World

French justice minister quits over terror laws' citizenship-stripping proposal

Paris: French justice minister Christiane Taubira, one of the most outspoken and progressive voices in the government, has resigned  after a clash over a proposal to strip the citizenship of French-born dual nationals convicted of terrorism.

President Francois Hollande's office said that he had accepted Ms Taubira's resignation. A native of French Guiana, she had held the position since Mr Hollande's election in 2012 and had disagreed with his government on several issues.

Christiane Taubira leaves the French Justice Ministry on a bike on Wednesday, after her resignation was accepted.
Christiane Taubira leaves the French Justice Ministry on a bike on Wednesday, after her resignation was accepted. Photo: AP

The statement said that Mr Hollande had expressed "gratitude" for Ms Taubira's work and that she had overhauled the justice system with "conviction, determination and talent".

At a news conference at the Justice Ministry, she said: "I am leaving the government over a major political disagreement."

Pedestrians walk alongside police officers  in the Champs Elysees in Paris, the day after the November 13 terrorist attacks.
Pedestrians walk alongside police officers in the Champs Elysees in Paris, the day after the November 13 terrorist attacks.  Photo: Bloomberg

"I am choosing to be faithful to myself, to my commitments, to my fights," she added.

​Before the news conference, she said on Twitter that she was "proud" of her time at the Justice Ministry. "Sometimes to resist is to stay, sometimes to resist is to leave," she wrote in a second post.

The proposal to strip the citizenship of French-born dual nationals convicted of terrorism was put forward by Mr Hollande in the aftermath of the attacks in the Paris area in November that killed 130 people.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who was presenting the proposal Wednesday at the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, said the legislation would make no reference to dual citizenship and that it would apply only to the most serious crimes.

Christiane Taubira speaks after handing over the justice minister's job to Jean-Jacques Urvoas, right.
Christiane Taubira speaks after handing over the justice minister's job to Jean-Jacques Urvoas, right. Photo: AP

Mr Valls also emphasised that France would not make anybody stateless, suggesting that the stripping of citizenship would in practice apply only to those with dual citizenship, even if it did not specifically say so.

Mr Valls said the bill would make it possible to strip French citizens of some or all of their civic rights, like the right to vote, regardless of how many citizenships they held.

French police officers in front of the Bataclan concert hall  after the November 13 terrorist attacks.
French police officers in front of the Bataclan concert hall after the November 13 terrorist attacks.  Photo: Getty Images

Opinion polls show that most French people support the measure. Yet it has proved deeply divisive for the left, where many, including Ms Taubira, said it discriminated among French citizens and was largely symbolic because it was unlikely to deter any would-be terrorists.

Ms Taubira said at her news conference that France was facing a "serious" and "unpredictable" terrorist threat, adding that "we know how to fight it".

Flowers stand next to a sign near the Bataclan concert hall.
Flowers stand next to a sign near the Bataclan concert hall. Photo: Bloomberg

"But I believe that we mustn't grant it any victory, neither military, nor diplomatic, nor political, nor symbolic," she added.

The proposal, which requires an amendment to the French Constitution, is part of a bill that also aims to give a constitutional framework to the law governing the state of emergency.

People sing the French national anthem at Place de la Republique two days after the November 13 attacks.
People sing the French national anthem at Place de la Republique two days after the November 13 attacks. Photo: Getty Images

Mr Hollande declared a state of emergency immediately after the November 13 attacks. He is expected to extend it for another three months after a first three-month period expires on February 26.

France's top administrative court upheld the state of emergency on Wednesday, rejecting a request by the League for Human Rights to suspend it and arguing that the threat of terrorist attacks still loomed. 

Ms Taubira, a skilled orator, was one of the few black female politicians within a prominent ministry in the French government. She ran for president in 2002.

She has been an advocate for women and minorities, and was best known for championing the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013, which elevated her status on the left as a defender of progressive values. Mr Hollande praised her "major role" in passing that legislation.

But her role in the same-sex marriage debate also made her a target for the right and far-right, and criticism of Ms Taubira and her policies was a cornerstone of opposition to the Socialist government.

Marine Le Pen, the president of the far-right National Front party, said in a statement that Ms Taubira's departure was "good news" for France and that her time at the Justice Ministry had proved "absolutely disastrous" for the country.

Mr Hollande nominated Jean-Jacques Urvoas, a Socialist MP from Brittany, to replace Ms Taubira. Mr Urvoas is a close ally of Mr Valls' and hews more closely to the law-and-order line favoured by the prime minister.

He was a strong proponent of a bill passed last year that vastly expanded the surveillance abilities of French intelligence services, legislation that Ms Taubira said she would have demonstrated against had she not been in the government.

New York Times