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HRW: France's Counterterrorism Policies Violate Rights


Human Rights Watch says France's legal framework for fighting terrorism undermines international fair trial standards.

In a report released Wednesday, the U.S.-based rights group criticized France's counterterrorism policies as too broad - in particular its practice of arresting and prosecuting people believed to be associated with a terrorist undertaking. The group said the country uses the "guilty-by-association" offense to arrest large numbers of people based on minimal evidence.

Human Rights Watch also criticized what it called "the lack of appropriate safeguards" within France's criminal justice system, saying it puts the country on "the wrong side" of human rights law.

The group cited allegations that terrorism suspects are delayed access to a lawyer, detained for long periods before they go to trial, and subjected to oppressive questioning techniques and physical abuse.

The report's author, Judith Sunderland, said France is too eager to set aside rights for the sake of efficiency.

She argued that the criminal justice system is the right way to fight terrorism, but added that "prosecuting people because of who they know and what they think sacrifices basic rights and that is wrong in principle and dangerous in practice."

Human Rights Watch said interviews with French counterterrorism officials, terrorism suspects and defense lawyers suggest France's approach risks alienating Muslims and eroding public trust in law enforcement and security officials.

Its report outlines recommendations for the French government, including requiring proof suspects intended to participate in a terror plot and allowing access to a lawyer from the start of detentions.

The group is set to discuss its findings today at the Third World Forum on Human Rights in France.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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