UN Accuses France of Racism Against Romas

France’s policy toward the Roma community is once again slammed by an international organization, as well as racism targeting other minority groups.

The French government defended its policy of demolishing Roma camps Wednesday before a special U.N. panel, which denounced discrimination against Romas and trivialization of “hate speech” in the country. The 18 members of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination grounded its accusations on the situation observed in the country over the five past years – as its last assessment on racism in France was in 2010. “There was an impression that freedom of expression enabled hate speech by the politicians,” the report stated, later encouraging authorities to reinforce criminalization of hate speech on Internet, among other measures. It also noticed several cases of state discrimination against ethnic minorities, especially the Roma one: “Concerns were raised about the treatment of Roma and Traveller communities, explicit discrimination against Muslims, and the situation of indigenous peoples in overseas territories, including the violations of the rights of Kanaks in New Caledonia, the denial of access to natural resources to indigenous peoples in French Guyana, and the stripping of a great number of Mahorais in Mayotte of their fundamental rights. Experts inquired about measures to promote the situation of disadvantaged members of the society, to improve the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in the country, and to protect juveniles seeking to reach the country.”

The U.N. experts also urged French authorities to set up a better evaluation system of racist acts, via ethnic statistics and discrimination indicators — an issue that has divided the country in the past, as many are reluctant to abandon France’s professed ideal of “Republican universalism” — and categorize its citizens into ethnic identities. In response, the French delegation in Geneva argued that the evacuation of camps did not depend on the ethnic origins of their residents, but insisted the camps were illegally occupying land. “The actions of the government do not target a specific population but are aimed at (illegal) camps,” said Claire Vuillet, a justice ministry official. The U.N. panel will release its final conclusions May 15. Between 15,000 and 20,000 Roma people are estimated to be living in France – far fewer than in other European countries like Italy, Spain or Germany, yet the Roma population faces significantly more discrimination in France. They suffer from strong racist prejudices among the French; local residents usually do not wish to see Romas settling in the neighborhood, which partly explains why authorities, especially at a local level, contribute to their exclusion by making it difficult for them settling down and integrate. For instance, a mayor in a small French town recently denied the right to a Roma family to bury their child, who died Christmas eve 2014, in the local cementary. Roma children access to school is often denied, and families are forced to live in precarious camps with almost no access to basic amenities, regularly evacuated by French authorities. Experts also claim that the public funds officially allocated by the UE to improve the inclusion of Roma would be almost systematically used for other programs.
In 2010, conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a campaign against “illegal camps” and destroyed many of them, despite the condemnations of human rights organizations. The EU’s Human Rights Council condemned the country over discrimination charges one year later. However, since then social-democrat President Francois Hollande, elected in 2012, has not much changed policy except a non-binding resolution meant to improve with “accompanying” social measures the evacuations. Racism in France is also strongly affecting the Jewish and Muslim communities, especially since the January Charlie Hebdo attack when two armed men killed 12 people, supposedly in the name of Islam. In addition, a few days before the U.N. panel meeting in Geneva, a Muslim student was denied access to high-school in France, not because she was wearing a head scarf – that she carefully removes every morning because of a 2004 French law prohibiting “ostentatious sign of religion” in public spaces, but because her skirt was “too long.” The high-school head stated that she considered the long skirt as an “ostentatious sign of religion” and therefore could not be tolerated in the precinct of the school.

Source: Telesur
Date: 29.04.2015