Rights groups take French racial profiling case to top body

Of note:

After months of government silence, leading rights organizations and grassroots groups took France’s first class-action lawsuit targeting the nation’s powerful police machine to the highest administrative authority Thursday, to fix what they contend is a culture of systemic discrimination in identity checks.

The 220-page file, chock full of examples of racial profiling by French police, was being delivered Thursday to the Council of State, the ultimate arbiter on the use of power by authorities. It was compiled by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Justice Initiative and three grassroots organizations that work with youth.

The NGOs allege that French police target Black people and people of Arab descent in choosing who to stop and check. Police officers who corroborate such accounts are among people cited in the file.

The groups behind the lawsuit contend the practice is rooted in a culture of systemic discrimination within the police with far-reaching consequences for people of .

“It’s a humiliating experience. You’re in the street, you’re frisked, patted down and questioned in front of everyone,” said Issa Coulibaly, head of Pazapas, a youth association in eastern Paris involved in the suit.

Instead of money for victims, the suit seeks deep reforms within law enforcement to ensure an end to racial profiling, including a change in a penal code that currently gives officers carte blanche to check IDs — with no trace that they have done so. Among other things, they also want an independent mechanism to lodge complaints and training for police officers.

The groups took the case to the Council of State after the government failed to meet a four-month deadline to respond to the opening salvo in the class-action suit.

The prime minister’s office and the justice and interior ministries were initially served notice of the suit in late January — the first step in a two-stage process in a French class-action case. The law gave them four months to open talks with the NGOs on how to meet their demands for change within the police, before the matter could go before a court.

Those who brought the action contend it is in the interest of authorities, including law enforcement, to improve the notoriously poor relationship between police and youth in some .

Antoine Lyon-Caen, the lead lawyer in the case, said it is the first time a class-action suit against the French state is going before the Council of State. He called the government silence “humiliating” for racial profiling victims.

“Lots of people suffer from these practices and the government didn’t even feel a need to say something,” he said in an interview.

Coulibaly said the official silence is in keeping with “institutional denial” of the problem. But he said this next legal step is a new dose of hope for change.

Children as young as 10 can be checked if they are Black or perceived as of Arab descent, said Coulibaly, a 41-year-old Black man who said he was subjected to numerous undue ID checks starting at the age of 14.

“It’s a reality for all working class and a reality for the poor and where there are people of immigrant origin,” he said.

French courts have found the state guilty of racial profiling in identity checks in the past, most recently in June when a Paris appeals court ruled that discrimination was behind police ID checks on three high school students of at a train station in 2017. The court convicted the French state of a “grave fault” and ordered reparations paid.

“The ID check is really the door for lots of things that can be very destructive in the life of a person,” Coulibaly said. “It can degenerate. After a 50th check in your life, the 10th in a week or the third check in a day, especially when you’re young, you have a tendency to react, to react badly.”

The Council of State has the power to order the French state to end such practices and make the requested changes, Lyon-Caen said. The law requires a decision in a “reasonable” time, but that could be a year or more, he said, noting that the unprecedent case takes the Council of State into uncharted territory.

Source: Rights groups take French racial profiling case to top body

Class-action lawsuit claims French police discriminate often


In a first for France, six nongovernmental organizations launched a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the French government for alleged systemic discrimination by police officers carrying out identity checks.

The organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, contend that French police use racial profiling in ID checks, targeting Black people and people of Arab descent.

They were serving Prime Minister Jean Castex and France’s interior and justice ministers with formal legal notice of demands for concrete steps and deep law enforcement reforms to ensure that racial profiling does not determine who gets stopped by police.

The organizations, which also include the Open Society Justice Initiative and three French grassroots groups, plan to spell out the legal initiative at a news conference in Paris.

The issue of racial profiling by French police has been debated for years, including but not only the practice of officers performing identity checks on young people who are often Black or of Arab descent and live in impoverished housing projects.

Serving notice is the obligatory first step in a two-stage lawsuit process. The law gives French authorities four months to talk with the NGOs about meeting their demands. If the parties behind the lawsuit are left unsatisfied after that time, the case will go to court, according to one of the lawyers, Slim Ben Achour.

