France is a multiparty constitutional democracy. Voters directly elect the president of the republic to a five-year term. They elected Emmanuel Macron to that position 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 parliamentary (Senate and 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.
Significant human rights issues included: 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 (LGBTI) 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 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the same antidefamation and hate speech laws that limited freedom of expression.
The law provides protection to journalists who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.
Violence and Harassment: In April the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) released its annual report that noted growing hatred directed at reporters in the country and an “unprecedented” level of violence from both protesters and riot police directed at journalists during Yellow Vest protests. RSF reported dozens of cases of police violence and excessive firing of flash-ball rounds at reporters.
Secretary general of RSF Christophe Deloire met with President Macron on May 3 to discuss the issue, and with Interior Minister Castaner on June 18. According to Deloire, President Macron committed to following the issue closely. Following the Castaner meeting, RSF described the exchange as frank and constructive and said Castaner promised to consider RSF’s proposals to limit police violence against journalists. Nonetheless, on December 20, RSF filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor’s office related to police violence during the Yellow Vest demonstrations between November 2018 and May 2019.
Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, although it does not carry the possibility of imprisonment as punishment. The law distinguishes between defamation, which consists of the accusation of a particular fact, and insult, which does not.
National Security: The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns about police and prosecutors questioning reporters on national security grounds. On May 23, police summoned a senior correspondent for Le Monde newspaper who had been reporting extensively on a corruption scandal within the Macron government centered on the misconduct of a former security aide, Alexandre Benalla. The reporter, Ariane Chemin, was brought for questioning for having published the name of a former member of the special forces, a charge which stemmed from the antiterrorism law.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The law permits the government to cancel and seize passports and identification cards of French nationals in some circumstances, such as when there are serious reasons to believe that they plan to travel abroad to join a terrorist group or engage in terrorist activities.
In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Local authorities of Grande-Synthe, in the north of France, and eight local associations approached the Council of State with concerns about the migrants’ living conditions, the “inaction” of the state, and the “violation of fundamental rights” at a gymnasium in the commune of Grande-Synthe housing hundreds of migrants in conditions NGOs described as a violation of fundamental rights. On June 21, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, ordered authorities to install water points, showers, and toilets in the gymnasium. The Council of State gave regional authorities eight days to install “sufficient” resources and to provide some 700 migrants with information, in their own languages, about their rights. The Council ruled that the state had been deficient in executing its responsibility to ensure “the right not to be submitted to inhuman or degrading treatment.” Regional authorities cooperated with the ruling. In September police moved approximately 1,000 persons from the gymnasium and the surrounding tent settlement to emergency shelters elsewhere in northern France. NGOs, including Doctors of the World and Care4Calais, criticized the lack of transparency on where migrants were being taken and described the evictions as a “show of institutional violence.”
Beginning November 6, the government began a push to evacuate migrant camps before the end of the year and resettle or relocate inhabitants “in line with government regulations.” From November 6 to December 4, police evacuated at least four migrant camps housing an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 migrants around the country. On November 28, a group of 20 NGOs, including Doctors without Borders and the human rights organization La Cimade, issued a statement criticizing the “infernal cycle of camps, evacuations, and police harassment” and the continuation of evacuations without providing viable long-term housing solutions. Within 48 hours of one evacuation, the group noted “the return to the street of dozens of people” who did not “meet the required administrative criteria” for more permanent housing.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, returning refugees, and other persons of concern.
Refoulement: Amnesty International France and La Cimade criticized the country for its deportation of migrants to Afghanistan, stating on October 25 that the level of attacks on civilians in Afghanistan meant “forced deportations of Afghans are illegal and violate the principle of nonrefoulement.” On September 9, InfoMigrants news organization reported the Ministry of Interior confirmed 11 deportations to Afghanistan in 2018, the same number as in the previous year. Deportations to Afghanistan continued during the year.
Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance. Applications for asylum must be made on French territory or at a French border-crossing point. Asylum seekers may request from a French embassy or consulate a special visa for the purpose of seeking asylum in France. After arrival in France, the visa holder must follow the same procedure as other asylum seekers in France; however, the visa holder is authorized to work while his or her asylum application is processed and evaluated, unlike other applicants. Asylum seekers may appeal decisions of the OFPRA to the National Court on Asylum Law.
In 2018 parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shorten from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extend from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The new law extends the duration of residence permits for subsidiary and stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting LGBTI persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence. By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the child protection system.
OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture.
In a report published June 5, Amnesty International accused authorities of harassing, intimidating, and assaulting people offering aid to migrants in the north of France in a deliberate attempt to discourage their work. The report, Targeting Solidarity, noted that security forces engaged in a deliberate attempt “to curtail acts of solidarity” offered by activists to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Authorities harassed, intimidated, and even violently assaulted people offering humanitarian aid and other support.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary residence status that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Kosovo, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Senegal, and Serbia.
Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners who could not be deported immediately. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days, except in cases related to terrorism. There were 24 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.
On June 4, six refugee and migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, Cimade, Ordre de Malte, and Solidarite Mayotte) released a joint annual report that estimated 45,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2018, representing a slight decrease from 47,000 in 2017.
According to the associations’ annual report, the government detained 1,429 children. The report noted, however, that in 86 percent of the cases, the duration of detentions did not exceed 48 hours. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the provision of the 2018 asylum and immigration bill that doubled the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days.
On September 17, authorities cleared more than 800 migrants, mainly Iraqi Kurds, from a makeshift camp near the northern port of Dunkirk, after the Lille administrative court ruled on September 4 it had become a health and security hazard. A total of 811 persons, including 506 young men and 58 unaccompanied minors, were cleared from the gym and makeshift camp. They were resettled in public facilities elsewhere in the country while they waited for the government to register and review their eligibility for asylum.
Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2018 the government voluntarily repatriated 10,678 undocumented migrants, including 2,709 minors, to their countries of origin. On September 6, the Ministry of the Interior announced a temporary increase of financial return aid to foreigners (except those from the EU or visa-exempt countries) from 650 euros ($715) to 1,850 euros ($2,035).
Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and can extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2018, the most recent year for which information was available.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were some reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: On October 18, Patrick Balkany, mayor of the Parisian suburb Levallois-Perret, and his wife Isabelle, deputy mayor, received prison sentences for money laundering of five and four years, respectively. The couple, both 71, were also barred from holding public office for 10 years. The court dropped corruption charges for lack of evidence. The sentence came a month after their conviction on tax fraud charges, for which Patrick Balkany received a four-year sentence and Isabelle a three-year sentence, in addition to a 10-year bar on holding elected office. The pair were charged with hiding two luxury villas and other assets from the tax authorities and evading around four million euros ($4.4 million) in taxes.
Financial Disclosure: The president, members of parliament and the European Parliament, ministers, regional and departmental council heads, mayors of larger communities, and directors of government-owned companies (post office, railway, and telephone) are required to declare their personal assets to the Commission for the Financial Transparency of Political Life at the beginning and end of their terms. The commission issued and made available to the public periodic reports on officials’ financial holdings on a discretionary basis at least once every three years. Officials who fail to comply are subject to sanctions.
The Central Office for Combating Corruption and Financial and Tax Crimes investigated offenses including tax fraud, influence peddling, and failure of elected officials to make financial disclosures or report their own violations of the law.
On September 15, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet admitted that she “forgot to mention” her ownership shares, totaling 336,000 euros ($370,000), of three properties in a 2017 financial disclosure. She corrected the document after being questioned by political opponent Jean-Luc Melenchon. The properties did not appear in a first statement filed in 2017, but they were included in a later 2017 disclosure. Belloubet stated the omission was in error and added that she had declared these properties in previous asset declarations. She stated that the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life had recognized she had “no intention of fraud.”
