FRANCE: Eviction of Roma reaches a peak despite condemnations by the European Committee of Social Rights

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14.02.2013 - In September 2012, the European Committee of Social Rights found that France had infringed the human rights of Roma migrants living in France by failing to provide them decent living conditions. The decision was made public on 21 January 2013,[1] just days after the European Association for the Defence of Human Rights (AEDH) published figures showing that the number of evictions of Roma in France has never been higher.

Failure to address the vulnerability of Roma is discriminatory

In January 2011 the medical charity Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde) lodged a complaint against the French authorities before the European Committee of Social Rights, in the context of more stringent policies brought in following a July 2010 speech in which then-President Nicolas Sarkozy announced there would be an increase in forced evictions and removals of Roma families to Bulgaria and Romania.

"Médecins du Monde allege that France does not respect the rights to housing, education for children, social protection and health care of Roma, mostly from countries of the European Union, living in France in extreme poverty, in violation of Articles 11, 13, 16, 17, 19§8, 30 and 31 of the Revised European Social Charter, read alone and/or in conjunction with Article E of the Charter," said the charity's complaint.[2]

Based on a review of applicable French law, decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and by bodies of the Council of Europe (including the Committee of Ministers; Human Rights Commissioner; European Commission against Racism and Intolerance), and on evidence provided by Doctors of the World and the French government, the Committee concluded that there had been no sufficient effort to guarantee effective access to education and primary health care for Roma communities.

The report quotes a statement by the High Authority on the Fight Against Discrimination and for Equality (Haute Autorité de Lutte contre les Discriminations et pour l'Egalité - HALDE) which, in 2009, stressed that "Roma from Bulgaria and Romania are the most controlled, the least medically protected group in France and the only population which does not benefit from humanitarian policies in terms of access to education and health care".[3]

Throughout the report, the Committee dismissed the arguments put forward by the French government which denied accusations of discrimination.
The government argued that Roma migrants were not facing targeted discrimination but rather poverty-induced hardship that other categories of people in France were facing and which the government was trying to address. In a country where difference of treatment depending on one's origin or ethnicity is prohibited, Roma should not be considered differently than any other marginalised or impoverished population in France, said the government.

The Committee contradicted this position, stating that given the significant vulnerability and marginalisation of Roma communities, the authorities did not do enough to ensure that this population was informed of its rights and enjoyed them.

The Committee stated that "to treat Roma migrants the same way as the rest of the population, although they are in a different situation, constitutes a discriminatory treatment." In particular, it is noted the "absence in France of a coordinated approach promoting effective access to housing of people (at risk of) suffering from social exclusion."

The Committee continued:
"[P]lans, declarations of intent, pilot projects, roadmaps identifying targets and 'special tools' to be deployed in the future may be necessary to reach the set objectives; but they cannot be considered to be efficient and sufficient measures, especially since their implementation and conception require the use of considerable financial resources detrimental to the undertaking of concrete actions."

France also argued that some articles of the Charter only committed states to protect the rights of people residing legally on their territory, thereby implying that these were not applicable to Roma migrants without a legal residence/work permit.

The Committee disagreed, saying that the right to life and dignity applied to all people under the jurisdiction of the parties to the European Social Charter, regardless of their legal status in the country. Similarly, eviction procedures should always be respected so as not to jeopardise the rights to life and human dignity. The authorities should, according to the Committee, provide evicted persons with the opportunity to be re-housed.

12,000 evictions in 2012: ongoing discrimination

This decision from the Committee on Social Rights was made public a few days after the AEDH published its latest estimate of the number of forcibly evicted Roma. With almost 12,000 Roma evicted in the last year (compared to 9,396 in 2011), the number of evictions reached a peak in 2012. In 80% of the cases, the police used force to evict Roma.[4]

According to Philippe Goossens, a member of the AEDH's steering committee, author of this regular "census":
"Despite the wind of change in its discourse, the new socialist government has actually developed an at least as disruptive and harmful policy as that of the former government."[5]

The Committee reached similar conclusions and, although the complaint was lodged two years ago, it also reflected on the new government's declared willingness to distant itself from the former Sarkozy era.[6]

In particular, it commented on a circular adopted on 26 August 2012, in the midst of the eviction and removal operations carried out in August and September 2012, which was meant to illustrate the government's willingness to support Roma integration.

The 26 August circular lifted the €893 tax obligation for employers willing to employ Romanian or Romanian workers-transitional measures apply to Romanians and Bulgarians restricting them access to work in the EU until the end of 2013. The government also announced that the list of accessible job sectors would be widened.

However, the Committee considered that "the situation of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals" still remained the same since "the impact of the lifting of the tax … cannot be assessed" yet and since "the other measures are not in force."

Moreover, the Committee found that France had violated the prohibition of collective expulsions in every case where eviction decisions were not preceded by the individual examination of the situation of the person under a removal order.

Drawing on a 2009 Human Rights Watch report and on evidence provided before the appointment of the new French government, the Committee condemned the absence of individual examination and the conduct of "collective expulsions" under the Sarkozy government.

According to the Committee the situation has not changed since January 2012 when France was found in breach of the Charter for carrying out collective expulsions of Roma.[7]

Roma-only classrooms condemned by NGOs

Meanwhile, on 11 February 2013, several human rights organisations - the Romeurope network, Amnesty International France, trade union branches representing teachers and academics, and other migrant rights groups - sent an open letter to France's Prime Minister.

The letter raises concerns about practices denying access to education to Roma children, arguing that they are discriminatory. In particular, the letter questions the Prime Minister about new practices whereby special classrooms are created for Roma pupils, away from the main buildings of schools. One of these classrooms is located in a former school now used by the local police as offices.[8]

Although limited to a small number of places (Saint-Font, in the south of Lyon; and Ris-Orangis in the suburbs of Paris), the letter warns against the "establishment of ethnic segregation" which contradicts the obligation for non-discrimination at school. This principle was reasserted by the government in a recent circular adopted on 2 October 2012 which stresses that the "obligation for all schools to welcome all pupils shall apply unevenly to newly arrived foreign pupils and others."[9]

In a decision made last year, the French Ombudsman considered that a Roma boy from Bulgaria was victim of racial discrimination when he was denied registration at school, in breach of French law and on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.[10]

According to estimates by the Roma rights network, Romeurop, only 10% of the Roma children in France attend school.

[1] Médecins du Monde, Communiqué de presse: La France condamnée pour violation manifeste des droits des populations Roms, Décision du Comité européen des Droits Sociaux (CEDS), January 2013
[2] European Committee on Social Rights, Decision on admissibility : Médecins du Monde - International v. France, Collective Complaint No. 67/2011, 13 September 2011
[3] HALDE, Délibération No. 2009-372, 26 October 2009
[4] AEDH, 2012 Census of forced evictions from settlements of migrant Roma in France and of their collective eviction from the territory, 4 January 2013
[5] 'Près de 12 000 Roms évacués de leurs campements en 2012', Le & AFP, 6 February 2013
[6] Human Rights Watch, France: Candidates Pledge to Address Human Rights Issues, 1 May 2012
[7] European Committee on Social Rights, Decision on the merits: European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) v. France, Collective Complaint No. 64/2011, 24 January 2012
[8] Collective Action: Lettre ouverte au Premier ministre
Pour que cessent les refus de scolarisation et la création de classes « roms »
, 11 February 2013
[9] Circulaire relative à l'organisation de la scolarité des élèves allophones nouvellement arrivés, No. 2012-143, 2 October 2012
[10] Défenseur des Droits, Décision n° MLD/2012-33

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