It’s the first class-action discrimination lawsuit based on or supposed ethnic origins in France. The NGO’s are employing a little-used 2016 French law that allows associations to take such a legal move.

“It’s revolutionary, because we’re going to speak for hundreds of thousands, even a million people.” Ben Achour told The Associated Press in a phone interview. The NGOs are pursuing the class action on behalf of racial minorities who are mostly second- or third-generation French citizens.

“The group is brown and Black,” Ben Achour said.

The four-month period for reaching a settlement could be prolonged if the talks are making progress, but if not, the NGOs will go to court, he said.

The abuse of identity checks has served for many in France as emblematic of broader alleged racism within police ranks, with critics claiming that misconduct has been left unchecked or whitewashed by authorities.

Video of a recent incident posted online drew a response from President Emmanuel Macron, who called racial profiling “unbearable.” Police representatives say officers themselves feel under attack when they show up in suburban housing projects. During a spate of confrontational incidents, officers became trapped and had fireworks and other objects thrown at them.

The NGOs are seeking reforms rather than monetary damages, especially changes in the law governing identity checks. The organizations argue the law is too broad and allows for no police accountability because the actions of officers involved cannot be traced, while the stopped individuals are left humiliated and sometimes angry.

Among other demands, the organizations want an end to the longstanding practice of gauging police performance by numbers of tickets issued or arrests made, arguing that the benchmarks can encourage baseless identity checks.

The lawsuit features some 50 witnesses, both police officers and people subjected to abusive checks, whose accounts are excerpted in the letters of notice. The NGO’s cite one unnamed person who spoke of undergoing multiple police checks every day for years.

A police officer posted in a tough Paris suburb who is not connected with the case told the AP that he is often subjected to ID checks when he is wearing civilian clothes.

“When I’m not in uniform, I’m a person of ,” said the officer, who asked to remain anonymous in keeping with police rules and due to the sensitive nature of the topic. Police need a legal basis for their actions, “but 80% of the time they do checks (based on) heads” — meaning how a person looks.

Omer Mas Capitolin, the head of Community House for Supportive Development, a grassroots NGO taking part in the legal action, called it a “mechanical reflex” for French police to stop non-whites, a practice he said is damaging to the person being checked and ultimately to relations between officers and the members of the public they are expected to protect.

“When you’re always checked, it lowers your self-esteem,” and you become a “second-class citizen,” Mas Capitolin said. The “victims are afraid to file complaints in this country even if they know what happened isn’t normal,” he said, because they fear fallout from police.

He credited the case of George Floyd, the Black American whose died last year in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, with raising consciences and becoming a catalyst for change in France.

However, the NGOs make clear that they are not accusing individual police of being racist because “they act within a system that allowed these practices to spread and become installed,” the groups said in a joint document.

“It’s so much in the culture. They don’t ever think there’s a problem,” said Ben Achour, the lawyer.

Source: Class-action lawsuit claims French police discriminate often

Palantir Admits to Helping ICE Deport Immigrants While Trying to Prove It Doesn’t

Yet more on Palantir:

Surveillance company Palantir has revealed more details about how it contributes to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation operations in a clumsy attempt to prove that it does no such thing.

On Monday, Amnesty International released a briefing laying out how Palantir’s failure to “conduct human rights due diligence” contributed to human rights abuses by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against migrants and asylum-seekers. The briefing followed a letter sent by Amnesty to Palantir earlier in the month that asked the company to clarify its role in aiding ICE’s operations and if it has plans to mitigate harms caused by the agencies that Palantir’s technology empowers.

“Palantir touts its ethical commitments, saying it will never work with regimes that abuse human rights abroad,” said Michael Kleinman, Director of Amnesty International’s Silicon Valley Initiative. “This is deeply ironic, given the company’s willingness stateside to work directly with ICE, which has used its technology to execute harmful policies that target migrants and asylum-seekers.”

Palantir responded to Amnesty International with a letter of its own—a master class in hair-splitting that hit familiar points, used old arguments that have been dismissed, and accidentally admitted Palantir’s technology is used for deportations.

