France’s police threatened with lawsuit by human rights groups over ‘racist’ identity checks

Six NGOs filed a formal notice to the French government on Wednesday demanding an end to what they said was racial profiling by police through identity checks, or else face a class action.

France's police threatened with lawsuit by human rights groups over 'racist' identity checks
A protester holds up a placard reading 'the police assassinates' during one of several anti-police brutality protests in Paris over the summer of 2020. Photo: AFP

The class action is a first in France, carried out by six international and French human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The NGOs accused French police of engaging in “longstanding and widespread ethnic profiling that constitutes systemic discrimination”.

“Despite incontrovertible evidence that French police have for many years engaged in systematic discrimination in carrying out identity checks, and commitments by successive governments to address the problem, nothing has changed,” the NGOs said in the formal notice sent to the French government, giving them four months to respond.

The warning letter – 350 pages thick – included testimonies of people saying to have been victims of ethnic profiling during identity checks in nine French cities including Paris, Lyon and Toulouse, as well as police officers denouncing identity checks as “useless”.

Identity checks specifically and police racism more broadly have been matters of fierce debate for years in France, which gained strength in the summer of 2020 after George Floyd died at the hands of police in the United States.

Thousands of protesters in France disregarded Covid-19 health advice and took to the streets following the killing to protest against racially motivated police brutality, which they said was a French problem too.

READ ALSO: Who is Adama Traore and why are there protests across France in his name?


Police in France have long vehemently denied accusations of institutional racism, both generally and through identity checks. One union decried the lawsuit as unjust and biased.

“It's a bit too easy to denounce systemic control on the basis of spurious, truncated, very biased reports,” Alternative Police Union wrote in a press statement.

Denouncing the class action “political and dogmatic manoeuvre” by actors known for their “anti-police” attitudes, Alternative Police said it was an attempt to turn the interior ministry against the police just as France embarked on national conversations to improve their relationship with the country's citizens.

ANALYSIS: How did France's relationship with its own police get so bad?


Police officers in France threw their handcuffs on the ground in protest after the French government considered to ban a controversial “chokehold” tactic in June 2020. Photo: AFP

President Emmanuel Macron launched the talks, known in France as “Beauvau de la sécurité”, after three police officers were caught on video brutally beating up a Black musician in Paris.

The NGOs demanded that, during these talks, the government “tackle the specific problem of discriminatory identity checks and its deep causes, in a serious way to end these abuses, in line with France’s obligations under national and international law.”

“Deep structural reforms are needed to address this systemic discrimination,” they said. 

The French Republic was founded on principle of universalism that effectively bans public institutions from collecting data of ethnicity or religion.

Enacted to protect minorities from discrimination, critics have said for years that this “colour-blind” policy has become counterproductive, causing the state to be blind to racism rather than skin colour.

ANALYSIS: Is France really 'colour-blind' or just blind to racism?

French police have been at the forefront of the debate, as their identity checks are based on a person's appearance, but – due to the principle of universalism – they do not keep records of ethnicity of the people checked.

A study carried out in 2009 in Paris by the Open Society Justice Initiative and French state research body CNRS showed that black people were six times more likely to be stopped for their ID than whites.

People with features seen as “Arab” were eight times more likely to be asked to show their papers.

In a more recent report in 2017, the French rights ombudsman said that young men “seen as black or Arab” were 20 times more likely to be asked for ID than young white men.

One man included in the NGOs letter said to have experienced ethnic profiling by the police repeatedly since he turned 16, “sometimes three times a day.”

During a recent stop, he said, the police “violently pinned me up against the wall. One of the officers touched my private parts. Then he hit me in the stomach and called me a ‘dirty Arab’.”

Rights groups have long called for people targeted by ID checks to be given a receipt which they could produce to avoid being asked repeatedly for their papers.

The prime minister, interior minister and justice minister – all specifically targeted by the NGOs – have four months to respond to their demands.

Member comments

  1. Is it any wonder that Poland and Hungary balk at following the EU’s diktat on immigration? What country, given a fresh start, would opt for such out of control and unmanageable levels of immigration from countries with cultures so unsuited to the European way of life?

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Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted