Interview with Patrick Baudouin, lawyer and FIDH honorary president.
The draft constitutional reform will be debated in February in the National Assembly and then in the Senate before being voted on by Congress. From the moment it was announced, reactions have been fierce. FIDH and its French member organisation, the League of Human Rights, are formally opposed to it. Until now, debate has focused mainly on the issue of revoking nationality, but there are many other provisions that could also endanger the rights and freedoms of citizens.FIDH : First off, could you explain why revoking citizenship violates human rights?

Patrick Baudouin : To start with, it is important to understand that the measure relating to the deprivation of citizenship was announced as part of the fight against terrorism. Yet everyone agrees that this measure is completely ineffective in combating terrorism. It is obvious that depriving terrorists of their citizenship is not going to dissuade them from carrying out their evil acts.

Not only is it ineffective, but what is more worrisome, is that the draft bill applies to any “individual sentenced for a crime that constitutes a serious assault on the life of the nation”. So this goes much farther than the fight against terrorism. It is an extremely vague concept that lends itself to all sorts of interpretations and to the measure being very widely applied. It is truly dangerous and takes us beyond the scope of François Hollande’s speech in which he said that it concerned only crimes of terrorism. This in itself is evidence of a shift. And incidentally this is always how it goes. First, we are told that it is a measure adopted as part of the fight against terrorism and then the measure begins to be more widely applied to other crimes that have nothing to do with terrorism.

We should also remember the principle of ius soli that has existed in France for a long time. Anyone born on French territory is a French national and has the same rights and responsibilities as any other citizen, even if that person has dual citizenship.

Saying that this group of French citizens can be stripped of their citizenship introduces inequality among French citizens and therefore ignores a fundamental principle – that of equality – underpinning the republic’s motto. In addition, while the government’s oft-repeated goal is one of unity, this is clearly a cause for division, because all those born in France with dual nationality will feel marginalised.

Lastly, this measure is intended to be applied once a sentence has been served. Then, people will be told, “You have completed your sentence, and now you are stripped of your French citizenship, so you may no longer remain on French territory and must leave.” But leave and go where? For, if their other country is one that practises torture, the death penalty or ill treatment, they cannot be sent there. France still applies the principle by which people cannot be deported to a country that practises the death penalty or torture.

Where will we send them then? This discussion is not serious. Besides being ineffective and dangerous, the measure cannot be applied in practice.

The constitutional reform also includes enshrining the state of emergency in the constitution. What exactly will that include? What dangers does this pose?

PB : At present, there are two exceptional measures in the Constitution: Article 16, which confers full power on the President of the Republic in extraordinary circumstances – this was requested by General de Gaulle during the Algerian war – and during a state of siege (or attack) when the army may be granted sweeping powers under common law.

The state of emergency is not included in the current Constitution. It is the result of a 1955 law which was voted through during the Algerian war. It is a law which at present has a fairly inadequate legislative framework.

Three things need to be pointed out about the state of emergency: first of all, it should not have been declared in such haste; and it is a measure that needed to be well thought through. In fact, it was immediately announced that it would be included in the Constitution. There was no need for this measure to be taken so quickly.

Secondly, the question arises whether it is necessary to include the state of emergency in the Constitution or whether, conversely, it should be adopted through legislative channels, without making it an article of the Constitution. Otherwise it gives the impression that the state of emergency could be invoked frequently or even become permanent. This would be extremely dangerous.

Thirdly, the draft legislation is still very vague: “The state of emergency is declared on part or all of the territory of the Republic in the case of imminent danger resulting from serious attacks on public order or in the case of events that, by their nature or gravity, could cause a public disaster”.