For years, Palantir has been quick to volunteer that it has no contracts with Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), an ICE subdivision that “identifies and apprehends removable aliens, detains these individuals when necessary and removes illegal aliens from the United States” as its primary mission. Instead, Palantir enters contracts with the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) subdivision of ICE. This subdivision, Palantir maintains, uses the surveillance company’s technology primarily for the purpose of “combating transnational crime such as money laundering, transnational gang activity, child exploitation, human smuggling, terrorist threats” and criminal activity in general.

While this may be true, the letter goes on to explain that HSI in fact conducts “workplace law enforcement” using Palantir’s technology. This enforcement includes compliance investigations and audits “confirming employer completion of I-9 forms documenting the legal status of its employees.” In other words, Palantir’s services are instrumental in ICE’s activities identifying undocumented people for detainment and deportation, even if, as it claims, it does not work with ERO directly.

As Palantir puts it: “…to be clear: Palantir’s software is not used as part of any deportation activities conducted by ERO as a consequence of worksite operations involving HSI.”

Even this admission, which tracks with Palantir CEO Alex Karp’s previous comments at Davos, does not describe the full scope of how Palantir contributes to ICE’s deportation operations. It has been clear since 2017 that the case management software Palantir provided to HSI has been widely available to ICE agents, including ERO officials, and deemed “mission critical” to the agency as a whole.

“HSI and ERO personnel use the information in ICM [Investigative Case Management system] to document and inform their criminal investigative activities and to support the criminal prosecutions arising from those investigations,” a 2016 Homeland Security disclosure reported on by The Intercept states. “ERO also uses ICM data to inform its civil cases.”

For years, HSI head Derek Benner has made targeting “illegal employment” a central part of the agency’s mission. In 2018, ICE made nearly ten times as many immigration arrests at workplaces than the previous year because of Benner’s belief that such targeting reduced “the continuum of crime that illegal labor facilitates, from the human smuggling networks that facilitate illegal border crossings to the associated collateral crimes, like identity theft, document and benefit fraud and worker exploitation.”

Under Trump, ICE’s workplace raids have not only quadrupled, but grown even larger as Palantir’s technology has empowered the agency to carry out operations like the series of Mississippi raids that arrested 680 people in one day—an operation confirmed last year to have used Palantir’s technology. Palantir’s technology has also been used to target, detain, and deport unaccompanied children and their families.

It is hard to understand why Palantir has continued to pretend that it doesn’t power deportation operations even in the face of a mountain of evidence, and even when it admits that HSI’s operations are part of the deportation pipeline. It may make more sense, however, in light of its S-1 filing documents, which admit that negative media coverage is a significant investment risk factor.

The hits are unlikely to stop coming, as a recent NYMag report suggests Palantir’s core value proposition—”a crystal ball you gaze into for answers”—may be a wild exaggeration using “smoke and mirrors” to obtain juicy government contracts and a dazzling $22 billion valuation ahead of its September 30 direct listing on the stock market.

As the company becomes public, the scrutiny and resistance it will face is likely to reveal a company that has branded itself as indispensable to the defense of liberalism, but in reality is busy pursuing a techno-nationalist project well-versed in the profitable art of constructing borders and policing them—and of terrorizing non-white migrants, asylum-seekers, foreigners, and citizens on either side of them.

Palantir did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.

Source: Palantir Admits to Helping ICE Deport Immigrants While Trying to Prove It Doesn’t

UK: Government faces high court challenge over ‘utterly shameful’ £1000 child citizenship fee

As it should. Cost recovery is justifiable (administrative cost), making of government service a money-making enterprise is not:

The Home Office is set to face a High Court challenge over the £1,012 fee it charges to register a child as a British citizen, after a judicial review of the charge was brought by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens.

Amnesty International UK has been supporting the litigation to challenge the profit-making element of the fee, calling for an immediate end to the Government’s “shameless profiteering” off children’s rights. Mishcon de Reya are providing pro bono support to the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens on the case.

With the current administrative processing cost at only £372 per application, a profit of £640 is made by the Home Office for the registration of each child.

The landmark case is being brought by two children, known as A and O, and will be heard in the High Court at a three-day hearing on 26-28 November. If successful, the final ruling could have implications for an estimated 120,000 people in the UK.

