UNITED NATIONS
Press Release

Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Considers Report of France

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 23 February 2005

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the report of France on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report was Nicole Guedj, the French State Secretary for Victims' Rights, who said that France was actively and intensively implicated, at the national and international level, in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. France and its Government considered this fight to be an essential element for the consolidation of democracy.

Since the presentation of the last report in 2000, the situation in France had changed a lot, Ms. Guedj said. The fight against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia had achieved a certain successful element, with the decrease of reprehensible acts until 2002. However, during the last two years, there had been an increase in anti-Semitism and xenophobia. The vigilance had been accompanied by a series of new initiatives on preventive education and the reinforcement of political integration.

In the course of the discussion, which was held over two meetings, issues concerning France's non-recognition of minorities, racism and anti-Semitism activities, the status of the Berber and Roma minorities, asylum seekers and immigrants, the prohibition of religious symbols in schools, and the situation of French overseas territories and departments, were raised among others.

In preliminary remarks, the country Rapporteur for the report, Committee Expert Linos Alexandre Sicilianos, said the dialogue with the French delegation had been fruitful. He had taken due note of what the Experts said and he would reflect their concerns in the concluding observations, as well as the written and oral replies provided by the delegation.

The Committee will issue its final recommendations on the fifteenth and sixteenth periodic reports of France, which were presented in one document, at the end of its session, which concludes on 11 March.

The delegation of France also included Michel Doucin, Ambassador in charge of Human Rights at the French Foreign Ministry, and representatives of the Overseas Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research, the Ministry of Employment, Labour and Social Cohesion and the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will begin its consideration of the tenth to thirteenth periodic reports of Luxembourg (CERD/C/449/Add.1).

Report of France

The fifteenth and sixteenth periodic reports of France, contained in one document CERD/C/430/Add.4, note that since 1998, the French Government has continued its policy of eliminating racial discrimination, in accordance with the commitments it entered into on ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This policy has given rise, at both national and European levels, to initiatives intended to reinforce preventive mechanisms and suppress racism and xenophobia. The new Penal Code of 1994 brings together a large number of provisions directed against racism and xenophobia. The circulation of racist and xenophobic messages is punishable under the Act of 29 July 1881 on press freedom. The Act on freedom of the press guarantees freedom of expression and opinion subject to respect for public order. Abuses of this freedom, especially overt manifestations of racism and xenophobia, are punishable by law. To combat the expression of racism and xenophobia and at the same time guarantee freedom of the press, the legislature has added a number of criminal offences to the Act.

On policy on the entry, temporary stay and removal of aliens, French immigration policy is based on two series of considerations: respect for fundamental human rights, especially human dignity, in keeping with France's international commitments in the field of human rights; and a concern to prevent illegal immigration. The notable development as regards asylum policy is the passage on 10 December 2003 of a new law on asylum, which is intended to improve the reception and care given to refugees, given the growing number of asylum seekers.

According to the document, the Anti-discrimination Research Unit report confirms the observation that the proportion of foreign families living in public low-rental housing is twice as large as that of foreign families living in France. It suggests that immigrant households are concentrated in sensitive public-housing districts and that segregations tend to direct them towards the least attractive areas of the public housing stock. Allocation procedures may have contributed indirectly to the "relegation" of certain immigrant groups to the most run-down city districts.

Presentation of Report

NICOLE GUEDJ, French State Secretary for Victims' Rights, said that as she was preparing her speech to the Committee, she was informed that two odious acts had been perpetrated in her country. Unknown individuals had attempted on Sunday evening to set fire to the show wagon of the former camp of Drancy, through which the majority of the 76,000 French Jews were deported during the Second World War. The same evening, a neo-nazi graffiti had been painted on the walls of the Paris Mosque. The French Government and all French political groups condemned the acts, and the Ministry of the Interior had promised to do all it could to apprehend the culprits.

Ms. Guedj said France was actively and intensively implicated, at the national and international level, in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. France and its Government considered this fight an essential element for the consolidation of democracy.

