Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1988
France is a democratic republic with constitutional provisions
for human rights, freely functioning political parties, and
regular elections. Voter participation (with universal
suffrage) is high. Elections at the local as well as national
level are occasions for ideological and topical debate.
France has a highly developed industrial economy with a
mixture of public and private enterprises. The Government has
decided to halt the previous government's policy of
denationalizing key industries, banks, and certain services.
The Government also has said that there will be no new
French authorities respect human rights and civil liberties
and have taken steps to protect the rights of minority
groups. A firm counterterrorist policy has helped to reduce,
but has not eliminated, violent incidents perpetrated by small
extremist groups. The promotion of human rights is also a
principal tenet of French foreign policy. French leaders
speak out frequently on worldwide abuses of human rights and
often refer to the protection of these rights within France.
The nation's overall human rights record is excellent. At
midyear, following national elections, the new Government
named a cabinet-level Secretary of State for Humanitarian
Action who reports directly to the Prime Minister and is
responsible for promoting human rights in France and assisting
the Foreign Ministry in international negotiations on human
rights issues. Also since 1988, a cabinet-level Minister
Delegate for Foreign Affairs has had specific responsibility
for international human rights matters. In 1989 the
bicentennial of the French Revolution and its Universal
Declaration of the Rights of Man will be widely celebrated in
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
The overall incidence of terrorism in France continued to
decline during 1988. Corsican separatists killed a policeman
early in the year, but an effective response by French
internal security forces has since reduced the level of
violence on the island. The police also dealt severe blows to
the small French Basque separatist movement, and judicial
authorities prosecuted members of the leftist Action Directe
group, which has been largely quiescent since 1987. Middle
East spillover terrorism in France was all but absent during
1988; the major international terrorist incident was the
assassination in March of the Paris representative of the
African National Congress. French police are investigating
the incident but so far have not turned up any conclusive
There is no evidence that French security services have
engaged in abduction or secret arrests.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
France does not condone or practice torture or cruel, inhuman,
or degrading treatment or punishment. However, there were
several documented cases of police brutality, including the
beating of one arrested American citizen. According to
official statements, judicial authorities disciplined police
officers in some cases and dismissed the allegations as
unfounded in others.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
French law guarantees freedom from arbitrary arrest and
imprisonment. There is no direct equivalent of habeas corpus
in the French legal system, but there is a limit of 2 days
4 in drug and terrorist cases--bef ore a suspect must be
transferred to a magistrate for investigation.
The judiciary plays a determining role in the detention
process. Government authority to hold a person beyond the
prescribed periods is severely restricted, and such detention
must be ordered by the competent court.
The Chirac Government—which left power in May 1988—pursued
its policy, initiated in 1986, of expelling to Spain certain
Basque separatist activists suspected of participating in, or
providing logistical support, for the Spanish Basque terrorist
organization, Basque Fatherland and Freedom. The Government
used a 1945 legal procedure called "absolute emergency," under
which it can expel without legal proceedings foreigners
suspected of posing a threat to the security of the State.
In general, the Government still sets great store by France's
tradition as a refuge for victims of political and religious
There is no provision for exiling persons. With regard to
forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The right of fair public trial is guaranteed by law and
respected in practice. Suspects have the right to legal
counsel as soon as their cases are transferred from the police
to the magistrate. For misdemeanors, pretrial confinement is
limited normally to 4 months, with extensions in special
circumstances of approximately 8 to 12 months. However, in
drug cases (all .of which are handled by the courts as
misdemeanors), pretrial confinement may be unlimited. For
felonies, pretrial confinement is not limited. French law
provides for the right of appeal, except in jury trials of
felony cases. An appeal to the Cour de Cassation is possible
in felony cases, but this court rules only on procedure. No
appeal that involves review of the facts of the case is
Trials in France are normally open and public, but provisions
exist for the defense to request a closed proceeding. The
press has free access to records of court proceedings,
although under French law the prosecutor may not disclose
information about cases being tried or investigated. There is
no evidence that the authorities detain any person for
Pending completion of legislative reforms, legal proceedings
have been suspended against persons whose requests for
conscientious objector status were rejected. There are still
some persons, however, serving prison terms imposed prior to
1983 by the now defunct Permanent Tribunals of the Armed
Forces because they did not present such requests and refused
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Freedom from invasion of privacy is guaranteed by French law,
and this freedom is respected in practice. The search of a
private residence requires a search warrant and must take
place between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. except in special
circumstances, such as drug cases, when the search may be
undertaken at any time. Telephone conversations may be
monitored in conjunction with criminal proceedings with a
court order and in national security cases with administrative
approval from the agency conducting the investigation.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
These freedoms are guaranteed by law and respected in
practice. Newspapers and magazines are free from government
control and present views ranging across the political
spectrum. There are two state-owned and three 'private
television networks, in addition to private cable channels.
