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In France, there is no requirement for uniformed and plainclothes police officers to display their name or their administrative number or to show their police card upon request. Furthermore, the name and number of the police officer are not on the side of the card shown to the public [pic]. Some police officers are also using masks, hoods and scarfs to hide their identity, which is an infraction punished by a fine of up to €150 and a mandatory “citizenship class” (article 1 of Law 2010-1192).
On October 14th 2011, the tribunal of Paris ordered 7 French internet service providers to censor the website Copwatch Nord-Paris IDF on the ground that it was collecting and publishing photos of police officers. On November 4th 2011, the supreme court (Cour de cassation) ruled that TF1 journalists should have obtained from police officers, written consents to revealing their name in a documentary (case 10-24761), even though the journalists had already their written consents to filming.
Citizens filming police officers committing violent acts are automatically committing the infraction of complicity (art.222-33-3 of the penal code) which is punished by up to 20 years in prison in case of torture. If they publish the video, it is an offense that carry a maximum penalty of 5 years in jail and a €75,000 fine (art.222-33-3 of the penal code).
The practice for police officers to hide their identity and the French legal framework prohibit effectively today the identification of police officers in case of an allegation of violation of articles 2 or 3 of the Convention. It is in violation of article 45 of the European Code of Police Ethics (Rec(2001)10) that states : “Police personnel shall during intervention normally be in a position to give evidence of their (..) professional identity.”
CPT standards stated that suspects should be informed of “the identity (name and/or number)” of the police officers present in the interrogation room (I-37 p7). Amnesty International raised the difficulty to identify French police officers following allegations of violations of articles 2 or 3 of the Convention (Report EUR 21/006/2005 The effective impunity of law enforcement officers..2.9). It recommended that France “ensure that police officers are identifiable by members of the public at all times via individual identity number badges and that police officers be obliged to state their identity number to members of the public on demand.”(EUR 21/005/2008 2.3).
On November 30th 2011, the French Ombudsman published his opinion on the case 2009-112. On November 18th 2009, Mr. A a political science student alleged to have been pepper sprayed twice, racially insulted and threatened with assault by 2 police officers in riot gear. The police investigation was closed with no suspect interrogated on the ground that they couldn’t “identify” the police officers involved. The Ombudsman recommends in his opinion that police officers in riot gear should be identifiable.
On October 11th 2011, the 4th section of the ECHR stated that masked police officers “should be required to visibly display some anonymous means of identification – for example a number or letter” (Hristovi v. Bulgaria (42697/05) §92). It added the practice of police officers to mask their face confers them a “virtual impunity” making any investigation not “effective” (§93).
Therefore, the practice of French police officers to be non identifiable could result in violations of articles 2 or 3 of the Convention.
On August 27th 2005, Mr. Douet was driving home at night. His car was stopped by military police officers. 2 military police officers beat him up and arrested him. During his police custody, he was examined by a doctor (art.63-3 of the code of penal procedure) who found him “unfit for police custody“, due to his multiple wounds. Informed of the medical certificate, the prosecutor of the tribunal of Clermont-Ferrand ordered his release from police custody but didn’t open any investigation.
On September 5th 2005, Mr Douet pressed criminal charges for “aggravated assault” by filing a complain to the prosecutor. The prosecutor decided to close the investigation without charging any military police officers. On November 22th 2005, he pressed charges again by filing a complain to an investigative judge. On December 12th 2007, the investigative judge charged 2 military police officers.
On July 3rd 2008, the 2 military police officers were acquitted by the tribunal of Clermont-Ferrand. The prosecutor didn’t appeal the acquittal. On April 1st 2009, the appeal court of Riom rejected the civil claim for damages of Mr. Douet On July 8th 2009, the supreme court refused to hear his appeal.
On March 10th 2010, Mr. Douet filed an application to the ECHR on the ground that his beat up by military police officers was a violation of article 3 of the Convention. He added that the fact that he couldn’t appeal the acquittal of the 2 military police officers (art.497 of the code of penal procedure) was a violation of article 13. On September 29th 2011, the application was communicated to the agent of the French Republic with questions to be answered within 16 weeks. The applicant is represented by Me Jean-François Canis (Clermont-Ferrand) who didn’t answer our email for comments.