France defends treatment of prisoners, asylum seekers
France on Wednesday defended its record after grilling by UN anti-torture experts on overcrowding and suicide in its jails, and the rights of asylum seekers, minors in detention, and extremists.
Officials from the UN Committee against Torture had on Tuesday raised concerns about jail overcrowding, in particular in France's overseas territories where occupancy can reach 230 percent, as well its high prison suicide rates.
Suspects in cases of terrorism, drugs or organised crime can be held for 72 hours without the right to see a lawyer or doctor, or contact relatives, the panel noted with concern.
Terrorism suspects are also exempt from new laws providing for video recordings of interrogations, which the rapporteurs said "created serious issues of equality before the law".
Frederique Doublet, head of asylum affairs in the interior ministry, said people who had appealed their requests for asylum turned down were not always repatriated but admitted that fast track deportations accounted for 22 percent of all such cases in 2009.
Doublet said children "were accorded all such rights and all guarantees that they received abroad", in detention centres and airports.
Asylum seekers had access to legal and humanitarian aid, he added.
France also explained that the holding of terrorism suspects for up to 72 hours without the right to see a lawyer or doctor were not strictly true.
They could contact their physician and notify their families after three hours, Michele Dubrocard, head of European services in the justice ministry said.
She said the 72-hour deadline was to ensure that suspects did not tip off members of the criminal network they belonged to.
A 2009 penitentiary law was passed to promote alternative sentences to prison in a bid to fight crowding, and has produced results even before it was officially published, French officials said.
The occupancy rate in prisons stood at 109.5 percent on April 1, against 120.5 percent in 2008, another official said, adding that the capacity had been increased by 5,000 last year.
France had highlighted that with nearly 48,000 applications in 2009, it received the highest number of asylum requests in Europe and the third among industrialised countries after the United States and Canada.
© 2010 AFP