France is a multiparty constitutional democracy. Voters directly elect the president of the republic to a five-year term. President Emmanuel Macron was elected in 2017. An electoral college elects members of the bicameral parliament’s upper house (Senate), and voters directly elect members of the lower house (National Assembly). Observers considered the 2017 presidential and separate National Assembly elections to have been free and fair.
Under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior, a civilian national police force and gendarmerie units maintain internal security. In conjunction with specific gendarmerie units used for military operations, the army is responsible for external security under the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: violence against journalists; criminal defamation laws; and societal acts of violence and threats of violence against Jews, migrants and members of ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity was not widespread.
Note: The country includes 11 overseas administrative divisions covered in this report. Five overseas territories, in French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and La Reunion, have the same political status as the 13 regions and 96 departments on the mainland. Five divisions are overseas “collectivities”: French Polynesia, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna. New Caledonia is a special overseas collectivity with a unique, semiautonomous status between that of an independent country and an overseas department. Citizens of these territories periodically elect deputies and senators to represent them in parliament, like the mainland regions and departments.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for rape is 15 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased. The government and NGOs provided shelters, counseling, and hotlines for rape survivors.
The law prohibits domestic violence against women and men, including spousal abuse, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for domestic violence against either gender varies from three years to 20 years in prison and a substantial fine.
In November 2019 the government’s Interministerial Agency for the Protection of Women against Violence and Combatting Human Trafficking published data showing that in 2018 approximately 213,000 women older than 18 declared they had been victims of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner or former partner. The agency reported that, over the same period, 94,000 women declared they had been victims of rape or attempted rape.
In December 2019 the National Observatory of Crime and Criminal Justice, an independent public body, and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) published a joint study showing that the number of persons who considered themselves victims of sexual violence committed by a person who did not live with them declined from 265,000 in 2017 to 185,000 in 2018. In 2017 there was a sharp increase in the number of estimated victims, so despite this decline the 2018 estimate reflected the second-highest level since the organizations began collecting data in 2008.
The government sponsored and funded programs for women victims of violence, including shelters, counseling, hotlines, free mobile phones, and a media campaign. The government also supported the work of 25 associations and NGOs dedicated to addressing domestic violence.
In September 2019 the government launched a national forum (grenelle) on domestic violence and brought together dozens of ministers, judges, police officers, victims’ relatives and feminist groups. Approximately 100 conferences took place across the country from September to November 2019. At the closure of the series of consultations in November 2019, the international day for the prevention of violence against women, then prime minister Philippe announced 43 measures aimed at preventing domestic violence against women, focusing on three areas: education (educating children on gender equality); protection (ensuring the immediate safety of victims and their children); and restriction (preventing further violence from the perpetrators). Among concrete measures announced were the creation of 1,000 new places in shelters for survivors and improved training for those who work with survivors of domestic violence. On November 25, the government reported that among the 43 measures announced, 23 of them had been implemented and that 1,000 places in shelters were available to women who had to get away from their homes.
On October 9, the High Council for Equality issued a report assessing the results of its commission on domestic violence. The high council noted persistent failures in caring for victims and called for a sixth interministerial plan, to include annual assessments of implementation. The report called for funding “at the level of need,” citing the estimated annual, societal cost of domestic violence of 3.6 billion euros ($4.3 billion). The high council issued 44 recommendations to “better protect women” and “put an end to the impunity of attackers.”
On July 21, parliament adopted a bill to protect domestic violence victims that authorizes doctors to waive medical confidentiality and report to police if a patient’s life is in “immediate danger.” The law reinforces harassment penalties and includes a 10-year prison sentence in cases where violence led to a victim’s suicide. The law also makes it possible to suspend parental authority in cases of domestic violence.
Starting on September 25, judges in five courts (Bobigny, Pontoise, Douai, Angouleme, and Aix-en-Provence) may order domestic violence offenders to wear electronic tracking bracelets. A GPS monitor alerts victims and police if known abusers come within a certain distance of their victims. Judges may order GPS trackers for men charged with assault, even if not yet convicted, provided sufficient grounds are met and the suspect accepts. If a suspect refuses, the judge may order prosecutors to open a criminal inquiry. Victims will be given a warning device, and alleged offenders must submit to restraining orders as defined by judges.
