FECL 41 (February 1996):

'VIGIPIRATE' MEASURES EASED BUT NOT RAISED

On 15 January, the French government eased its anti-terrorist plan of action, Vigipirate. The plan provided for the use of the army in maintaining public security and was put into effect in July 1995, in the midst of a wave of terrorist bomb attacks attributed to Algerian islamic extremists (see FECL No.39: "Hunting a spectre: the French fight against terrorism", "Operation Vigipirate: a country under siege" and "Rivalries and blunders hamper terrorist hunt"). But it has now turned out that Prime Minister Alain Juppé signed a "confidential defense" directive establishing the scheme on 15 June 1995, almost a month before the first terrorist attack occurred.

 

There have been no further terrorist attacks since October 1995 and criticism against the continuation of Vigipirate has grown in recent months, mainly because of its use for public order purposes without any relation to terrorism. Among others, the Commission nationale consultative des droits de l'homme, an advisory committee on human rights attached to the Prime Minister, expressed concern about a number of statements of the Interior Minister, Jean-Louis Debré. In a first assessment of Vigipirate, the minister had stressed the positive side-effects of the operation in terms of general public order and foreigners control. According to the Interior Minister, 3 million persons were checked, 21,450 taken in for questioning related to various offences, 19,972 denied entry at the border and 2,324 expelled, since the entry into force of the plan.

The figures seem to confirm that Vigipirate served as a welcome pretext for multiplying random ID-checks affecting above all non-whites and for reinforcing measures against illegal immigration.

Under the reduced Vigipirate plan, military personnel no longer participates in the operation, except for guard and surveillance tasks at borders and airports. Military patrols are withdrawn from all cities except Paris.

 

The secret directive

The secret defense directive issued on 15 June 1995 by Prime Minister Juppé defines the distribution of central and territorial responsibilities in preventing terrorist threats and the principles of state action in this domain. Under the directive, the various ministries act together under the leadership of the Interior Minister who ensures the centralisation and the processing of terrorism-relevant intelligence. On the local level, the prefects are given considerable powers to implement the plan according to the "specificities" of the their départements, such as "concentrations of foreign populations". The decision to put the scheme into effect is, however with the Prime Minister. Originally, Vigipirate was the code name of a document drawn up by the General Secretariat for National Defense (SGDN) in July 1995 after a bomb attack at a Paris underground-station. The text further details the provisions of the government-directive. Inter alia, it provides for applying Vigipirate not only to French territory, but also "at sea and abroad, whenever its measures are compatible with the sovereignty of countries in which French representations, nationals, goods or interests are threatened".

The government directive also contains a set of special schemes adapted to particular forms of terrorism: "Piratair" (airplane-hijacking and hostage-taking of air-passengers); "Intrusair" (intrusion of "undesirable aircraft" into French air space); "Piratome" (attacks involving nuclear substances or aimed against nuclear sites); "Piratox" (attacks involving toxic substances); and "Pirate-mer" (hijacking and hostage-taking at sea). None of these special schemes was, however, put into operation in 1995.

 

Source: Le Monde, 10.1.96, 13.1.96