France ‘risks democracy’ with state of emergency

France 'risks democracy' with state of emergency
Photo: AFP
While the general public and MPs in France support it, a European human rights chief says it could constitute a "threat" to democracy.

France's decision to install a state of emergency following the deadly November 13 attacks in Paris could constitute a “threat” to democracy, a Council of Europe human rights observer said on Tuesday.

“We are looking very closely at what is happening” in France, the Council's human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks said.

“There is a risk that these measures could sap the system of democratic control,” if for instance police armed with executive rather than judicial orders carry out searches, Muiznieks told France Culture radio.

“We are seeing a certain drift,” he added, citing concerns over ethnic profiling of suspects facing police searches and the “forces of repression.”

France has extended the state of emergency through to the end of February as President Francois Hollande agreed to give greater powers to security services to act without requiring judicial oversight or search warrants.

Since the measures came into force after the attacks by radical Islamists in November which left 130 dead and 350 injured, authorities have carried out thousands of searches but “only a few of them have led to procedures linked to terrorist acts,” according to Muiznieks.

The Latvian human rights observer questioned “the need for these measures” and lamented that the security crackdown was spreading to other countries.

“We react very quickly and cast off human rights guarantees as we consider they are not useful in the fight against terrorism,” said Muiznieks, who following the Charlie Hebdo killings of a year ago similarly questioned the French response of beefing up surveillance.

And he warned that heightened surveillance could lead to the “stigmatisation of certain communities”.

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