Patiala, 25th February 2005
United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination "expressed disappointment at France's non recognition of minority groups" while considering the report of France on implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, in a meeting held on 23 February, as per the extracts of proceedings from UN Head office available with Sikh Nation Organization, whose petition dated 17 March 04, under 1503 Procedure against France for violating UN Declarations on Human Rights, was admitted in UNO on the issue of French ban on wearing of turban and religious symbols in public schools of France.
The SNO's petition, text of which is available on www.sikhnation.org maintained that "French Government argument that the law is needed to protect France's secular traditions and to ward off rising Islamic fundamentalism is miscconceived, because such laws are always counterproductive, and do more harm than good to human cause and world peace". It maintained that "French Law will open a Pandora Box, starting an un ending chain of such laws by other countries, thus seriously damaging the very foundations of United Nations Organization".
Dr. Manjit Singh Randhawa, President of Sikh Nation Organization, disclosed that in the course of discussion, which was held over two meetings on Wednesday, Government of the "Fatherland of Human Rights", was grilled by UN Experts over the issues concerning France's non recognition of minorities, racism and anti-Semitism activities, the prohibition of religious symbols in schools of France, the status of Berber, Roma and other minorities, denial of justice to asylum seekers by making them wait for long for a response from the authorities, racial discrimination against immigrants in employment, education and housing, and ethnic discrimination situation of French Overseas Territories and Departments.
Presenting the report was Nicole Guedj, the French State Secretary for victims rights.The delegation of France included Michel Doucin, Ambassador in charge of Human Rights at French Foregn Ministry, and representatives of the Overseas Ministry, the Ministry of 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.
Alexander Sicilianos, the expert serving as Country Rapporteur to the report of France, said that "although the report submitted by France was in accordance with the Committee's guidelines but report suffered from lack of available data on cases of discrimination with regard to the immigrant population. It pointed out that Court of Acount was critical of the policies of French Government with regards to housing, hosting and planning with regards to immigrants and their descendants".
Mr. Siciliano asked the French delegation to "clarify the stand of Frech Government regarding recommendations of Court of Acount and the National Consultative commission on Human Rights.., and steps taken by the Government".
French delegation was asked to "provide information on the manner in which immigrants were detained and expelled, because an organisation working in that field had said that the policy of detention was excessive, and the women were doubly affected by the exessive periods of detention". U.N.Experts observed that "thousands of asylum seekers were not lodged in adequate conditions, similarly 2004 French law on Roma settlement also had major shortcomings as they were not able to buy houses if they wished to do so". Mr. Siciliano noted that "ethnic discrimination had also been indicated in in the French DOM-TOM ( French Overseas Departments and Territories) in matters to access to justice, for example".
Other UN Experts raised a series of questions on, what they described as the "Islamophobia, Arabophobia and anti-Semitism"and "the law on religious symbols and how school headmasters were trained on the issue". Several Experts raised questions pertaining to France's non recognition of minorities by citing the existence of Berbers, Roma and other minority communities. They maintained that "while France recognized the existence of such communities, French law did not recognize their status as minorities".
Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also wanted to know the "effectiveness of the measures to stop the propagation of religious hatred on internet". The Experts expressed "Committee's disappointment at the country's non recognition of minority groups".
French delegation responded to many questions raised by the Experts of the Committee and said that, "among other things France has established many institutions to fight racism. It admitted that increase in racial intolerence in France had been influenced by international events. France had put in place measures to combat all sorts ofdiscrimination. A number of new institutions had been established to fight racism and to reinforce the Government's to integrate immigrants".
French delegation clarified that "any racial offences, such as hate speeches, were severly sanctioned, regular training programmes and sessions were organized on racial discrimination and Human Rights for magistrates and law enforcing officials.The creation of post of the Secretary of State for Victims'Rights was an additional effort to assist victims of racism".
On identity checks, the delegation said "these were carried outin accordance with lawfor preservation of national security,whereever person'sbehavior prompted such action. The new law on holding of foreigners in centers for purpose of expultion had established transparency".
Regarding the Overseas French Departments and Territories enjoyed all rights enshrined in Convention. The 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugee Status applied to all French territory, but Schengen agrrement did not extend to Overseas Departments and Territories.
On the issue of equal pension payments to to foreign combatants they will receive the same amount if they reside in France.Concerning the situation of Roma, many of them persued their own life stile and led semi-sedentary life and could benefit theassistance of associations for the purpose of mediation whenever problems of housing arise.
Linos Alexandre Sicilianos, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur to the report of France, said in his preliminary remarks that "he had taken due note of what the experts said and he will reflect their concerns in the concluding observations. The written and oral replies provided by the French delegation would also be taken into considerationwhile drafting the final conclusion.The Committee had received a great deal of information, which reflected France's interest to confirm to the mandate of the Committee".
Dr.Manjit Singh Randhawa
Sikh Nation Organization