where there have been deaths”. The official spokesperson, who pointed out that as of March 1st some 162 investigations had been opened into various incidents, added: “We've always been extremely clear: investigations have been opened each time it's been necessary.”
The intervention from Michelle Bachelet came the day after a lively exchange in France's National Assembly relating to the 'yellow vest' protests. During questions to the government the Member of Parliament for the radical left La France Insoumise party, Loïc Prud’homme, attacked what he called the government's “authoritarian drift”, having spoken about how he was “hit with a baton” on Saturday March 2nd as he”peacefully” left a yellow vest demonstration in the south-west city of Bordeaux.
The minister of the interior, Christophe Castaner, responded by stating that “it's not the place of an MP to be in a place where a demonstration has been banned, it's not for an MP to overturn [that], to provoke, to reduce the security forces' protective shield”.
The United Nations had already given its views on such weapons back in February, citing a group of its experts on human rights who expressed concern at the “high number of arrests and detentions, searches and confiscations of demonstrators' possessions, and serious injuries have been caused by a disproportionate use of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons like grenades and defensive bullets or ‘flashballs’”. This group of experts called on France to “rethink its law enforcement policies and encourage the French authorities to establish avenues for dialogue to reduce tension and to recognize the important and legitimate role that social movements play in governance” The group also pointed to the risk of “severe restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly” contained in the new planned 'anti-rioter' legislation on public order. France's upper chamber, the Senate, announced on Wednesday March 7th that it would back this legislation without modifications, after it was approved a few weeks ago by the National Assembly.
The Council of Europe, meanwhile, went further by calling last month for France to “suspend the use” of the non-lethal rubber bullet launchers in operations to maintain public order. This demand had been made by France's independent human rights ombudsman Jacques Toubon.
- The French version of this article can be found here.
English version by Michael Streeter