France calls itself “the homeland of human rights” but has focussed in the past week on limiting them as the government pushed through sweeping curbs on basic freedoms in the wake of the Paris massacre.
In the edgy days since jihadists killed 130 people on Nov. 13, the government declared a “war on terrorism”, extended its initial post-attack state of emergency for three months and laid out plans to write further restrictions into the constitution.
Civil libertarians protest that the crackdown could leave fundamental rights curtailed even after the crisis has past.
But their objections have been hard to hear amid calls for tougher laws, details about the attacks and reports of French retaliatory bombing of Islamic State’s Raqqa stronghold in Syria.
The National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, passed the sweeping new security measures on Thursday by an almost unanimous vote of 551 for and only six against. In the Senate the next day, the tally was 336 votes for and none against.
In an Ifop public opinion poll published on Tuesday, 84 percent of those surveyed said they were “ready to accept more controls and a certain limitation of freedoms”.
“The government is giving guarantees of security to a traumatised population that asks for ever more security, even at the price of sacrificing its own freedoms,” said Noel Mamere, one of the few deputies to vote against the new measures.
“In a few months, these same people will wake up with a hangover and realise that, in the name of fighting terrorism, the country has been locked down and our individual and collective liberties violated,” he told Reuters.
Shocked by the attacks and concerned that more may come, the government says it has no time to lose.
President Francois Hollande cited the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen – the document that gives France its claim to be the birthplace of human rights – to defend the crackdown in a speech on Monday.
That historic text states “that security and the resistance to oppression are fundamental rights,” he said. “So we should exercise them.”
“Security is the first of all freedoms,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in the debate on the new measures on Thursday.