By Sanjay Dureseti
Sanjay Dureseti is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and an associate editor of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal.
As Paris recovered from a coordinated set of brutal terrorist attacks that left hundreds dead, the rest of the world waited to see how France would respond. The government acted swiftly; President Francois Hollande threw the country into lockdown, declared a state of emergency, sealed borders, and banned public demonstrations. Given practical worries over the safety of the citizenry, such measures seemed appropriate reactions to the attacks in their immediate aftermath. However, several weeks after the incidents, these restrictive rules remain in place, threatening the very fabric of France’s constitutional values.
On November 30, peaceful protests emerged, decrying the cancellation of the Paris People’s Climate March, a large demonstration targeted at world leaders meeting in Paris for the 2015 Climate Change Conference. Thousands gathered in the Place de la Republique, but the activists soon clashed with police, and riot troops fired tear gas at masked protesters. Hundreds were arrested under rules imposed by France’s state of emergency and Hollande was quick to condemn the demonstrations as “scandalous.” By all interpretations of the law, the French government violated the age-old right to peacefully assemble, laid out in one of the crown jewels of French republicanism, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen .
Such blatant suppression of people’s right to free expression brings to light troubling details surrounding France’s further violations of human rights. The country has temporarily opted out of the European Convention of Human Rights, an international treaty that mandates the protection of fundamental individual freedoms by European countries . This has allowed the country to circumvent notions of due process and habeas corpus. Over 1500 searches, many without warrants, have been conducted over the course of the past two weeks.  The state of emergency hands the state broad control over online and communicational activity, so websites can be blocked and phones surveilled without judicial permission. 
France’s indiscretions, however, simply add to existing global concerns of governmental overreach in the face of terrorism. The United States, which underwent a horrific assault of its own in the September 11 attacks, has continuously operated under a state of emergency since 2001. In fact, the United States is currently under 30 separate states of emergency, some decades old, which are continuously extended and justified by factors ranging from environmental disaster to disease epidemics. Terrorism, however, has been the main selling point in recent years. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have ensured that the legal basis for the “War on Terror” remains firmly established within the governmental framework. Under these states of emergency, the executive is granted immense power, including the ability to limitlessly contract secret patents for the military, maintain an involuntary reserve of over 25,000 troops, bypass the legislature to impose sanctions on foreign countries, and suspend habeas corpus for non-American “enemy combatants.”  Congress, constitutionally charged with checking the power of the executive, has been rendered impotent by the procedural mechanisms of American law. 
While the U.S. might have a long history of enforcing states of emergency, France is entering new territory in the wake of the November 13th attacks. States of emergency have been rarely implemented under the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, with only six declared since 1958. And, while Hollande and his government might be trusted to ensure the rights of French citizens, initial developments have disturbingly followed an American trajectory of suppression.
 “Declaration on the Rights of Man-1789.” Yale Law School: Lillian Goldman Law Library. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/rightsof.asp.
”France to opt out of European human rights convention because of Paris attacks.” RFI, November 27, 2015. http://www.english.rfi.fr/europe/20151127-france-opt-out-european-human-rights-convention-because-paris-attacks.
 “France: New Emergency Powers Threaten Rights.” Human Rights Watch, November 24, 2015. https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/24/france-new-emergency-powers-threaten-rights.
 Thronson, Patrick, Toward Comprehensive Reform of America’s Emergency Law Regime (March 23, 2013). University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Vol. 46, No. 2. http://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1055&context=mjlr.
 Gregory Korte, “Special report: America's perpetual state of emergency.” USA Today, October 23, 2015. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/10/22/president-obama-states-of-emergency/16851775/.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Ben Sutherland
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