The government estimated more than 200,000 women were victims of marital violence each year, with many cases never reported. Official statistics showed that 149 women were killed in domestic violence cases in 2019, up from 121 in 2018. On November 16, the Ministry of Interior reported 142,310 individuals, both men and women, reported being victims of domestic violence in 2019, representing a 16 percent increase from the previous year. Women represented 88 percent of the victims, while men represented 12 percent. Three percent of the crimes reported concerned rape or sexual assault, with women being the victims in 98 percent of cases. On March 26, then interior minister Castaner stated reports of domestic violence across the country had jumped by more than 30 percent since the COVID-19 lockdown began on March 17. The sharp rise in the numbers prompted the government to establish temporary support centers outside supermarkets and provide pharmacists with guidelines to advise domestic abuse victims who sought help. The government agreed to pay for 20,000 overnight stays in hotels and shelters for survivors who left their partners during the lockdown. The feminist collective Nous Toutes reported that, as of September 29, 69 women had been killed by their partners or former partners since the beginning of the year.
On March 16, a Paris court found the State guilty of negligence for police failure to prevent a woman’s former partner from murdering her and ordered payment of 100,000 euros ($120,000) to her family. A woman whose sister and parents were murdered by the sister’s former partner asked a court to find the state responsible for their deaths, again citing failure to protect.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was practiced in the country, particularly within diaspora communities. Various laws prohibit FGM/C and include extraterritorial jurisdiction, allowing authorities to prosecute FGM/C, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, even if it is committed outside the country, and up to 30 years if the FGM/C leads to the death of the victim. The government provided reconstructive surgery and counseling for FGM/C victims.
According to the latest statistics available from the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination, between 40,000 and 60,000 FGM/C survivors resided in the country. The majority were recent immigrants from sub-Saharan African countries where FGM/C was prevalent and where the procedure was performed. According to the Group against Sexual Mutilation, 350 excisions were performed in the country each year. In June 2019 then junior minister of gender equality and the fight against discrimination, Marlene Schiappa, launched a national action plan to combat FGM/C, focusing on identifying risks, preventing FGM/C, and supporting female victims.
In 2019 the National Public Health Agency estimated the number of victims of FGM/C rose from 62,000 in the early 2000s to 124,355 in the middle 2010s.
On February 6, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilations, then junior minister of gender equality Schiappa announced the allocation of 60,000 euros ($72,000) to implement a key provision of the 2019 national action plan to eradicate FGM/C. The funds were to support initial trials of a system to study the prevalence of FGM/C in France.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits gender-based harassment of both men and women in the workplace. Sexual harassment is defined as “subjecting an individual to repeated acts, comments, or any other conduct of a sexual nature that are detrimental to a person’s dignity because of their degrading or humiliating character, thereby creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.” The government enforced the law.
The law provides for on-the-spot fines for persons who sexually harass others on the street (including wolf whistling), and substantial fines if there are aggravating circumstances. The law covers sexual or sexist comments and behavior that is degrading, humiliating, intimidating, hostile, or offensive and provides for increased sanctions for cyberstalking and prohibits taking pictures or videos under someone’s clothes without consent, which is punishable by up to one year in prison and a substantial fine. On October 13, Junior Minister for Citizenship Schiappa reported that authorities fined 2,005 men for harassing women in public spaces since the introduction of the law in 2018, including 694 during the year.
On May 20, a labor court convicted National Assembly member Stephane Trompille of sexual harassment of his female staffer and ordered him to pay a substantial amount in damages. In its ruling, the court specified that “under the guise of sexist and crude jokes,” Stephane Trompille adopted “conduct detrimental to the health” of the staffer, the only woman on the team, who then suffered “health consequences.”
On May 28, then gender equality minister Marlene Schiappa unveiled a plan to fast-track court proceedings for street sex offenders and a campaign to keep women safe on the streets. The measures are part of a “cat-calling law,” which already allows for on-the-spot fines. The new provisions tighten enforcement for street harassment against women, allowing prosecutors to hear cases immediately. The plan, backed by the UN, allows women who feel in danger “to know where they can find refuge if there are no police officers at hand to take their statement.” Refuge shelters can be bars, restaurants, pharmacies, or any business willing to take part in the program. Women will be able to recognize participating locations by a label displayed outside the business.
