In France, Christiane Taubira steps up by stepping down

Wednesday January 27th, instead of going to Parliament to defend reforms to the Constitution, France’s Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, tendered her resignation to President Francois Hollande. She was immediately replaced by a man in line with Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ ideas. The bill under discussion contains many questionable articles, but the one that will allow deprivation of nationality for French born citizens with dual citizenship convicted of act of terrorism is emblematic of the current trend personified by Prime Minister Valls, to curtail rights in the name of security.

This is the trend that Christiane Taubira has opposed particularly since the first attacks in Paris in January 2015. Her approach was to understand why some young French were attracted by DAESH and violent actions, while for Manuel Valls to find explanation to terrorist acts “is already an attempt to excuse them.” He takes an opposite direction: no explanation or understanding needed, just security measures.

Since her nomination in 2012, Christiane Taubira has committed herself to induce a turn toward restorative justice in France, a real shift from the Sarkozy years of repression and development of the prison industrial complex. She tried to instill a change in mentalities, from crude punishment to create means for rehabilitation and reinsertion, beginning by revoking mandatory minimum sentencing. Her unfinished project is the reform of the juvenile justice system and the elimination of the correctional juvenile courts. Many legal scholars and even magistrates supported her action and expressed their concerns after her departure. For many, she represented a change with her approach and her discourse from the previous administration. The latter endlessly tried to reduce the role of the judiciary to favor harsh policing and blind punishment for civil society, encouraging profiling and at the same time discouraging the judiciary from investigating financial arrangements of the elite.

Nonetheless, Taubira’s initiatives were often at odd with and even opposed by many in her own government, notably the Minister of the Interior and Manuel Valls. She was the target of racial and gendered attacks from an unfettered right and extreme right, especially at the time she defended equal rights for LGBT with the Marriage For All bill. Not to forget that one of the last cases of loss of citizenship was a gay man who married in the Netherlands in 2007. Now he can be French again thanks to Taubira’s bill on gay marriage.

Christiane Taubira’s departure is another blow for those who have cautioned against the excess of state violence and policing that this reform of the Constitution may produce. Last weekend many demonstrations were organized to oppose the reform of the Constitution. Taubira has described these articles as “absolutely pathetic inefficiency.” She is not isolated, Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, has declared on Radio France that what infuriated her was national politics especially the issue of loss of nationality and précised that it makes her fly off the handle. She concluded, “It is time to change radically the logic of politics in France.” Similar opinions and support have been expressed by former members of the government as well as many from the center to the left.

Despite heavy rains, thousands of people went to the streets, responding to the call of 123 civil associations and 19 unions, to oppose these reforms, the prolongation of the state of emergency, to demand justice, to defend rights for all including the more vulnerable rendered even more vulnerable at the time of increased economic gaps between classes and ethnicities, and to affirm that a just world is possible!

In the wake of the attacks a certain consensus appeared among various sectors of the society. This consensus against these security measures has upheld, with the president of the Observatory of the “Laicity” signing along with many Muslim organizations, women’s rights organizations, the collective against islamophobia, a declaration released in the newspaper Liberation.

Still Manuel Valls railed against this consensus, accusing some to be irresponsible and others to be undemocratic. In resigning, Taubira has shown her support for this consensus. Her method is to listen, to understand the struggle of the second generation French youth in “les cités”, in the suburbs.

In the United States, we have seen the effect of the ‘tough on crime’ approach linked to security measures in the so-called Patriot Act. The two curtail rights and bring impoverishment and violence. Maybe this is the real purpose of these measures. For Taubira to resist is to give “the last word to ethics and rights”. Let’s have the last word!

Meanwhile, in the past few days, Christiane Taubira wrote a book, “Murmures à la Jeunesse”, explaining her position. It was published today.

(Photo Credit: Slate / AFP / Alain Jocard)

About Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States. She is a member of Women Included, a new transnational feminist collective, that is part of the Women 7, a coalition that advocates for the inclusion of women's rights in the G7.