From backing warlord Haftar in Libya, to enabling Islamophobic culture at home - President Macron’s administration has done a lot to undermine human rights.
As France aims to get a seat on the Human Rights Council (HRC), questions are being raised about its role in fueling bloody conflicts in war-torn countries such as Libya, its backing of warlords and dictators, and the rising tide of Islamophobia attributed to government policies.
HRC, the inter-governmental body of the United Nations, which is tasked with upholding human rights around the world, will elect members for vacant seats on October 13 in a secret ballot of the UN General Assembly in New York.
France and the United Kingdom have applied for the two empty slots reserved for European nations in the 47-member council. Their election is almost assured.
“France is in no position whatsoever to lecture the rest of the world on human rights, let alone to promote the application of human rights,” says Yasser Louati, a French activist.
The French government has backed General Khalifa Haftar in the Libyan conflict despite Haftar facing severe accusations of killing civilians, he says.
“France has long history of human rights violations at home especially today under President Emmanuel Macron with widespread discrimination in housing, and schooling, the police brutality, and racist discourse coming from the president himself,” he told TRT World.
Against European values
France’s efforts to get an HRC seat appears unsettling for activists, especially as Paris has dragged its feet when its European peers have tried to take dictators and war criminals to task.
“This year alone, France has either opposed or belatedly and resignedly joined efforts led by its allies in Europe to bring scrutiny and accountability to the human rights violations in situations as different as China, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen,” writes Bruno Stagno Ugarte, the deputy advocacy director of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Earlier this year, when a few countries including Finland and the Netherlands, tried to mandate the HRC to investigate the Libyan warlords and the international actors backing them, France was not supportive of the move.
Instead, their authorities insisted that the matter be taken up by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which faces serious handicaps in its ability to prosecute war crimes.
In any case, Ugarte notes, France hasn’t explained its continuous backing of Haftar despite the fact that his deputy Mahmoud Al-Werfalli faces an ICC arrest warrant.
France has supplied arms and ammunitions to Haftar in violation of a UN arms embargo - something that has been well documented. Last year, French anti-tank missiles were found at a camp run by Haftar’s forces, which were trying to capture the capital, Tripoli.
The bloody war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia-led coalition is fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, has also seen French involvement.
HRC is investigating the countries including France, which have supplied weapons to parties involved in the conflict, in which tens of thousands of people have lost their lives.
“France supports dictators all over the world,” says Louati, the activist.
“It includes the supply of weaponry and highly sophisticated bombs and airplanes to dictators such as (Egyptian President) El Sisi, the supply to racist fascist government of (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi in India. The supplying of arms to Saudi Arabia - and of course multiple leaks show that French weapons are being used against civilians in Yemen.”
When organisations such as the HRC have tried to investigate regional conflicts like the one in Libya, Macron’s government has undermined the efforts by insisting on first getting a unified European stance on such issues.
Consensus on such foreign policy points is difficult, as some European member states, such as Hungary and Poland, seek a trade-off because they themselves face allegations of human rights violations.
“Despite claiming a steadfast commitment to multilateralism and human rights, France has in fact hampered multilateral efforts within the Human Rights Council under the dubious strategy of wanting to ensure that the EU speaks with a single voice,” says Ugarte of the HRW.
Faced with an economic slowdown amid a coronavirus pandemic, one that has killed more than 32,700 French people, Macron has taken up a decisive policy in recent weeks to attack Islam.
In controversial remarks, he has alleged that Islam as a fatih is in “crisis” and accused Muslims of harbouring “separatist” tendencies. His remarks have been vehemently criticised both in France and abroad.
“France is a country with the declaration of human rights. But not the application,” says Louati.