The Constitutional Council of the French Republic [official website, in French] on Friday ruled [decision; press release, both in French] that the country's sexual harassment law was unconstitutionally vague. In its decision, the council determined that since Article 222-33 [text, in French] of the French penal code does not provide any definition of sexual harassment, it cannot be constitutionally enforced. Several feminist groups have voiced dissatisfaction with the decision [Reuters report], which eliminates France's only criminal law against sexual harassment. The decision of the council goes into effect immediately, and will result in the dismissal of any active sexual harassment cases in the courts. The French government will need to pass a new law with a clear definition of prohibited conduct. The decision of the council cannot be appealed.
The original sexual harassment law, in place since 1992, defined the crime as an abuse of authority. The law was revised in 2002. The council on Friday found this new definition, which defines the crime as "the act of harassing others with the goal of obtaining sexual favors," is unconstitutionally vague. Last year, France signed a Council of Europe (COE) treaty vowing to end violence against women [JURIST report]. The treaty targets crimes including rape, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, forced abortion and forced sterilization. In 2006, the COE released a report criticizing [JURIST report] France's human rights record and identifying impunity for domestic violence as a shortcoming in the French judicial system.