PARIS (IPS)–Setting out new rights for minorities is a dance of half a step forward and two steps back, say human rights activists.

The half-step forward comes with the announcement by Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy that he is ready to partially revoke the so-called double sanction against immigrants convicted of a crime. This double sanction means that the convicted first serve their sentence, and then they are expelled.

Legal experts say the convicted are being punished twice for one crime, and have been pleading for years for an end to these double blows, particularly on immigrants who have strong family or social ties in France.


In an Oct. 26 radio interview, Mr. Sarkozy said that the double sanction could be applied only to convicted immigrants with short-term residence. “All foreign criminals with a residence permit issued less than a year before the committing of a crime should be expelled after they have served their sentence,” he said.

Mr. Sarkozy clarified that these were his views, and that he had not discussed a revision of the double sanction either with Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin or with Minister for Justice Dominique Perben. But, following the Sarkozy comments, the Ministry of Justice announced it would review the practice of expelling immigrants.

Legal experts and human rights activists called the Sarkozy announcement “a considerable improvement.” Bernard Bolze, president of One Sanction, a group which has been campaigning against this practice for years, said: “This is very good news. We have been waiting for such an improvement for a long time.”

The campaign against double sanctions has peaked over reports of imminent expulsion of two Algerians. They are ChŽrif Bouchelag, 32, born in Algeria, but who has lived in France since he was 11-years-old, and Mamar Douani, 40, who was born in France, has lived all his life here, but has Algerian nationality.

Mr. Bouchelag was convicted for drug trafficking and Mr. Douani for several other crimes. Both have served their prison sentences. Mr. Douani has spent 17 years in jail. His wife is expecting their first child.

Novelist Nancy Houston has written to Mr. Sarkozy that Mr. Douani will face ruin if he is expelled. “During his prison years, Mamar Douani took lessons to learn a job,” she wrote. “Armed with an uncommon will, he successfully passed his bachelor’s degree, and became a renowned cook. Having paid his debt to society, all he wants is the chance to take part in French life as a normal citizen, with his wife and his child.”

Despite the apparent concessions announced, human rights and legal groups continue to protest other laws affecting immigrants.

A new law on internal security approved by the council of ministers particularly targets minority groups. It envisages strong sanctions against gypsies, foreign beggars and prostitutes, and children of immigrants.

This new law, which is due to come into force before the end of the year, makes parking vehicles by gypsies in open spaces a crime. It will also criminalize what it calls “abusive” meetings in social housing projects, and “aggressive” begging.

Mr. Sarkozy has defended the proposed laws. The laws will restore “the authority of the state in the whole country, and answers to the cry of desperation raised by French people during the electoral campaigns in the spring,” he said.

More than six million voters, out of a total 41 million, supported neo-fascist presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in May. Both Le Pen and rival candidate President Jacques Chirac condemned what they called the vacillations of the former Socialist government in fighting crime.