The French territory has been under the state of emergency since the end of 2015, being extended six times as the terrorism threat remained strong. The government underlines that “the state of emergency has helped intelligence agencies to thwart more than 30 attacks”. Hence, the state of emergency has increased the various terrorism investigations and the use of experts on the field. As a necessity to not only preserve freedom and democracy in the country but also ensure citizen’s security, the French government has decided to vote on a new anti-terrorism bill.
The new bill was voted on October in the lower house with 415 deputies in favor and 127 against and a week later it was adopted as well by the Senate. The law is implemented since November 1st 2017, date which corresponds to the last day of the state of emergency which was declared on November 13, 2015 after the attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis (where 130 people were killed and 680 people wounded). The core of the bill contains the strengthening of the administrative authority such as prefects or the Ministry of Interior to assign someone, organize searches or close a place of worship without the consent of the judiciary and focused on terrorism prevention.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in a speech to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, reminded the audience that “[France is] fighting terrorism with determination and […] will continue to do so within the bounds of the law and with the oversight of judges”. President Macron sends a clear message to jihadist groups targeting France and its core values. His inheritence from the previous presidential administration of a high national security priority case, will certainly be a tough, but necessary task.
The law is quite often criticized by human rights groups as being at the limit of freedom of rights. Bénédicte Jeannerod, France’s director for Human Rights Watch points out that “France had been progressively ‘’weakening” judicial oversight in its counter-terrorism efforts, and “the normalisation of emergency powers crosses a new line”. Two UN experts also expressed their concern on this law, arguing that it might led to “discriminatory repercussions”. In fact, the Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights in the context of countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, sent “a statement calling on France to honour its international human rights commitments and obligations while debating the new draft law”. With the implication of such actors, France will surely be under observation by UN experts, ensuring no boundaries are crossed.
Previous laws and measures against terrorism enabled to build the foundations for a more effective assessment and organization of national security on the matter. For instance, under the 2006 Anti-Terrorism Act, “persons or entities that commit or attempt to commit terrorist acts may have their assets frozen by order of the Minister of the Economy and Finance”. Also, the 2012 Act on security and action against terrorism “steps up sanctions against persons who are guilty of justification of or incitement to terrorism on the internet”. Both of these measures are closely linked to other measures and resolutions voted in the EU and in at the United Nations, reinforcing multilateral cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
The public is welcoming quite well the arrival of this new law, with the hope that it will prevent from other tragic attacks on the French soil. In a very complicated national security context, France will have to monitor its duty to protect in accordance with its democracy.