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Rights Panel Criticizes France Over Roma Policy September 15, 2010

Posted by Yilan in France.
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A United Nations-backed committee of experts sharply criticized France on Friday for deporting large groups of Roma and said the government in Paris should do more to combat what it called a growing racist and xenophobic tone in the country’s public debate.

The 18-member committee, which issues periodic reports on racial discrimination, prepared its findings on France coincidentally against a backdrop of passionate debate there over the government’s moves against foreign-born Roma, also known as Gypsies.

On instructions from President Nicolas Sarkozy, the French police have been dismantling improvised Roma camps in recent weeks and deporting Roma groups to Bulgaria and Romania.

The French government said that all those flown back to the Balkans were part of a voluntary repatriation scheme and that they had accepted payments equivalent to about $380 per adult and $120 per child.

However the report issued here on Friday questioned that assertion, saying that “not all individuals” had given “their free and full consent” or understood their rights.

It urged France “specifically to avoid collective repatriation” and instead to seek permanent solutions for the welfare of the Roma, ensuring that they had “access to education, health services, housing and other temporary infrastructure.”

France has said it has already expelled more than 8,500 Roma this year. More were put on planes this week as the committee finalized its report.

“Our concern is that a government should not lump an entire group together and deal with them collectively but act on the basis of individuals,” said Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former United States ambassador for war crimes issues and the group’s rapporteur. Mr. Prosper said France had not been singled out for criticism among the 11 countries whose reports were published on Friday.

“The timing was especially bad for France because the report is coming out as the Roma events are in the news,” he said in an interview. “But the Roma question is a moment in time. The bigger issue in France is the growing racist and xenophobic tone in political discourse and the fact that earlier immigrants do not feel fully accepted and do not get equal chances in French society.”

The committee of experts is an independent group that monitors compliance with a 1965 convention on the elimination of racial discrimination. The convention’s 173 signatories are subject to a review every four years, typically consisting of reports from both governments and human rights and other independent groups. After public debate, the committee issues its recommendations or critiques.

Denmark was also rebuked over its treatment of Roma on Friday and was told it should collect data on the numbers and the legal status of Roma, give them access to shelters and public facilities, and protect them from racial profiling and hate crimes.

The panel said nothing about Denmark’s recent deportation of Roma. Italy, Germany and others have been criticized in earlier statements.

Groups of traveling Roma have become an issue in much of Western Europe, all the more since 2007 when Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union and travelers from those countries no longer needed visas to crisscross much of the Continent.

France has been deporting Roma for several years, including 10,000 last year. A survey in the newspaper Le Figaro published on Friday said that two-thirds of respondents supported the dismantling of camps and the deportation of Roma, linking their presence in the country to crime and insecurity.

In response to criticism from the United Nations group, France said Friday that it was “scrupulously” respecting European law and its international obligations in its drive to expel the Roma.

In its report on Iran on Friday, the committee on racial discrimination urged the government in Tehran to “continue its efforts to empower women and promote their rights.” Iran should also seek to end discrimination against local minorities, including Bahai, Arab, Azeri, Balochi and Kurdish groups, which, the report said, are largely excluded from public life and are scarcely mentioned in the national census and in public policies.

The committee also criticized Australia, saying that it should increase efforts to amend its Constitution to include the recognition of aboriginal groups as “First Nations Peoples.” It said that these groups needed more money for legal aid, adequate land titles and more help to preserve indigenous languages.

Members of the committee include representatives from Algeria, Brazil, Britain, France, China, Burkina Faso, Ireland, Tanzania, Togo, Turkey, Guatemala, Russia, Niger, Pakistan, India and the United States.

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