Since the presentation of the last report in 2000, the situation in France had changed a lot, Ms. Guedj said. The fight against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia had achieved a certain successful element, with the decrease of reprehensible acts until 2002. However, during the last two years, there had been an increase in anti-Semitism and xenophobia. The vigilance had been accompanied by a series of new initiatives on preventive education and the reinforcement of political integration. Under the impetus of the President of the Republic Jacques Chirac, those initiatives were now being dealt with by an inter-Ministerial committee chaired by the Prime Minister.

Ms. Guedj said that the renewed emergence of violent racist acts in France during the last two years had effectively prompted the Government to react strongly and to take preventive and corrective measures with regard to a number of cases. The incidents had also prompted the Government to reflect on the causes of those reprehensive acts. A number of measures had been taken to address those issues in collaboration with civil society. The reflections over the causes of anti-Semitism and xenophobia had led the Government to take initiatives and reform some the provisions of integration and the fight against discrimination.

The hosting and integration of new migrants - 100,000 non-Europeans per year - was a priority assigned to the Government by the President of the Republic in 2002, she said. The function of the High Council for Integration had been renewed. The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Integration had also put in place 55 measures concerning education, employment and the fight against discrimination.

Concerning asylum seekers, whose numbers had continued to rise since 2000, the Government had undertaken efforts to improve the facilities and had tripled their capacity, Ms. Guedj said. The centres today were hosting 15,440 persons. During their stay in the centres, the asylum seekers enjoyed the right to medical treatment, education and all social services. When such persons were recognized as refugees, they would enjoy all rights similar to French citizens.

Ms. Guedj said the reparation of victims of racial discrimination was part of the Government's policy. The creation of a State Secretariat for Victims' Rights clearly attested the importance which the Government attached to the issue.

Questions Raised by the Special Rapporteur and Committee Experts

ALEXANDER SICILIANOS, the Expert serving as Country Rapporteur to the Report of France, said the report was prepared in accordance with the Committee's guidelines. It was divided into two parts: general information and information on the implementation of articles 1 to 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. France had ratified quite a number of international and regional conventions on human rights, particularly on the elimination of racism and racial discrimination. The traditional position of France on the issue of minorities - its reluctance to recognize the notion of a minority - was also reiterated.

Mr. Sicilianos noted the publication of the fourteenth report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights and the report of the Court of Accounts on the integration of migrants.

With regard to article 2 of the Convention on policies to combat racial discrimination, Mr. Sicilianos said the report suffered from a lack of available data on cases of discrimination with regard to the immigrant population. In its concluding observations in 1999, the Committee had recommended that the State party endeavour to provide relevant information on this issue. The Committee had also recommended that the State party provide statistics on the demographic composition of the population. The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights had made similar recommendations. Had the Government taken any steps in this regard?

The French Government had designed a number of policies on housing, hosting and planning with regard to immigrants and their descendents, the Rapporteur said. The Court of Accounts was, however, critical of those policies. The policies were designed to detect illegal migrants. The Court had also made a series of recommendations on the policies. What was the stand of the Government on those recommendations?

The delegation had been asked to provide information on the manner in which immigrants were detained and expelled. An organization working in that field had said that the policy of detention was excessive, and women were doubly affected by the excessive periods of detention. Mr. Sicilianos also said that the implementation of the law on asylum seekers had met with problems. Such persons were required to apply in French and thousands were not lodged in adequate conditions. The 2004 law on Roma settlement also had major shortcomings as such individuals were not able to buy houses if they wished to do so.

Mr. Sicilianos noted that ethnic discrimination had been indicated in the French DOM-TOM (French Overseas Departments and Territories) in matters of access to justice, for example.

Other Committee Experts also raised a series of questions on recognition of the use of the maternal tongue by immigrants; the fight against Islamophobia, Arabophobia and anti-Semitism; the law on religious symbols and how school head masters were trained on the issue; the involvement of NGOs in the preparation of the report; the lack of aggregated statistical data; and the unequal payment of pensions for African soldiers who fought for France during the Second World War, compared to French soldiers, among other things.

Several Experts raised questions pertaining to France's non-recognition of minorities by citing the existence of Berbers, Roma and other immigrant minority communities. While France recognized the existence of such communities, the law did not recognize their status as minorities. On the issue of asylum seekers, some Experts said that many of them were held under difficult conditions and that the report did not provide adequate information on their situation. Asylum seekers were obliged to present their petition in French and they waited for a long time for a response from the authorities.