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations generally operated, investigated, and published their findings on human rights cases without government restrictions. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) advised the government on human rights and produced an annual report on racism and xenophobia. Domestic and international human rights organizations considered the CNCDH independent and effective. Observers considered the Defender of Rights independent and effective, with access to all necessary resources.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The constitution and labor law provide workers the right to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to bargain collectively and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Workers, except those in certain essential services such as police and the armed forces, have the right to strike unless the strike threatens public safety. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids removing a candidate from a recruitment procedure for asking about union membership or trade union activities. The Ministry of Labor treats such discrimination as a criminal offense and prosecutes cases of discrimination by both individuals and companies.
Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, although union representatives noted antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.
Public-sector workers must declare their intention to strike at least 48 hours before the strike commences. In addition a notification of intent to strike is permissible only after negotiations between trade unions and employers have broken down. Workers are not entitled to receive pay while striking. Wages, however, may be paid retroactively. Health-care workers are required to provide a minimum level of service during strikes. In the public transportation (buses, metro) and rail sectors, the law requires the continuity of public services at minimum levels during strikes. This minimum service level is defined through collective bargaining between the employer and labor unions for each transportation system. For road transportation strikes, the law on minimum service provides for wages to be calculated proportionally to time worked while striking. Transportation users must also receive clear and reliable information on the services that would be available in the event of a disruption. Authorities effectively enforced laws and regulations, including those prohibiting retaliation against strikers.
Workers freely exercised their rights to form and join unions and choose their employee representatives, conduct union activities, and bargain collectively. Most workers’ organizations stressed their independence vis-a-vis political parties. Some union leaders, however, did not conceal their political affiliations. Union representatives noted that antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law recognizes the offenses of forced labor and forced servitude as crimes. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The government also provided financial support to NGOs that assist victims.
Men, women, and children, mainly from Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Asia, were subject to forced labor, including domestic servitude (also see section 7.c.). There were no government estimates of the extent of forced labor among domestic workers; however, in 2018 the NGO Committee against Modern Slavery assisted 181 victims of forced labor, 75 percent of whom were women.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16, with exceptions for persons enrolled in certain apprenticeship programs or working in the entertainment industry, who are subject to further labor regulations for minors. The law generally prohibits persons younger than 18 from performing work considered arduous or dangerous, such as working with dangerous chemicals, high temperatures, heavy machinery, electrical wiring, metallurgy, dangerous animals, working at heights, or work that exposes minors to acts or representations of a pornographic or violent nature. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working on Sunday, except as apprentices in certain sectors, including hotels, cafes, caterers, and restaurants. Youth are prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are younger than 16 and between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are between 16 and 18.
The government effectively enforced labor laws, although some children were exploited in the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation (also see section 6, Children) and forced criminal activity. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor investigated workplaces to enforce compliance with all labor statutes. To prohibit violations of child labor statutes, inspectors may place employers under observation or refer them for criminal prosecution. Penalties for the use of child labor proved generally sufficient to deter violations.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor code prohibits discrimination based upon an individual’s national origin; sex; customs; sexual orientation; gender identity; age; family situation or pregnancy; genetic characteristics; particular vulnerability resulting from an economic situation that is apparent or known to the author of the discrimination; real or perceived ethnicity, nationality or race; political opinions; trade union or mutual association activities; religious beliefs; physical appearance; family name; place of residence or location of a person’s bank; state of health; loss of autonomy or disability; and ability to express oneself in a language other than French. Authorities generally enforced this prohibition, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations in this area. The International Labor Organization raised concerns that the labor code does not prohibit discrimination based on social origin.
A gender equality law provides measures to reinforce equality in the workplace as well as sanctions against companies whose noncompliance could prevent women from bidding for public contracts. The law also requires employers to conduct yearly negotiations with employees on professional and pay equity between women and men in companies with more than 50 employees.
Employment discrimination based on sex, gender, disability, and national origin occurred. The country’s Romani community faced employment discrimination. The law requires that women receive equal pay for equal work. In March, INSEE released a study indicating that in 2015, the most recent year for which data were available, women working the equivalent of full time earned 18.5 percent less than men.
