In November, after Islamic State terrorists slaughtered 130 people in Paris, French President Francois Hollande wasted no time declaring a national state of emergency. It allowed security forces to raid homes without warrants, impose curfews, and prevent large gatherings.
A week later, with the country still on edge, French lawmakers agreed to extend the state of emergency for three months, and reformed the law to allow police to search computers found in raids and easily place suspects under house arrest.
But Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned Friday that the mandate could last until the Islamic State is defeated. And that could be for years to come.
In an interview with the BBC at the Davos World Economic Forum, Valls said the war against the Islamic State could last for an entire generation, and that emergency measures could remain in place “as long as is necessary” and “until we can get rid of Daesh” — using an acronym for the extremist group.
“As long as the threat is there we must use all means at our disposal,” he said.
The current measures will expire in February, and French lawmakers will need to decide in coming days whether or not they will again extend the state of emergency — the first since the Algerian War. The ability to launch raids without warrants has paved the way for Hollande to take a tougher stance on terrorism after the country’s right-wing political parties accused the socialist leader of being weak on national security issues.
One reform that has been floated would strip dual citizens convicted of terrorism of their French citizenship.
Although many French citizens have favored the state of emergency, United Nations experts have urged Paris to repeal the measures unless they are going to be used specifically to target terrorists. Their concern was sparked by the fact environmental activists have also been put under house arrest, although they do not appear to be a threat to national security.
“While exceptional measures may be required under exceptional circumstances, this does not relieve the authorities from demonstrating that these are applied solely for the purposes for which they were prescribed, and are directly related to the specific objective that inspired them,” the group of experts wrote to the French government this week.
And last week, Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks warned that if extended for too long, the emergency laws could threaten democracy and encourage ethnic profiling.
“There is a risk that these measures could sap the system of democratic control,” he said.
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