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December 16, 2016

France Votes Yet Again to Extend the State of Emergency

France voted for the fifth time to extend the state of emergency in place since just after the November 2015 Paris attacks. The measure, passed in the National Assembly by a vote of 299 to 32, extends it until July 15, after next year’s elections. The Senate approved these measures on Thursday. Proponents cited heightened risk of attacks as France prepares for its 2017 elections. This extension will give the country the longest uninterrupted state of emergency since the Algerian War in the 1960s.

The state of emergency law gives the government extraordinary powers. For instance, the law allows the government to carry out warrantless searches, close meeting spaces, dissolve associations involved in breaches of public order, and prohibit public demonstrations.

We have warned, in February and July, about the risks of extending the state of emergency. Prolonging a state of emergency creates a new normal–where expansive police powers become a more permanent fixture of daily life. While countries are permitted under international human rights law to enact temporary measures to respond to emergencies and restrict certain rights, any limitation must be “strictly required.” Beyond its threat to human rights, many experts question the effectiveness of the state of emergency.

It is important that France adopt a long-term approach rooted in human rights, which will ultimately enhance, not detract, from security. The extended state of emergency undermines both national security and human rights by further stigmatizing and alienating the communities most vulnerable to discriminatory or overbroad policing tactics. The state of emergency has also in many instances removed the judicial oversight necessary to ensure that government action is lawful. These mechanisms play a crucial role in protecting human rights, and when they are absent, violations are likely to occur. For instance, from November 26, 2016 to September 9, 2016, “Defenseur des droits” (the Defenders of Rights, a national human rights ombudsman) received 82 complaints of human rights violations expressly or indirectly related to the state of emergency (English-language information available here).

The state of emergency cannot go on indefinitely. U.S. leaders should encourage France to reinstitute judicial safeguards and develop a long-term security policy founded on the protection of human rights.