Private radio stations have operated in France since 1983.
Hundreds are now on the air and offer a wide array of
independent, uncensored programming.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of peaceful assembly and association is widely
respected in France, although--except for a specific reference
to trade unions--it is not mentioned in the Constitution.
Groups wishing to organize public meetings, protest marches,
or demonstrations must obtain a permit from the local
authorities. Permits are routinely granted for both political
and apolitical gatherings. Private associations, whether
political or apolitical, must register with the prefecture in
the department in which they are established, but they do not
require the prefecture's authorization to exist. Such
registration is considered routine in France. Informal
associations, such as those without officers, bylaws, or dues,
need not register.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
c. Freedom of Religion
Roman Catholics comprise by far the largest religious group in
France. Separation of church and state is guaranteed by law.
All religious groups function freely without persecution.
Despite strong initial public opposition to proposed
legislation regarding private (largely Catholic) schools, the
Government in 1984-85 succeeded in passing compromise
educational reform measures which allow public authorities
some influence in private school personnel practices. Private
and parochial schools receive substantial subsidies from the
Ministry of National Education.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
French law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign
travel, emigration, and repatriation. Arriving refugees,
intending emigrants, and intending repatriates can undertake
foreign travel and, in most instances, return to France.
France has an extensive record of refugee aid and resettlement.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The Constitution guarantees the equality of all citizens
before the law, without regard to origin, race, or religion.
All French citizens of both sexes who have reached majority
may vote, except for most convicted criminals, bankrupt
persons, and persons certified to be mentally incompetent.
These provisions are fully respected in practice.
A wide variety of political parties compete freely in
elections. In addition to national, presidential, and
legislative elections, there are regularly scheduled local
elections. For several years, the Government has been
transferring selected powers from the executive branch to
locally elected assemblies. Many special interest
groups--business , labor, veterans, consumer advocates,
ecologists, and others—organize freely and regularly support
candidates for elective office.
With regard to the French overseas territory of New Caledonia,
representatives of the ethnic Melanesians and European
settlers met in Paris with French officials and reached an
accord which, among other things, called for a referendum in
New Caledonia in 1998 on whether the territory should remain a
part of France or become independent. The French Government
submitted the accord to French voters in a referendum in
November. Those who went to the polls overwhelmingly approved
the accord, and a French statute embodying the result became
law. However, low voter turnout and rejection of the accord
by European voters in New Caledonia left doubts about the
law's eventual implementation.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
France has traditionally been a leader in the human rights
area. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty
International and the International Federation for Human
Rights, operate freely in France.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
The authorities do not condone discrimination based on race,
religion, sex, ethnic background, or political opinion. While
isolated incidents of racial, religious, or political
discrimination occur, particularly against the large immigrant
community of Arabs and Africans, authorities consistently
condemn such incidents'. Food, shelter, health care, and
education are available to all inhabitants.
Women have equal status under the law but are engaged in
continuing efforts to maintain and strengthen their rights. A
cabinet-level Secretary of State for Women's Rights, appointed
in 1988, operates under direct supervision of the Prime
Minister. The Government also has taken steps to close
loopholes in French legislation on sex discrimination in the
workplace and to eliminate sexist advertising. In 1985 it
passed legislation to ensure more equality in marriage rights.