The Fund Management Organization for the Professional Integration of People with Disabilities (AGEFIPH) and the fund for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Public Service released an audit in June that showed unemployment among persons with disabilities stood at 18 percent (515,531 individuals) in 2018, compared with 9 percent unemployment for the general population. Job seekers with disabilities stayed out of work for 832 days on average, compared with 630 days for the general population. They were also older, on average, than the general population: some 50 percent of job seekers with disabilities were 50 years or older, although they constituted just 26 percent of all job seekers.
The law requires at least 6 percent of the workforce in companies with more than 20 employees to be persons with disabilities. Noncompliant companies must contribute to a fund managed by AGEFIPH. The funds go to financial support for persons with disabilities seeking employment or firms employing persons with disabilities, research and analysis on disability employment issues, and support for employment retention of persons with disabilities. Approximately 51 percent of private-sector enterprises (41,270) met the workforce requirement in 2018, while the companies that did not complete the requirement contributed to a 400-million euro ($440 million) fund and a small number (mostly large corporations) received an exemption from the government based on a negotiated action plan, according to AGEFIPH. In 2017 President Macron initiated a plan to promote the inclusion of workers with disabilities in the workplace. Companies required to employ disabled workers must complete an annual mandatory declaration regarding employment of disabled workers before March 1 of each year. The declaration documents company procedures for fulfilling the obligation to employ workers with disabilities.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage adequately met the poverty-line income level, which employers in the formal sector generally adhered to. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The official workweek is 35 hours, although companies may negotiate exceptions with employees. The maximum number of working days for workers is 235 days per year. Maximum hours of work are set at 10 hours per day, 48 hours per week, and an average of 44 hours per week during a 12-week work period. Workdays and overtime hours are fixed by a convention or an agreement in each sector in accordance with the labor code. Under an executive order signed in 2017, companies with fewer than 50 employees may negotiate working conditions directly with employees without involvement of labor unions.
The law gives employees the “right to disconnect” digitally from their work. Companies with 50 or more employees must negotiate the use of digital tools with employees or their collective bargaining units and publish clear rules on “the right to disconnect” from email, text messages, and other electronic communications after working hours.
Employees are entitled to a daily rest period of at least 11 hours and a weekly break of at least 24 hours. Employers are required to give workers a 20-minute break during a six-hour workday. Premium pay of 25 percent is mandatory for overtime and work on weekends and holidays; the law grants each worker five weeks of paid leave per year for a full year of work performed. The standard amount of paid leave is five weeks per year (2.5 weekdays per month, equivalent to 30 weekdays per year). Some companies also allowed other compensatory days for work in excess of 35 hours to 39 hours per week, called “spare-time account.” Work in excess of 39 hours per week was generally remunerated.
The government sets occupational health and safety standards in addition to those set by the EU. Government standards cover all employees and sectors. Individual workers could report work hazards to labor inspectors, unions, or their company health committee (for companies with more than 50 employees). Workers have a right to remove themselves without fear of reprisal from a situation presenting grave and imminent danger.
The Ministry of Labor enforced the law governing work conditions and performed this responsibility effectively, in both the formal and the informal economy. The government permitted salaries below the minimum wage for specific categories of employment, such as subsidized jobs and internships, that must conform to separate and clearly defined standards. Labor inspectors enforced compliance with the labor law. Disciplinary sanctions at work are strictly governed by the labor code to protect employees from abuse of power by their employers. Employees could pursue appeals in a special labor court up to the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court). Sanctions depend on the loss sustained by the victim and were usually applied on a case-by-case basis.
Penalties for labor violations depend on the status of the accused and were generally sufficient to deter violations.
Immigrants were more likely to face hazardous work, generally because of their concentration in sectors such as agriculture, seasonal employment, construction, and hospitality services. On September 23, three Bulgarians and a French citizen were detained and indicted on charges of exploiting 160 Bulgarian grape harvesters in the Beaujolais region of the country. The accused recruited Bulgarians for seasonal work, forced the men to sign French-language contracts that they did not understand, and retained the majority of their wages. French law enforcement officers worked with Bulgarian authorities and the French Central Office against Illegal Work, in coordination with Europol, to discontinue the operation.