France's Roma policies 'exacerbate' their stigmatisation: UN

13th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The UN human rights chief warned on Monday that France's new policies on Roma gypsies can only exacerbate the stigmatisation of the minority traveller community and their poverty.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted the French policy, including expulsions of Roma and the dismantling of their settlements in recent weeks, among "situations of concern" in the world.

"Such measures can only exacerbate the stigmatisation of Roma and the extreme poverty and exclusion in which they live," Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council.

"The often stereotyping and discriminatory rhetoric by officials and media when referring to the Roma in Europe is also an issue of great concern," she added.

"I urge European States, including France, to adopt policies enabling Roma people to promote social cohesion and overcome their marginalisation."

The European Parliament and rights groups have criticised French President Nicolas Sarkozy's controversial crackdown on illegal Roma and gypsy encampments across the country, which has seen hundreds of people being flown back to Bulgaria and Romania.

The French ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Jean-Baptiste Mattei, insisted that France had not sought to stigmatise members of a minority based on their origins.

"There is no 'Roma problem', but European citizens who are more disadvantaged than others, who are experiencing problems with integration and deserve particular attention," Mattei told the Council.

He maintained that action against "illegal" settlements was based on independent decisions by French judicial authorities.

Earlier on Monday, French Immigration Minister Eric Besson denied knowing anything about a circular sent to police that specifically called for Roma to be targeted for eviction as part of the clampdown.

The missive, signed by Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux's chief of staff Michel Bart and dated August 5, was sent to French police prefects to outline the "specific objectives" of Sarkozy's action on traveller minorities.

"Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be cleared within three months, Roma camps are a priority," it said.

French officials were obliged earlier this month to rebuff charges of a resurgence of racism and xenophobia in France, after sharp criticism from the UN's anti-racism panel that highlighted the clampdown on Roma communities.

© 2010 AFP

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