The French President’s Irrational Proposal to Legalize Exceptional Measures and Violation of Rights by Rewriting the French Constitution
In France, the country that gave humanity the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the situation is unfolding as expected with broad attacks on civil liberties and rights following the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. French President François Hollande, in his November 16 address to a special joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate, declared that the French authorities cannot respond to terrorism within the rule of law. Since France is a country that abides by the rule of law, he said, the rule of law as embodied in the Constitution must be rewritten.
He said he had the options within the Constitution to declare a state of emergency through the state of emergency law passed in 1955 (which he did on November 14) or to take a more drastic course and declare martial law through Article 36. According to an RFI report, Article 36 “allows the government, in the event of a ‘state of siege,’ to transfer powers to military authorities in the event of an attack or an armed insurrection,” and Article 16 “allows the presidency to grant itself ‘exceptional measures’ when France’s institutions or territory are confronted with a ‘serious and immediate’ threat.” Article 16 of the Constitution permits a state of emergency to be in place for 12 days, after which Parliament must agree to extend it. Neither option suits him or is sufficient, said Hollande, and he called for the Constitution to be rewritten accordingly so that the war can then be waged legally.
In the interim, Hollande called for the immediate restoration of border controls and blanket powers for the security forces to conduct “administrative searches” and “house arrests” as they see fit. He is also striving for a “complete and comprehensive legal regime” that includes provisions to revoke citizenship, including that of French-born citizens who also have citizenship in another country.
To confront the terrorist threat beyond France’s borders, Hollande says a “broad and unique” alliance is required. All the stops must be pulled out in coordination with Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama. The European Union has its duty; NATO has its duty and the countries of the Middle East are also expected to join in. Syria must also be included, but only after President Bashar Al-Assad is removed, Hollande said.
France immediately escalated bombing of what it said were ISIL targets in Syria at the same time that it was being said the source of the problem was domestic “radicalization.” This irrationality results from the refusal to recognize the rights of the people nationally and the sovereignty of nations internationally even as the destruction caused by decades and decades of colonial and imperialist intrigues, aggression, plunder and war are coming home to roost.
On November 19, the National Assembly approved an extension of the state of emergency for three months and amendments to the state of emergency law by a vote of 551 to six. These were approved by the Senate on November 20.
“We’re enlarging the possibility to use [the state of emergency], not just for proven dangerous activities, but also for threats stemming from serious suspicions,” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the Financial Times reports.
The Rule of Law Becomes the First Casualty of a Dictatorial State
All of it shows the profound crisis in which the French nation-state is mired along with all other Anglo-American and European nation states which are entertaining similar measures. All the things that the police authority cannot do using a government of laws have to be done as government by police powers. But the rule cannot be legitimized so long as the police powers are seen to constitute the public authority, hence the demand for the constitution to be rewritten to make the police powers the alleged government of laws. It goes against everything the institutions of the bourgeois nation-state were established to achieve: the defence of individual property right and negation of collective rights of members of society so as to serve the general interests of society on this basis. This aim can no longer hide the fact that the essence of the public authority is the police authority because that is all that is left of the public authority. The civil rights and liberties are all stripped down to this essential feature. The demand of the French president that this police authority can now be enshrined in a new constitution and a government of law can be established once again is a blatantly irrational hope. Such irrationality is the result of the refusal to renew the democratic processes so as to eliminate the role of privilege and provide rights with a guarantee.
This irrationality in which the police powers are plunging the world makes it is as clear as clear can be that no solution can be found to any problem of this era without depriving the police authority of its privilege to eliminate the striving of the people for empowerment. The security of human beings today lies in fighting for the rights of all so as to provide them with a guarantee. This is the truth which lies within the irrational demands of the French president to rewrite the constitutional law to incorporate the police powers within the government of laws. It is not without consequence and that consequence will not be favourable to the moribund rulers who today preside over the killings of the people on a massive scale by providing themselves with impunity.
State of Emergency
The State of Emergency in France has the official aim of removing the legal constraints on the army mandated in peace time and to strengthen the powers of the executive and security forces. RFI reports, “The state of emergency, as defined by a law passed in 1955, allows severe restrictions of civil liberties and could involve curfews, restricted movements, house arrests, closing public establishments, expanded powers for police to make arrests and to control the press and broadcast media, all of which are liberties the constitution is meant to guarantee.”
This exceptional measure that reduces fundamental freedoms and strengthens police powers has been invoked five times in the history of France. Four instances were in the context of France’s wars with its colonies — three times during the Algerian War of Independence (April 1955, May 1958 and April 1961) and once during the war in New Caledonia (December 1984). It was last applied by then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy on November 8, 2005 during the riots given rise to by the racism and social exclusion facing national minority youth in France.
RFI reports the following are the main provisions of the bill passed by France’s parliament:
“House arrests: Anyone seriously suspected of being a threat to public order can be placed under house arrest and forbidden to contact other people suspected of preparing acts deemed to threaten public order.
“Searches of premises: The interior minister can order premises to be searched without a warrant from a judge and copies of all digital information found can be made, although the premises of MPs, lawyers, magistrates and journalists are exempt.
Message appearing on web-site blocked by French Ministry of the Interior after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015.
“Blocking websites and social media: The government can order websites or social media deemed to be justifying terrorism or inciting terrorist acts [blocked], although the possibility of censoring the press and radio, present in the 1955 [state of emergency] law but never used, has been scrapped.
“Banning organisations: Organisations that participate in, facilitate or incite acts deemed a threat to public order may be banned, as can any that people placed under house arrest are members of.
“A re-education centre for radicalised youth: Young people deemed to have fallen prey to jihadist propaganda may be sent to a centre whose site will be decided before the end of the year.
“Overseas territories: The state of emergency is to be extended to French overseas territories in the West Indies and the Indian Ocean.”
The restriction of movement, curfews, censorship and curtailment of public freedoms — all these measures erode the democracy by revealing that above the civil power lies its essence, the arbitrariness of the police powers.