Human rights watchdog groups ask UN to address racial profiling by French police News
Roman Bonnefoy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Human rights watchdog groups ask UN to address racial profiling by French police

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International France, as well as three other French rights groups, on Thursday announced that they had lodged a formal complaint with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), in which they sought the committee’s intervention to address racial profiling by law enforcement authorities in France. 

HRW and Amnesty were joined by the Community House for Solidarity Development (MCDS); Pazapas; and Equality, Anti-discrimination, Interdisciplinary Justice Network (Reaji) in calling upon the CERD to address instances of racial profiling and deep-seated bigotry within the French police. The police force has repeatedly come under fire in recent years for discriminatory practices during identity checks which disproportionately targeted Black and Arab young men and boys or those perceived as such. 

In October 2023, the French Conseil d’Étator Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court—acknowledged the existence of racial profiling by law enforcement. Though historic, the ruling fell short of inspiring meaningful change, as the court failed to order French authorities to undertake the necessary measures to put an end to a long-standing culture of discrimination, inequity and abuse. 

It is this inaction that the five groups cited to on Thursday as the catalyst for their complaint before the CERD, which is a body of independent experts charged with monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) by its signatories, among whom France. “By failing to take the necessary measures to put an end to this practice, the French government is failing to meet its obligations under several international treaties,” HRW said.

HRW previously raised concern about the excessive use of force by French law enforcement following the fatal police shooting in June 2023 of Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old boy of Algerian and Moroccan descent who was shot at point-blank range by police officer Florian Menespiler in a suburb of Paris. The killing sparked widespread national protests and riots, with many international organizations and rights groups calling on the country to take the necessary measures to eliminate any and all symptoms of racism and bigotry within their police force. 

In their formal complaint, the groups asked the committee to “recognize the systemic nature of the problem of racial profiling in France.” To this end, they outlined specific measures and steps the French government should take to effectively address the issue. Among these measures, the groups called for the redefining and clarification of the legal framework for police identity checks to eliminate discrimination by requiring objective and individualized grounds for all checks and changing the institutional objectives, guidelines, and training for the police, in particular by introducing anti-discrimination workshops and seminars and modifying their approach to interactions with the public. 

“The ball is firmly back in the government’s court,” HRW said. “Now, more than ever, the French government has a duty to act to ensure that no one in France feels like a second-class citizen at the hands of the police because of their perceived ethnicity or skin color.”

The complaint now lies with the CERD, who has previously expressed concern over France’s failure to address the systemic racism that is innate within the French police force.