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France: Independent body needed to investigate policing after Nahel killing - new briefing

Planned demonstrations this weekend have been banned by the authorities

Since 2017, use of lethal force by police officers at traffic stops has increased fivefold in France

Case ‘highlights the urgent need for wholesale reform of France’s dangerously imprecise and permissive rules around police use of firearms’ - Nils Muižnieks

Amnesty International is calling for the French government to create an independent body to investigate complaints against law-enforcement officers in the wake of the police’s fatal shooting of Nahel M, a French 17-year-old of Moroccan and Algerian descent killed after a traffic stop in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre last month.

In an 11-page briefing published today, Amnesty also called for the French authorities to prioritise major reform of rules governing the use of firearms and lethal force by law-enforcement officers, to end their dangerous denial of the effects of systemic racism in law enforcement, and to fully respect the right to peaceful assembly.

Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, said:

“The fatal shooting of Nahel by police - the latest in a long series of unlawful killings at traffic stops by police - highlights the urgent need for wholesale reform of France’s dangerously imprecise and permissive rules around police use of firearms.

“Too many people - particularly Black and Arab men - have been shot and killed in similar circumstances by French police. People are rightly angry.

“The authorities must not only deliver justice for Nahel and overhaul police firearm policy, but must also take meaningful action to address systemic racism in French policing.”  

Use of firearms by the police

The killing of drivers and passengers by the police in France is a longstanding human rights concern (see briefing for further details).

In 2017, [it looks like] changes to France’s Internal Security Code introduced “absolute necessity and strict proportionality” into the existing rules on the use of firearms in a series of circumstances. As such, law-enforcement officers were required not to use firearms if they could achieve a legitimate objective via less harmful means. And in turn, when using firearms this should cause no more harm than the use is supposed to prevent. However, the rules fail to restrict the use of firearms to instances where there is an imminent threat to life or of serious injury, and thus fall short of international human rights law and standards.    

Five-fold increase

Since 2017, the use of lethal force by police officers in France following a “refus d’obtempérer” - a refusal to obey police instructions to stop, typically for an ID check and in light of an apparent violation of the highway code - has increased fivefold. According to data from the Ministry of the Interior, the use of firearms against people in moving vehicles has increased significantly since 2017. The mere fact that a person resists arrest or tries to escape without posing a danger to life is not a sufficient reason to use firearms.  

Class action

In 2021, Amnesty International France was part of a coalition of human rights groups which brought a class action lawsuit against the French state’s inaction over ethnic profiling and systemic racial discrimination. The case is ongoing.

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