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‘Years of inaction’: Rights groups file class-action lawsuit against French police over alleged racial profiling

‘Years of inaction’: Rights groups file class-action lawsuit against French police over alleged racial profiling
A group of six major NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, has launched a massive class-action lawsuit against the French police, accusing the force of practicing “discriminatory identity checks.”

The 450-page lawsuit was filed on Thursday by the group of international and French rights groups with the Council of State, the highest administrative court in France.

The NGOs threatened the class-action back in January, giving the country’s government four months to end the ethnically charged profiling, which is allegedly widely used by the nation’s police force.

“France has failed to take the necessary steps to prevent and remedy ethnic profiling by the police during identity checks – a form of systemic discrimination,” the groups said on filing the case.

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The lawsuit is based on testimonies from dozens of alleged victims of racial profiling from across nine cities in France. The case also includes other documents and studies to support the allegations raised by the NGOs, as well as previous court cases on similar incidents. One such incident the filing references is a June ruling by the Paris Court of Appeal that found the identity check of three students carried out at the Gare du Nord back in 2017 to be “discriminatory.” On that occasion, the state was condemned for “gross misconduct.”

“This is something that comes up very often in the stories of young men in particular,” Issa Coulibaly, head of Pazapas Belleville, another group involved in the filing, stated.

The massive class action comes as a result of “years of inaction by French authorities,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement, announcing the filing.

“The case rests on significant evidence that the police engage in widespread ethnic profiling based on physical characteristics associated with a real or presumed ethnic or racial origin,” the group added. “The absence of a strict legal framework that respects legal nondiscrimination standards allows the police to use overly broad powers to conduct identity checks in a discriminatory manner.”

The lawsuit asks the Council of State to find the French government at fault for failing to prevent such incidents in the past, as well as to oblige it to make necessary legal changes to avoid them in the future. In particular, the groups urged changes in police “identity check powers [in order] to explicitly prohibit discrimination,” add special legislation prohibiting the targeting of children in such checks, and establish better accounting and complaint mechanisms to keep profiling under control.

The issue of alleged racial profiling by law enforcement agents has been a hot topic in France for years, with multiple incidents of police violence against minorities making international headlines. The issue was acknowledged by France’s President Emmanuel Macron back in December, shortly before the NGOs’ ultimatum.

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At the time, Macron admitted that “when you have a skin color that is not white, you are stopped [by police] much more. You are identified as a problem factor. And that cannot be justified.” The remarks enraged the police trade union, however, and the president has somewhat backtracked in his assessment since. Speaking in April, Macron claimed that “no systemic racism” existed in the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

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