French justice minister Christiane Taubira quits over 'terrorist' nationality row

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira quit on Jan 27, 2016.
French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira quit on Jan 27, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP) - French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira quit on Wednesday (Jan 27) in protest over the government's efforts to strip convicted French-born terrorists of their citizenship if they have a second nationality.

Taubira, popular among the ruling Socialists of President Francois Hollande but a target of criticism from right-wing politicians, tweeted: "Sometimes to resist means staying, sometimes resisting means leaving."

The outspoken 63-year-old, who is from French Guiana, became France's most senior black politician when she was named to the justice ministry post in 2012.

Jean-Jacques Urvoas, the president of the parliamentary committee in charge of reviewing legislation, was named as her successor.

Taubira has often been at the centre of controversy, whether as the victim of racial slurs or for pushing through a same-sex marriage bill despite fierce opposition from conservatives.

Her latest battle brought her into conflict with President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls over their proposals to strip dual-national convicted terrorists of their French passports.

Hollande called for the measure to be written into the constitution in the aftermath of the November terrorist attacks in Paris which left 130 people dead.

It is part of a string of reforms meant to boost security as hundreds of French citizens - many of them dual nationals - take up arms alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and in the case of the Paris attackers, return to wreak devastation in France.

"Removing French nationality from those who blindly kill other French in the name of an ideology of terror is a strong symbolic act against those who have excluded themselves from the national community," Valls said after the measure was announced.

But many in the Socialist party see the proposal as an act of ideological treason that discriminates against a section of the population.

Just a day before the reforms were presented, Taubira announced the measure would be dropped, only to be overruled at the last minute by Hollande.

The reforms also aim to inscribe the right to declare a state of emergency in the constitution, including powers to raid homes and place people under house arrest without judicial oversight.

Valls presented the revised article of the constitution to parliament on Wednesday, ahead of a debate scheduled to start in early February.

In naming Urvoas to replace Taubira, the presidency said in a statement he would "carry out... the constitutional reform".

One of the main criticisms of the nationality clause is that it will drive a wedge between those who are only French, and those who hold a second nationality.

Under French law, naturalised citizens may already be stripped of their nationality.

But if the latest reform passes, France would become "the first democracy in the world" to enshrine in its constitution the principle of unequal treatment of dual nationals, political scientist Patrick Weil told AFP.

Valls said Wednesday that the phrase "dual citizen" would not feature in the constitution or related laws - to avoid discrimination.

He said this solution would avoid the "stigmatisation" of those holding two passports.

To avoid French citizens with no other passport being stripped of their nationality Valls said France would ratify a 1954 United Nations convention forbidding the creation of stateless persons.

Valls said the measure would concern those convicted of serious crimes such as "criminal conspiracy, financing terrorism or individual terrorist undertaking."

While left wing politicians paid tribute to Taubira, those on the right revelled in her resignation.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said Taubira's resignation was "good news for France".

Taubira, who tweeted that she was "proud" of her time in office, has previously admitted it was "very hard" at times, including being depicted as a monkey by far-right politicians and magazines.

She became a hate figure among many conservatives in French society for her involvement in two landmark pieces of legislation - a 2001 law which classified the slave trade as a crime against humanity and the 2013 gay marriage act which triggered massive protests.