In a statement submitted as part of the proceedings, O, aged 12, says:

“I was born in England in 2007. I have never travelled to another country. I don’t want to tell my friends that I am not British like them because I’m scared. I worry that if my friends find out, they won’t understand that I really am British like them.

“I enjoy playing netball for my school team. My team have been abroad twice for netball tournaments, but I could not travel because I do not have my British passport.

“I was born here and feel all of me is British. This is my home. I’ve got nowhere else but here.”

Solange Valdez-Symonds, Director at the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, said:

“Tens of thousands of children who were born in this country are being charged exorbitant fees to register their citizenship rights. The futures of these children are slowly and silently being chipped away. Such barefaced profiteering from children by the Home Office is utterly shameful.

“Children’s rights are not for sale. We hope the High Court challenge will rightly bring an end to this injustice.”

Campaigners call on UK Government to stop blocking children’s rights

Ahead of tomorrow’s hearing, campaigners from Amnesty UK’s Children Human Rights Network will hand in 30,000-strong petition to Home Office calling for immediate end to the fee.

The campaigners will be building a wall outside the Home Office with messages of support from activists across the UK [pictures available].

They will be joined by some of the children affected by the profiteering fee, including 16-year-old Daniel, who came to this country with his mother when he was three years-old and was granted his British citizenship last year, he said:

“My mother saved what she could but sometimes she didn’t eat properly so she could do this. At the time we had some support from the council but my mother was not then permitted to work except unpaid as a volunteer with a charity. It has been really difficult for my mother.”

Judicial review

The judicial review claim asks the Home Office to:

i) Set the registration fee at no more than the administrative cost;

ii) introduce a fee waiver for children who cannot afford the fee; and

iii) provide a fee exemption for children in local authority care.

Source: UK: Government faces high court challenge over ‘utterly shameful’ £1000 child citizenship fee

Canada deports people to wars, repressive regimes | Toronto Star

Does appear to be some policy incoherence in deporting people to countries with a deportation moratorium:

“The prevailing human rights situation is so grave in some of these countries, the very real possibility that deportees would be at risk would be a very high one,” said Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, after viewing the statistics.

“There are countries on this list where there is widespread insecurity and armed conflict. We’ve got Somalia on the list and Syria,” Neve said. “There are other countries on this list where there are deeply entrenched patterns of widespread repression. Eritrea would be a good example. And there are countries where people who have been outside the country and are being sent back are viewed with suspicion, like North Korea.”

Neve says Amnesty International has nothing against deportations in general and points out that international law allows deportations of refugee claimants if they’ve had a fair hearing and can safely return to their country. But some of the countries people are being deported to give reason to worry.

“The government reserves the right to carry out deportations if a person has a criminal record,” said Neve. “That doesn’t mean that those deportations are in conformity with international law because there are some human rights protections that are absolute.

”Protection from torture, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial execution are all examples of uninfringeable human rights, Neve said.

“If you’re going to be gunned down by a death squad or if you’re going to be abducted by a secret police unit and disappear into a prison system without ever going through any kind of legal process — international law includes the protection against being deported to face that risk,” he said.

Canada deports people to wars, repressive regimes | Toronto Star.

Values Charter: Sovereignists, Amnesty Intl, France

Quiet day. Reflecting the divisions among the sovereignists, those in favour of the Charter are planning their strategy, and aim a cheap shot at Gérard Bouchard:

Des souverainistes pro-Charte se rassemblent à Montréal | Hugo Pilon-Larose | Politique québécoise.

Meanwhile, back to reality with Amnesty International’s public position noting that the proposed Charter limits the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion:

Amnesty International slams Quebec charter for limiting ‘fundamental rights’

And lastly, a good analysis in the Globe about France’s experience with its laicisme approach, including the latest Charter of Secularism at school. The original decision to ban the veil at government schools was subject of considerable discussion and reflection; and was grounded in fears that there was a fair amount of compulsion for teenage girls to wear the hijab (not voluntary). But as these measures are imposed, people opt-out of the government schools, undermining the policy objective of inclusion.

How the French promotion of secularism offers a cautionary lesson for Quebec