France, Switzerland and Amnesty International (in 1989).

True story. It was 1989. And I was just fresh out of high school. And for my birthday, I got the world almanac.

Interesting time, the late 80’s. We didn’t have the internet yet, at least in a wide-spread way. So I guess the world almanac largely filled the void.

In it, you could look up all kinds of statistics. Election results too, as well as a wide variety of obscure data, historical documents and addresses.

Anyways, I started thumbing thru it almost immediately. And I eventually got to the section on Amnesty International.

It briefly explained AI. As you may already know, it is the foremost monitoring group of basic human rights around the world, rights that seemingly should be available to all of us thru the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Anyways, the US is on their list of human rights violators, naturally because we still practice the death penalty. But I was also surprised to find France–and Switzerland, as major human rights violators.

What did France and Switzerland do, specifically in 1989? I mean, I know in France, you are guilty until proven innocent. But what could Switzerland have done? I didn’t even know there was anything untoward about Switzerland to begin with. What did they do? And are they still doing it?

FWIW, I don’t have the almanac anymore (at least that I know of–I have a very cluttered house:smack:). But I also vaguely recall something about “prisoner of conscience” poss. applied to France and Switzerland. What does that mean? How do they have “prisoners of conscience” there? I thought France, at least, is pretty generous with their freedoms, esp. sexual ones. Am I wrong?

I patiently await your replies:)

Not so, and not so since the French Revolution, over two centuries ago.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, 1789, provided:

The principle of the presumption of innocence is also set out in the Preliminary Article of the French Code of Criminal Procedure:

This idea that France presumes guilt is a misconception that is over two centuries out of date, and yet for some reason continues to be repeated.

Switzerland: Women’s suffrage was introduced in the two Appenzell cantons as late as 1989 and 1990:

One major misconception about AI (and one used against it by the Right in Western countries) is that Amnesty International is not in the business of ranking countries by overall human rights record, denouncing only the worst offenders and giving the minor offenders a pass. Rather they denounce all human rights violation within AI’s chosen remit, which means that in democratic countries with a free press comparably minor deficiencies in human rights can get reported while in the least free countries the headline violations are wholesale slaughter and imprisonment.

(Also) fighting the former does not mean condoning the latter, as it’s much easier to put things to rights in one’s own country than in foreign ones.

See Peter Benenson’s historic article that addresses human rights violations in

  • Spanin
  • Hungary
  • Angola (Portugese colony at the time)
  • Romania
  • South Africa
  • France
  • Ceylon (as it was called then)
  • Pakistan
  • Ghana
  • Indonesia
  • ‘the Arab world’
  • Cuba
  • ‘the Communist world’
  • the USSR
  • China

The point being that the countries criticised by Amnesty straddle any conventional ‘Us vs Them’ divides. That’s a feature not a bug.

The part about being guilty until proven innocent has already been adressed.

The most common reason why France is condemned by human right groups is very long detentions before trials. Sometimes the overall bad conditions in jail. Might have been the same reasons back then. Also, at the time, for criminal trials, you could only appeal on the basis of so-called “technicalities”. You couldn’t get a new trial by jury just because you wanted one. The first proceeding had to be found invalid because law hadn’t been followed properly. I know that civil liberties activists had an issue with that too.

There might be any number of other reasons. As Mops stated, AI reports on all human rights violations, not just on countries that are egreriously bad from this point of view. For instance I quickly checked the 2012 report for France, and it’s about police violence.

As for “prisoners of conscience” in the late 80s, the only ones I can think of were conscientious objectors who refused to apply for the CO status and to join the alternative civil service and were jailed as a result (there was still mandatory military service in France, then). But again, it might have been something else. For instance, a current French law allows the prosecution of people who help illegal migrants. I can see someone sentenced in accordance with this law being considered a prisoner of conscience.

There were also political prisonners, like Breton or Corsican independantists, and members of extreme-left terrorist groups, but I don’t think they would fit in the “prisoners of conscience” group, since they were sentenced for crimes, only politically motivated ones.

Surely that’s true of a great many countries? You don’t get a re-trial just by claiming the jury’s got it wrong. There has to be some other material cause for questioning the justice of the verdict, surely?

I don’t understand clairobscur’s point either. There’s generally no right to a new trial unless the accused can show errors in the first trial.

Well, sure. But the bar for “errors warranting a retrial” can move up and down, yeah ?

For what it is worth, last year’s report on France can be found here:

The issues that they cite in the summary (I haven’t looked at the full report) include: state sponsored discrimination (Roma, muslims, refugees and transgendered people), police brutality and interference with the right to free assembly.

Yes, but clairobscur’s post makes it sound like the critics think that re-trials should be available on request, and not worry about having a reason based on the errors at trial.

Nope. There’s always a right to a new jury trial in France nowadays (since 2000-2005?). Just being unhappy with the verdict/sentence is a good enough reason.

And since this change is a result of an European Court of Human Rights decision, I guess France isn’t the only one in Europe.

However, there’s a catch : they introduced at the same time a right to appeal for the prosecution, which didn’t exist previously (you can be tried again after being found not guilty). So, all in all, I’m not convinced it’s a good deal for the acused (although the prosecution rarely appeals).

The memo went walkabout again.