Death of Nahel: UN calls on France to address police racism

Death of Nahel: UN calls on France to address police racism
Credit: Belga

The United Nations on Friday called on France to seriously address the problems of racism and racial discrimination among its police force, three days after the death of a teenager killed by a police officer sparked riots all over the country.

"We are concerned by the killing of a 17-year-old of North African descent by police in France on Tuesday," UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.

"Now is the time for the country to seriously address the deep-rooted problems of racism and racial discrimination among law enforcement officials."

Nahel was shot at close range by a police officer on Tuesday morning during a traffic check near Paris. After detaining the perpetrator on Tuesday afternoon, authorities initially opened an investigation on charges of "involuntary homicide" for the officer who fired his weapon, but the charges were updated to "voluntary homicide" on Thursday.

Demanding a proportional response

Unrest has taken over France ever since Tuesday, starting in the suburbs of Paris, and spreading throughout the country, with protestors setting fire to buses, trams and buildings.

In response, trams and buses all over France have been put on a restricted schedule and fireworks sales have been banned, AFP reported. Marseille, France's second biggest city, banned protests altogether for the day of Friday.

The state has deployed over 40,000 police and gendarmes throughout the country, including anti-riot police units which are trained in counterterrorism.

The UN spokesperson stressed that French police must have a balanced response to the ensuing protests.

After the three nights of rioting across France which resulted in significant material damage, “we call on the authorities to ensure that the use of force by police to tackle violent elements at demonstrations always respects the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, non-discrimination, precaution and responsibility,” the spokesperson said.

667 arrests on Thursday

Shamdasani also expressed concern at the violence that erupted after the young man’s death. “We understand that there has been a lot of looting and violence, by certain elements who are using the demonstrations for these purposes, and that there have been a large number of police officers who have also been injured,” she said.

She stressed that it is precisely for this reason that “we call on all authorities to ensure that, even if there are clearly violent elements in the demonstrations, it is crucial that the police respect at all times the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, non-discrimination, precaution and responsibility.”

French law enforcement agencies made 667 arrests on Thursday night and a total of 249 police officers and gendarmes were injured, according to official figures.

President Emmanuel Macron, who initially reacted to Nahel's death by calling it "inexcusable", held a televised speech on Friday, where he claimed that the riots are an "unacceptable exploitation of (an) adolescent’s death", France24 reported.

The President went on to blame social media and video games for the violence exhibited in the protests and asked parents to keep young rioters off the streets.

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