On September 24, a young man in Mulhouse received a two-month suspended jail sentence under the fast-track procedure for harassing two women, chastising them for their choice of attire. The man was ordered to perform 75 hours of community service and attend citizenship classes.
According to the latest statistics released by the Interior Ministry in January 2019, reported cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence surged in 2018, with 28,900 complaints registered by police, up 20 percent over the previous year.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, and violence and had both the information and means to do so. There was easy access to contraception and skilled attendance during childbirth. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based job discrimination and harassment of subordinates by superiors, but this prohibition does not apply to relationships between peers. The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, employment, property, nationality, and inheritance laws, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property in line with the Department’s commitments under the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Diversity, the Fight against Discrimination and Equal Opportunities is responsible for protecting the legal rights of women. The constitution and law provide for equal access to professional and social positions, and the government generally enforced the laws.
There was discrimination against women with respect to employment and occupation, and women were underrepresented in most levels of government leadership.
NGO and government observers reported numerous anti-Semitic incidents, including physical and verbal assaults on individuals and attacks on synagogues, cemeteries, and memorials, particularly in the Alsace-Lorraine region. The number of anti-Semitic acts increased by 27 percent (687 acts total) in 2019, according to government statistics, while the number of violent attacks against individuals decreased by 44 percent in 2019.
According to the latest statistics released by the Defense Ministry in August, the government deployed 7,000 military personnel throughout the country to patrol sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship. This number could go up to 10,000 personnel at times of high threat. Some Jewish leaders requested the government also provide static armed guards at Jewish places of worship.
Many anti-Semitic threats of violence singled out public spaces and figures. A 38-year-old man was charged for extortion with aggravated circumstances following an August 26 anti-Semitic incident in Strasbourg. A young artist who was hired by the city to decorate a public building was assaulted by a group of individuals for wearing a T-shirt with “Israel” printed on it. After ordering the artist to leave the site, one of the assailants added, “Jews and bitches forbidden” graffiti on the sidewalk. Both the victim and a local Jewish association filed a complaint.
On August 6, a man was attacked by two persons who shouted anti-Semitic insults, stole his watch, and beat him unconscious in the hallway of his parents’ apartment building in Paris. Justice Minister Dupond-Moretti tweeted, “I know the immense emotion that besets the entire Jewish community. It is the emotion of the whole nation and of course mine.” Two men were charged with violent theft motivated by religious reasons and placed in pretrial detention on August 28.
Anti-Semitic vandalism targeted Jewish sites, including Holocaust memorials and cemeteries. On January 5, a Jewish cemetery was vandalized in Bayonne, resulting in damage to several headstones, vaults, and a memorial to a young child deported to Auschwitz during World War II. The cemetery, the oldest of its kind in the country, contained Jewish burial sites dating to the late-17th century. The president of the Bayonne/Biarritz Jewish community condemned the desecrations, noting that “when it comes to attacking the dead, I don’t think there is anything more cowardly.”
On May 18, the hashtag #sijetaitunjuif (If I were a Jew) trended on Twitter France before the company took it down following condemnation by French officials and Jewish and antihate organizations. The hashtag originated with six coordinated, individual users and was then amplified by others who added anti-Semitic smears and references to the Holocaust. Twitter France took the hashtag off its list of trending topics for violating the company’s hate-speech rules.
On August 3, Facebook confirmed it had banned the notorious comedian Dieudonne M’Bala from its platforms for repeatedly violating its policies by posting anti-Semitic comments and for “organized hatred.” Dieudonne was also banned from YouTube in June. He had more than one million followers on Facebook and 36,000 on Instagram before being banned from both platforms. Dieudonne has been convicted multiple times for hate speech, including anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, his loyal followers continued to defend his right to free speech and continued to attend his “shows.” During the COVID-19 second wave, on October 10, he illegally organized a performance before 200-300 persons in Strasbourg.