Racism: UN accuses France

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The irony of the land of human rights. The UN has expressed concerns over the “political speech” and recent actions of the French government. Wednesday and Thursday in Geneva, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a branch of the international organization, examined the situation. Its views are unequivocal.

The Roma people, Travelers, withdrawal of French nationality, penalties … The United Nations finds the recent French government hardline stance worrisome. Wednesday, the CERD pointed to a “significant resurgence of racism and xenophobia” in the country, highlighting the government’s policy towards Travelers and “French of foreign descent”.

While the committee sharply criticizes the French government’s treatment of Travelers and the Roma people, the debate over national identity, the non-recognition of minority rights in legislation, and the hardening of political discourse, especially Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent speech in Grenoble, NGOs have also moved to denounce a “regression toward a break from equal treatment”.

According to the Nigerian representative Waliakoye Saidou, the travel documents of Travellers or gypsies is a stark reminder of the days of Petain [[French head of State during German occupation of France between 1940 and 1944 and who apart from collaborating with the German occupiers installed exceptional jurisdictions and proclaimed anti-semitic laws]]. “We are horrified by the circulation visa. It reminds us of the Petain” era, he said.

Many of the committee’s members also demanded to know if Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent comments were compatible with the French Constitution. “I do not understand what a French of foreign origin means” and “I wonder if this is compatible with the Constitution” asked Gun Kut, the committee’s Turkish representative.

The issue of the deportation of the Roma, who had over 40 of their illegal camps dismantled in 15 days, was raised on several occasions. “How can the Roma (…) be deported as if they did not belong to the European Union?” Asked the Algerian representative, Noureddine Amir. “I did not know that a country could differentiate between first and second class citizens,” he added. The committee believes that at least 95 percent of the 400 000 estimated Roma people and Travelers are legally French.

While French president Nicolas Sarkozy has suggested that the French citizenship should be “withdrawn from any person of foreign origin who willingly threatens the physical integrity of any public official”, his interior minister Brice Hortefeux has also indicated that naturalized citizens could be stripped of their French nationality if they are convicted of polygamy or female circumcision.

And according to the Togolese representative, Ewomsan Dieudonné, Nicolas Sarkozy’s July 30 speech “is not only discriminatory, (but) also an incitement to hatred.”

Friday, August 13, on RTL radio, the ruling party’s spokesperson, Dominique Paille said he was “surprised by the attitude of the committee,” whose composition he challenges as “people who come from countries that totally ignore human rights”. His comments were made despite the fact that the 18 member committee acted as a panel of experts and not on behalf of their respective country.

Mr. Paille was categorical, “the committee is wrong, (France is) a country that respects democratic principles and … human rights, it cannot be contested.” But this defensive attitude would not make the CERD change its stance after the group criticized France for not questioning itself instead of rather hiding behind its status as a “country of human rights”. Pierre-Richard Prosper, U.S. representative, points to a lack “of real political will”.

The committee is expected to conclude its findings on the French situation with non-binding recommendations in ten days.

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