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July 14, 2017

Trump Attends Bastille Day Celebration in Paris

By Emma Bernstein

Today, President Trump attended a Bastille Day celebration in Paris. This year, France’s national holiday also marks the first anniversary of the terrorist attack in Nice where a Tunisian-born French resident plowed a truck into a crowd, killing at least 84 people.

In their meeting yesterday, President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed counterterrorism cooperation and economic partnership. The two committed to furthering United States-France cooperation on counterterrorism and fighting terrorist propaganda online.

As the partnership progress, both countries must ensure counterterrorism policies respect human rights principles. Since the string of terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, the country has been on high alert. The state of emergency declared the day after the attacks has now been extended six times. It was most recently extended on July 6 to last until November 1, 2017.

While Macron plans to end the state of emergency, his government has proposed an anti-terror law in its place that would enshrine several of the emergency practices into ordinary law. If passed, this law will create a new norm that will allow extraordinary measures to undermine human rights and civil liberties.

The state of emergency was intended to give the French government the tools it needed to prevent future attacks. However, the emergency measures are being used more broadly to justify unnecessary interference with basic human freedoms like the right to free assembly, movement, and privacy.

This implementation defies the very notion of emergency measures: narrowly tailored, time-limited steps to address a specific emergency.

Warrantless searches have yielded far more investigations into non-terrorism activities, meaning that the measures were applied far beyond the identified threat. Of the 670 searches authorized under the emergency measures that have led to judicial proceedings, only nine percent of these proceedings were for terrorism-related charges.

Furthermore, France’s emergency measures have been applied in a discriminatory fashion, targeting the Muslim community. In the first four months of the state of emergency, the French government conducted over 3,300 raids. The majority of people whose homes were searched or who were placed under house arrest were Muslims or persons of North African descent. Less than one percent of these raids resulted in any gained intelligence about Islamist extremists.

Mosques and halal restaurants have also been targeted for searches. As of August 2016, at least 20 mosques had been closed in France.

Such discriminatory implementation of the emergency measures undermines France's fight against extremism, feeds into the root causes of radicalization, and has reinforced an "us-versus-them" narrative. It pushes Muslims in France to feel excluded from French identity, driving them to retreat into their own, small communities and contributing to the cycle of violence.

France’s prolonged “emergency” and its proposed anti-terror law also emboldens authoritarian regimes to repress dissent in the name of countering terrorism. France is widely recognized as a rights-respecting democracy. It has created a precedent for repressive governments to justify applying their own “emergency” measures and anti-terror laws as covers for silencing dissent. 

For instance, Turkey has remained in a state of emergency since its July 2016 coup attempt. Turkish President Erdogan has used the state of emergency to jail 40,000 people, fire or suspend more than 140,000 civil servants, shut down 1,500 civil rights groups, arrest 120 journalists, close more than 150 news media outlets, and even block access to Wikipedia.

Turkey is just one disturbing example of what could be a far-reaching, international trend. Without leadership from France, it will be hard to credibly pressure Turkey and other countries to abandon sweeping security measures that violate the rule of law and human rights.

Counterterrorism strategies that respect human rights are essential for long-term security. As Trump and Macron continue the United States-France partnership on counterterrorism, they must ensure that human rights are a fundamental aspect of this cooperation.