"In the context of the social movement against the pension reform in France, the freedoms of expression and assembly are being exercised under worrying conditions," the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, said today. "It is the responsibility of the authorities to allow the full enjoyment of these freedoms, by protecting peaceful demonstrators and journalists covering these demonstrations from police violence and from violent individuals operating within the demonstrations or in their margins."
"Violent incidents have taken place, some of which have targeted law enforcement officers. But sporadic violence from certain protesters and other punishable acts committed by others in the course of a demonstration cannot justify the excessive use of force by state agents. Such acts are not sufficient to deprive peaceful demonstrators of the enjoyment of the right to freedom of assembly either", the Commissioner recalls. "While a state may be entitled to use force, particularly to re-establish order, it should only be used as a last resort and in strict compliance with the requirements of necessity and proportionality, as the first obligation of all member states is to protect persons under their jurisdiction and their human rights."
The Commissioner is also concerned about the arrest and detention in police custody of some demonstrators and persons who were in the vicinity of the demonstrations for acts that do not justify such interferences with the right to liberty and security. "The release of many people without charges calls into question the necessity and proportionality of the measures taken against them," she notes. The Commissioner further stresses that "the failure to notify a demonstration is not in itself sufficient to justify an infringement of the demonstrators' right to freedom of peaceful assembly, nor a criminal sanction imposed on the participants in such a demonstration".
"Violence, wherever it comes from, cannot on any account be used as a means of solving a social and/or political crisis" says the Commissioner, regretting that people have been injured among demonstrators and law enforcement officers, as well as the revival of practices that had raised her concern in 2019, during the "yellow vests" movement. "The violence must stop. This is a precondition for the full enjoyment of the freedoms of expression and assembly, as well as for trust between the population and the police," the Commissioner concludes, while inviting the authorities to follow the recommendations made in her Memorandum on maintaining public order and freedom of assembly in the context of the “yellow vest” movement in France, as well as those issued this week by France’s Defender of Rights and National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.