Monday, February 19, 2007

Update: Papon and the Kouchner law

A story in today's Paris Libération, headlined "One of the rare prisoners freed by the Kouchner law," describes a provision of the French code that authorized the early release of Maurice Papon from prison on humanitarian grounds. As detailed in Geagan's post on the subject, Papon was freed in 2002 after serving just three years of a ten-year sentence for crimes against humanity during World War II. The Kouchner law permits a suspension of the remaining sentence
"...of prisoners for whom it is established that they have developed a life-threatening pathology, or [when] their long-term state of health is incompatible with their maintenance in detention."
In a communiqué on Pabon's death, the French Ligue des droits de l'homme (League of the Rights of Man) notes that Papon is one of the very few aged or infirm prisoners who have benefited from the Kouchner law. On the day that Papon walked out of La Santé prison and celebrated at a fine restaurant, there were 369 septuagenarians, 39 octogenarians and 2 nonagenarians in French prisons. The League condemned "the priority given to an accomplice of the Shoah in the liberation of sick prisoners over other prisoners who have not benefited from the same humanity as the purveyor of Auschwitz." The League contrasted Papon's "golden life" with that of other sick and aging prisoners, including the "calvary" of a 46-year-old political activist who died of lung cancer after her release on humanitarian grounds in 2006:
"How can we forget that one can always live through the terminal phase of cancer in prison, remaining in a cell while weighing only thirty kilograms [66 lbs], falling out of bed each night without getting help, and that there are still old people in prison who don't even know where they are?...

"There is too much inhumanity in the French penal system to get indignant over a measure of clemency granted to an old man, great criminal though he was. But it is intolerable that inequality before the law is so cynically assumed by public authorities."
A final note on Papon. In 1961, when he was chief of the Paris police, from 70 to 200 Algerian demonstrators were killed—typically beaten to death by police—and thrown into the Seine under his orders. The crime wasn't even acknowledged by the French government until 1998. Papon remained chief of police in Paris for a total of nine years (1958-67). He denied complicity in the events of 1961, not surprisingly, and was never prosecuted.

The Papon case demonstrates that it's not enough to have humane laws: they must be implemented fairly and without favoritism. It also shows that certain political and social elites are often exempt from the laws that apply to the rest of us.


All materials in quotes are my translations from the French sources noted or linked.

GRAPHIC: Maurice Papon after his release from prison.

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