The violence must stop, said the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner
The French government has used disproportionate force against demonstrators protesting the pension reform, in violation of their freedom of assembly and expression, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said on Friday.
Mijatovic described the circumstances of the pension protests as "concerning," adding that "sporadic acts of violence by some demonstrators or other reprehensible acts committed by others during a demonstration cannot justify the excessive use of force by state agents."
While some "violent incidents" have taken place, including against police, they are "not sufficient to deprive peaceful demonstrators from enjoying the right of freedom of assembly," she said, adding that the French authorities have an obligation to protect peaceful protesters and journalists from both police violence and fringe demonstrators.
"While a state may have the authority to use force, in particular to restore order, such use must only take place as a last resort and in strict compliance with the conditions of necessity and proportionality," said the commissioner. "Violence, wherever it comes from, can in no way be used as a means of resolving a social and/or political crisis."
Mijatovic called on President Emmanuel Macron's government to abide by the Commission's recommendations from 2019, pertaining to the 'Yellow Vests' protests, as well as those issued by the French human rights commission earlier this week.
France's National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) said on Thursday that during the week-long protests, police had "kettled" peaceful demonstrators and summarily arrested them without cause. The fact that only nine of the 292 people arrested in Paris on March 16 were charged with any offenses suggests "excessive use of police custody" as a way of chilling legitimate protests, the CNCDH said.
Protests against pension reform drew more than a million people across France on Thursday. Bypassing the legislature, Macron had used executive privilege to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Though trade unions and opposition parties denounced the measure, Macron has refused to budge.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Friday morning that almost 450 police officers and gendarmes had been injured and that rioters lit over 900 fires on the streets. He blamed "extreme left" groups and "black bloc" anarchists for the violence.