France came under increasing pressure to stop its mass expulsions of Gypsies when a UN human rights panel added its voice to the chorus of condemnation against the nation that considers itself the cradle of human rights.
France has stepped up its long-standing policy of rounding up Eastern European Gypsies, or Roma, and sending them home, sparking the ire of opposition lawmakers and EU officials. Officials have dismantled more than 100 illegal camps and sent hundreds of Roma back to their homes in Eastern Europe in recent weeks.
In the latest round of criticism, a report released on Friday by a UN anti-racism panel urged France to avoid its “collective repatriation(s)” and expressed concern that members of the minority weren’t receiving full voting, education and housing rights in France.
In its report, the UN panel, known by the acronym CERD, said it was “worried about the rise in violence of a racist nature against Roma” in France. It recommended the country “avoid collective repatriations in particular and work toward lasting solutions to challenges with the Roma based on the complete respect of their human rights.”
Francois Zimeray, France’s ambassador for human rights, lashed out at the findings, saying “it’s very easy to give lessons.”
“France doesn’t pretend to give lessons to the world, even if we’re often seen as the country of human rights ... We also don’t pretend to listen to lessons from countries that don’t make a tenth of the efforts that we’ve accomplished,” Zimeray said, in an apparent reference to the members of the UN panel, which is made up of independent experts from countries such as Russia, China, Algeria, Pakistan and Romania.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in an address to France’s ambassadors on Friday, said about the report: “Yes, we accept the criticism. No, we don’t accept caricature, we don’t accept lumping issues together.”
Kouchner, a longtime human rights advocate who co-founded Doctors Without Borders, also rushed to the defense of President Nicolas Sarkozy, saying the French leader “never stigmatized a minority based on its origins.”
Zimeray pointed to the French policy of giving those Roma who agree to leave 300 euros (US$380) per adult and 100 euros per child to help them resettle as proof of France’s good faith. Critics have lambasted the measure as ridiculous, as nothing keeps those expelled from using the money to immediately return to France.
“Our goal is not to add more drama to the already existing drama, more suffering to the already existing suffering, but to put an end to a situation that’s no longer tolerable,” Zimeray said at a news conference. “None of these expulsion are done without judges’ knowledge, none is done outside French and European law.”
Still, despite the French assurances, the EU’s head office said on Friday it would make its own decision on the legality of the expulsions.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and French Premier Francois Fillon discussed the issue in a phone call on Thursday, and this week French officials will go over the matter with several EU commissioners, EU spokesman Olivier Bailly said.
Both France and Romania are EU member states, and under the rules governing the 27-member block, governments are legally permitted to send citizens of other EU countries home if they can’t find work or support themselves.