US scolds France for violent cops and dirty prisons

The United States has taken France to task for its numerous “human rights problems” in a fairly damning annual report.

US scolds France for violent cops and dirty prisons
Photo: AFP
In its annual report on human rights around the globe the US State Department listed numerous issues in the land of liberté, égalité and fraternité.

Here are the main problems raised, some of which, given where the criticism is coming from, will not go down well with the French – notably criticism of their police officers.

French police attacking migrants

The state report singled out the French police for their treatment of migrants in Calais.

French police had “beaten, kicked and used tear gas against migrants and asylum seekers in Calais”, the report noted.

French police violence

Although French police do not have a reputation for being trigger happy, like their American counterparts, they were also criticized for their “excessive use of force during arrests and beatings shortly after an arrest, some of which involved minors.”

The young Paris high school pupil who was punched to the ground by a policemen after being arrested during a recent protest against labour reforms may identify with this point.

See the video below.

Not for the first time, France was also criticized for its continued expulsions of Roma from makeshift camps.

Massive rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism

The number of attacks or insults directed towards Muslims or Islamic places of worship that were motivated by Islamophobia shot up by 281 percent in the first six months of 2016, the report noted.

Throughout the whole of the year the number of anti-Muslim incidents more than tripled, the state department noted, quoting figures from the French government.

The report also noted the steep rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the five months after the January terror attacks in Paris – a jump of 84 percent on the same period in 2014.

Poor state of prisons

Criticism of French prisons by the US seems a bit rich, given the notorious state of jails on the other side of the pond, but nevertheless the State Department chose to highlight a few concerns.

“While prisons and detention centres met many international standards…” there were widespread reports of “overcrowding and unhygienic conditions”.

The US noted there were 65,544 inmates held in French prisons, even though the official capacity is 57,759.

The report also noted that “prison suicide remained a problem”

Some 93 inmates committed suicide in 2014, “a rate considerably higher than that outside prison”.

Suspects locked up for a long time before trial

Another human rights criticism the report noted was the problem in France of “lengthy pre-trial detention”.

“Some suspects spent many years in detention before trial” that the US state department noted was partly due to the “long delays in bringing cases to trial”.

Discrimination against ethnic minorities

“Societal violence and discrimination against immigrants of North African origin, Roma, and other ethnic minorities remained a problem,” read the report.

“Many observers expressed concern that discriminatory hiring practices in both the public and private sectors deprived minorities from sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and Asia of equal access to employment.”

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Germany charges two Syrians with crimes against humanity

Germany charged two alleged former Syrian secret service officers with participating in crimes against humanity, in what rights activists said Tuesday would be the first trial worldwide over state-sponsored torture in Syria.

Germany charges two Syrians with crimes against humanity
Photo: DPA

The two men were arrested in February together with a third suspect in France in a coordinated operation by German and French police, the federal prosecutor's office in the German city of Karlsruhe said.

The suspects, Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib, both left Syria in 2012.

Raslan, who allegedly led an investigative unit with its own prison in the Damascus area targeting members of the Syrian opposition, is “suspected of complicity in crimes against humanity” in charges filed on October 22nd, the prosecutors said in a statement.

“In this context he is also accused of murder in 58 cases, rape and aggravated sexual assault” in the jail where more than 4,000 prisoners suffered “brutal and massive torture” from April 2011 to September 2012.

Gharib, a former officer who had manned checkpoints and allegedly hunted protesters, had allegedly aided and abetted two killings and the physical abuse of at least 30 people in the autumn of 2011, prosecutors said.

Mass protests

In the town of Douma at the time, security authorities used force to break up an anti-government rally. Gharib is believed to have helped capture fleeing demonstrators and detained them in the prison headed by Raslan.

The same day that the two suspects were arrested in February, another Syrian was detained in the Paris region for “acts of torture, crimes against humanity and complicity in these crimes”, the Paris prosecutor's office said
at the time.

READ ALSO: German Interior Ministry rules out deportations to Syria

The Syria conflict began in March 2011 with a series of mass protests demanding civil liberties, prompting a harsh crackdown by the regime which quickly began using brutal force against anti-government protesters.

Several other legal cases are now pending in Germany against the Assad regime.

Last year, German prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for Jamil Hassan, a top Syrian official who headed the notorious airforce intelligence directorate and is accused of overseeing the torture and murder of hundreds of detainees.

Although the alleged abuses did not happen in Germany, the case has been filed under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows any country to pursue perpetrators regardless of where the crime was committed.

The Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights has also joined with torture survivors to file criminal complaints against 10 high-ranking Syrian officials, accusing them of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Welcoming Tuesday's charges, the ECCHR said: “The first trial worldwide about state torture in Syria is expected to start in Germany in early 2020 – an important step in the fight against impunity.”