Rights groups take French racial profiling case to top body


PARIS — Leading rights organizations and grassroots groups are taking France’s first class-action lawsuit targeting the nation’s powerful police machine to the highest administrative authority to fix what they contend is a culture of systemic discrimination in identity checks.

The 220-page file, chock full of examples of racial profiling by French police, was being delivered Thursday to the Council of State, the ultimate arbiter on the use of power by authorities. It was compiled by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Justice Initiative and three grassroots organizations that work with youth.

The NGOs allege that French police target Black people and people of Arab descent in choosing who to stop and check. Police officers who corroborate such accounts are among people cited in the file.

The groups behind the lawsuit contend the practice is rooted in a culture of systemic discrimination within the police with far-reaching consequences for people of color, often left feeling alienated from French society.

Instead of money for victims, the suit seeks deep reforms within law enforcement to ensure an end to racial profiling, including a change in a penal code that currently gives officers carte blanche to check IDs — with no trace that they have done so. Among other things, they also want an independent mechanism to lodge complaints and training for police officers.

The prime minister’s office and the justice and interior ministries were initially served notice of the suit in late January — the first step in a two-stage process in a French class-action case. The law gave them four months to open talks with the NGOs on how to meet their demands for change within the police, before the matter could go before a court.

Dead silence was the response, which is why the groups took the case to the Council of State.

Antoine Lyon-Caen, the lead lawyer in the case, called the government silence “humiliating” for racial profiling victims.

Issa Coulibaly, head of Pazapas, a youth association in eastern Paris involved in the suit, said the official silence is in keeping with “institutional denial” of the problem.

“It confirms this contempt, this lack of consideration for a part of the citizenry subjected to this,” he said. Coulibaly, a 41-year-old Black man, said he was subjected to numerous undue ID checks starting at the age of 14.

French courts have found the state guilty racial profiling in identity checks in the past.

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