In general, France provides reasonable protection of its citizens’ human rights. There are, however, areas where human rights are abused. Despite extensive constitutional and statutory safeguards, the French police are frequently guilty of human rights abuses. As recently as 1998, for instance, there were reports of the excessive use of force by police officers against immigrants, which, in some cases, resulted in death. There were also reports of abuses by prison guards against prisoners. In July 1997, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed disappointment and concern regarding the excessive use of force by the police. In addition, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture criticized the mistreatment and poor conditions of detainees in police stations. Persons of North African and African origins filed most of the complaints of alleged police abuse. In January 1998, a draft law was introduced to create the Superior Council on Ethics and Security to oversee the implementation of codes by the local police and federal police. The inadequacy of cells in police stations is well documented. In many cases the cells lack adequate light, sleeping space, blankets, and meals. Regular prison conditions usually exceed minimum international standards, although cases of brutality—particularly against African prisoners—are common.
The judiciary is able to provide citizens with fair and efficient trials. Nevertheless, the judicial system has often been criticized for not being able to process cases quickly. Some suspects spend many years in prison before their trials. According to a recent report by the International Observer of Prisons, about 40 percent of the inmates are awaiting trial. The government grants asylum to those who make formal request for such status. However, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has expressed its concern about the long delays in clearing such procedures in airport waiting areas. Observers do not usually have access to those areas. Women are still underrepresented in politics. However, in order to increase women’s participation in politics, a few parties have established specific quotas in electoral lists. Rape represents a serious problem. There were 6,540 reported cases of rape or sexual assault on women in 1995, and more than 15,700 cases of wife beating in 1993. The government provides shelters, assistance, and hotlines for battered women. In addition, sixty such private associations operate in the country. There have also been cases of foreign women forced into prostitution after being promised attractive jobs. And, in recent years, police discovered a Paris-based network that was forcing African women into prostitution. Women are still paid 22.5 percent less than men for equal employment. Recent statistics also show that 80 percent of persons earning less than $650 per month are female. Despite very strict laws against child abuse, there were 20,000 cases in 1995, 5,500 of which involved sexual abuse. The government provides counseling, financial aid, foster homes, and orphanages to abused children. Special branches of the police are assigned to deal with child abuse. There are also many private organizations helping minors seeking justice in cases of mistreatment by parents.
In 1991, a new law was issued requiring new buildings and public transportation to be accessible to people with disabilities. Despite this law, however, most buildings and public means of transportation are not yet accessible to disabled people. There are some cases of attacks against ethnic minorities. The reported cases usually involve skinheads and those affiliated with right-wing political groups. The number of attacks against minorities has been on the decrease in recent years. On the other hand, many companies continue to deny employment to North Africans. A new law passed in 1997 grants citizenship to all children born in France.
French law grants freedom of association to all workers. Although they represent less than 10 percent of all workers, unions have considerable political and economic influence, and play a legal role in the administration of social institutions. The freedom to strike is granted to all workers, but can be denied whenever it threatens public safety. Most strikes usually affect state-owned companies. The law prohibits children under the age of sixteen from being employed. In addition, minors under the age of eighteen are forbidden from working at difficult jobs or from working between 10:00 P.M. and 5:00 A.M.