French President-elect Emmanuel Macron should place human rights at the heart of his domestic and foreign policy, Human Rights Watch said Monday. Macron defeated the far-right National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen, during a run-off election on May 7, 2017.
Macron’s government should also invest in understanding and responding to the factors that drove the strong showing of the far-right National Front in the presidential elections. Le Pen, the National Front’s leader, achieved the party’s best election result ever with proposals based on intolerance and xenophobia. Projections gave Macron, leader of the fledgling centrist En Marche! party almost 66 percent of the vote, with slightly more than 34 percent for Le Pen, who conceded defeat.
“It’s very encouraging news for France and Europe that French voters rejected a platform that played into xenophobic populism,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “At the same time, the far-right’s unprecedented share of the vote should be a wake-up call for France. Macron, his administration, and France’s next parliament should reflect on what has prompted so many to vote that way and address those concerns while defending rights for all.”
France’s new president will be confronted with immense human rights challenges as soon as he takes office, and responding to them should be a priority, Human Rights Watch said.
These challenges include ensuring respect for human rights in the context of fighting terrorism. Human Rights Watch and many other independent groups have emphasized the threat to the rule of law of an endless extension of France’s state of emergency. Strengthening the country’s asylum policy for people fleeing war and persecution should also be a priority. Macron should also make the fight against ethnic, racial, or religious discrimination a major plank of his policy.
At the European level, in the context of Brexit and the rise of radical right populism, France should play a leading role in ensuring that the European Union’s founding values of “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law” are a priority of EU policy and hold member governments to account when they flout those values.
At the international level, conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and South Sudan, marked by deliberate attacks on civilians and serious violations of international humanitarian law, should be at the top of the new president’s diplomatic agenda.
Faced with the proliferation of human rights crises, France has a compelling need for justice. France’s commitment to international justice, through unambiguous political and financial support for the International Criminal Court (ICC), will be crucial in advancing the fight against impunity.
Macron and his future government should also place respect for human rights at the center of France’s bilateral relations, particularly those with countries that openly turn their backs on rights, such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey.
As head of the armed forces, the new president will also have to ensure that France’s external military operations, in particular those carried out in the context of the fight against terrorism in the Sahel and the Middle East, guard against abuse by the host armed forces or by the French army itself.
During the presidential campaign, Human Rights Watch sent all candidates a questionnaire about 11 key human rights issues. In his response, Macron outlined some of his policies with respect to human rights.
“Some policies promised by Macron go in the right direction of supporting human rights, while others are vague or insufficient,” Jeannerod said. “The world is watching France to see how it will protect and breathe new life into the values it claims to abide by. We, and French civil society, will be watching.”