While welcoming the legislative and administrative measures towards combating racial discrimination against immigrants in employment, education and housing, an Expert said it was deplorable that anti-Semitism and xenophobia acts were increasing in France and Europe, in particular Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiments. He wanted to know the effectiveness of the measures to stop the propagation of racial hatred on the Internet. The same Expert made reference to the French policy of insisting on no display of religious symbols in schools.

An Expert said the report was useful; a shortcoming was that it did not reflect adequately the major challenges that France faced in combating racial discrimination. She also expressed the Committee's disappointment at the country's non-recognition of minority groups. The initiative to set up a public service mechanism to combat discrimination was interesting. The Committee would appreciate more information in the next report on the impact of its implementation.

Response by Delegation of France

Responding to the many questions raised by the Experts, the delegation said, among other things, that France had established many institutions to fight racism. The increase in racial intolerance in France had been influenced by international events. France had put in place measures to combat all sorts of discrimination. A number of new institutions had been established to fight racism and to reinforce the Government's efforts to integrate immigrants.

Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination on individual communication had not been used against France because of the vigilance of the legislature and the justice system, the delegation said. Any racial offences, such as hate speeches, were severely sanctioned.

On the training of magistrates, the delegation said that regular training programmes and sessions were organized on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and anti-Semitism for law enforcing officials. The problem of the propagation of racial discrimination on the Internet had also been a subject of discussion in many seminars.

The creation of post of the Secretary of State for Victims' Rights was an additional effort to assist victims of racism, racial discrimination or xenophobia, the delegation said. Once cases were dealt with in the courts, the victims could be rehabilitated while the perpetrators could receive fines or prison sentences depending on the verdict.

With regard to hate speech through the Internet, the delegation indicated that the Government was endeavouring to set up a single indicator to monitor offences committed through the Internet. Internet service providers were also encouraged to inform the authorities about any unlawful activities they might note, particularly with regard to hate speech.

Training courses were provided to police officers on respect for human rights and the code of ethnics, the delegation said. An initial training course of 24 hours was provided for the officers on human rights. Some police training centres had created methods, in the form of theatrical performances, to teach human rights.

The new legislation on holding foreigners in centres for the purpose of expulsion had established transparency in the treatment of such persons, the delegation said. People held in the centres were provided with interpretation services and were allowed to contact their respective consular representations. They also enjoyed all assistance over the course of their stay.

On identity checks, the delegation said that such checks were carried out in accordance with the law and were only applicable to persons whose behaviour prompted such action. Identity checks were carried out for the preservation of the national security, which required preventive measures. Foreigners were subjected to prior permission for their stay in the country, and the stop-and-check process was intended to verify the respect of this legal regime. All checks were made in conformity with the law.

The overseas French departments and territories enjoyed all the rights enshrined in the Convention, the delegation said. There was no provision that excluded those territories and departments from the implementation of the Convention. They enjoyed the rights and freedoms enumerated in the treaty. The Schengen agreement was applied only to the European French territory and was not extended to the overseas territories and departments. The 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugee Status applied in all the French territory.

On the issue of pension payments for former foreign combatants, the delegation said that the Council of State had examined the situation and had suggested that the foreign combatant should receive the same amount of pension as his French companion-in-arms if he was residing in France. It was also suggested that for those living in their countries of origin, the parity of purchasing should be indexed and revised periodically. A new petition had also been submitted in November 2004 on the same issue.

Concerning the situation of Roma, the delegation said the Roma were either foreigners or French of Roma origin, and they enjoyed all rights in terms of housing, employment and social services. Many Roma pursued their own life style and employment activities and they led semi-sedentary life. The Roma people could benefit the assistance of associations for the purpose of mediation whenever problems of housing arise. The National Advisory Committee for Travellers carried out qualitative work on housing, employment and integration of the Roma people.

Preliminary Remarks

LINOS ALEXANDRE SICILIANOS, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur to the report of France, said the dialogue with the French delegation had been fruitful. He had taken due note of what the Experts said and he would reflect their concerns in the concluding observations. The written and oral replies provided by the delegation would also be taken into consideration while drafting the final conclusions. The Committee had received a great deal of information, which reflected France's interest to conform to the mandate of the Committee.