Civil liberties campaign launched in France – what was said

This is an extract of the speech given by the leader of France’s opposition, Martine Aubry, at the launch of its campaign for civil liberties last weekend. It highlights some of the areas of concern shared with the Campaign for Modern Liberty in Britain. Other concerns raised included databases of private information, freedom of the press and the treatment of refugees. It is notable that the centre-left opposition is speaking here against measures introduced by a right-wing government; in Britain its sister party, in government, has followed the same policies as the latter, with the opposition promising, despite Daid Davis, greater security measures.

…And what is Nicolas Sarkozy doing while the French are suffering, while the French are crying out for help – he’s talking about security.

There have been some unacceptable acts recently, as there have been many in recent history. We strongly condemn each of them. And it is true that, when a few youths entered a high school to settle some personal scores, it was right that there was a presidential visit within two days, there’s nothing odd about that. When a teacher showed great courage in intervening between students to prevent violence he had, within twenty-four hours, an audience with the President of the Republic – no doubt that will serve to comfort those teachers who are today having difficulty finding a thread of hope in governmental action. But don’t you think that the workers made redundant at Continental, at Arcelor Mittal, to whom Nicolas Sarkozy had said he would return and that the company would not close, also need the President of the Republic? And how is it that faced with the suicides of the young and even younger in prisons, having had neither guidance nor care, not one member of the government – in any case, not the President of the Republic – is rushing to say that, in a democracy, “the treatment of prisoners, the mentally ill, the marginalised, shows the level of development of a society.” That too is what we want to say, as we gather to talk about liberty.

It is as though Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to put security in the spotlight to deflect our questions about economic and social issues, and his personal failure. It doesn’t surprise us because we are used to this avoidance strategy. But we won’t be taken in by it. For socialists, security is a fundamental right, as important as access to health, education, housing and work – all now pushed down the ladder. All of us, elected representatives and mayors in particular, are fighting the reduction of police officers on the ground every day. Because community policing has been cancelled, because we no longer have preventative measures against delinquency, because local government finances are being restricted, because extracurricular tuition has been cancelled, because funds are being restricted in the areas that allow these young people their dignity.

Absolutely, security has to be improved, because it can’t be kicked into touch this time by saying ‘it’s their fault’. It’s now seven years they have been there, seven years they have been legislating towards a police state, and with no results. Let’s recall these laws, mostly for petty crime: young people found in the hallways of their own blocks of flats would be held criminally responsible; there is a demonisation of young people found in ‘gangs’ (I’d like to know how to measure what is a gang, when young people are taking a walk round town together) [the British definition allowing disbandment is “if a constable in uniform has reasonable grounds for believing that the presence or behaviour of a group of two or more persons in any public place in the relevant locality has resulted, or is likely to result, in any members of the public being intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed”]; minimum sentences have been introduced [previously at judges’ discretion]. These laws suggest complex questions have a simple answer, they prevent judges from considering the situation of the person before them so as to blindly implement a governmental directive – that’s the reality.

And then it’s been seven years of the politics of statistics. Statistical politics which drives police officers towards town centres where they would rather stop men and women driving without seatbelts, or on their mobile phones (albeit wrong), rather than the areas where there is trafficking, where there are serious problems, where 95% of French people are still waiting for the community policing that was cancelled. That is the real fight for security.

Since his election, Nicolas Sarkozy has been responding to society’s concerns with reductions in freedoms, trying to make the French believe that by limiting the scope of democracy and attacking freedoms, they will be safer.

We refuse to go back to a system of propaganda through fear. One that tries to make make the French believe that progress is not the first condition of order, that liberté and fraternité can be harmed in the name of so-called ‘efficiency objectives’. That even a democratic power can view justice and liberty as a straitjacket, ideals as a fallacy, without a risk to our Republic.”

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