Local programs to integrate women into the labor market have
been implemented. In nonagricultural employment, women's
average wage rates in 1986 amounted to 74.9 percent of those
The rights of linguistic and ethnic minorities are protected,
whether in metropolitan France or in overseas territories
subject to French authority. The right of immigrants legally
admitted to France to coexist peacefully without assimilating
completely into French culture is recognized. Legislation has
been passed simplifying the expulsion of illegal immigrants
and tightening immigration procedures. In metropolitan
France, authorities have vigorously sought to apprehend
extreme rightwing gangs that perpetrated several assaults
against members of minority groups, mainly Arabs, in 1987. In
New Caledonia, deep-rooted antagonisms between ethnic
communities continue to exist, but the 1988 accord between
ethnic Melanesians and European settlers on the the status of
the territory offers renewed hope for peace.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constituticn affirms the principle of freedom of labor
union association, the right to a job, the right of equal
opportunity for education and training, social security, and
workers' participation in the operation of the enterprise in
which they are employed.
Although only one-fifth of the work force is unionized, trade
unions exercise significant economic and political influence.
They participate actively in numerous tripartite (government,
employer, and worker) bodies dealing with social matters,
including labor courts and the Economic and Social Council, a
constitutionally mandated consultative body. All unions are
technically independent of the political parties, but many
leaders of France's largest union, the General Confederation
of Labor, belong to the Communist Party. (The General
Secretary traditionally is a member of the Communist Party
Political Bureau.) Leaders of most other unions are
members of one or another faction of the Socialist Party,
although members of other parties are also active in the labor
movement. All unions and employer associations are active in
the International Labor Organization and other international
organizations, including all three world trade union
French workers are free to strike, with a few minor exceptions
in cases where strikes are determined to be a threat to public
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively.
The principle of free collective bargaining was reestablished
after World War II by a law of 1950, with separate statutes
applying to public enterprises. The legislation, as amended
in 1971 and 1978, encourages collective bargaining at the
national, regional, local, or plant level. It sets procedures
for dealing with labor disputes and defines two forms of
collective contracts--extendable and ordinary. Amendments
added in 1982 require at least annual bargaining on wages,
hours, and working conditions at both plant and industry
levels. France has no export processing zones, and labor law
and practice are uniform throughout the country.
The Government encourages management and labor organizations
to negotiate on issues important to public policy—such as
adjustment plans for dislocated workers, training, retraining,
unemployment compensation, and supplementary retirement
schemes. The "social partners" sometimes invite the
Government to participate in these negotiations, particularly
if legislation will be needed for implementation or if public
financing is involved.
The 1950 law sets forth procedures for resolving labormanagement
disputes. These are frequently arbitrated by labor
inspectors. Conciliation boards, composed mainly of
management and labor representatives, have proved ineffective.
The higher court of arbitration is rarely used. Mediation of
wage issues at the national, regional, and local levels has
been more successful. Outside mediators, drawn from the upper
ranks of the civil service, impose solutions that are binding,
unless formally rejected by either side within 8 days. In
1987 some 969,063 man-days of work were lost in France because
of strikes, 7 percent less than in 1986.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
There is no forced or compulsory labor in France.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
With a few minor exceptions for those enrolled in recognized
apprenticeship programs, children under the age of 16 may not
be employed. Certain categories of work considered to be
arduous and night work (10 p.m. to 5 a.m.) may not be
performed by persons under the age of 18 or by women in
manufacturing, mining, the public sector, unions, and
nonprofit organizations--with the exception of women with
managerial responsibilities. This prohibition does not apply
to women in commercial establishments, entertainment, or the
health sector, since no heavy manual labor is involved.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
France has a minimum wage of about $4.45 an hour which is
sufficient to provide a decent standard of living. The
standard workweek is 39 hours, and overtime is controlled. In
general terms, French labor legislation and practice,
including that pertaining to occupational safety and health,
are fully comparable to those in other industrialized market
economy countries. The minimum wage is somewhat less in the
overseas departments, and not all social legislation applies
in overseas territories