France weathers rough ride in UN anti-racism panel
France on Thursday sought to fend off sharp criticism from the UN's anti-racism panel after members highlighted a "resurgence" in racism and xenophobia in one of Europe's biggest nations.
French officials underlined the legal grounds for measures being taken against travelling Roma from central Europe as the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination wrapped up its hearing on France's application of international standards.
The panel of 18 legal experts is due to issue its findings on August 27.
On Wednesday, several of the independent experts began the hearing with unusually sharp comments about the state of racial discrimination in France.
Despite legal safeguards, the country is experiencing a "significant resurgence of racism and xenophobia", Kokou Ewomsan, a Togolese human rights official, told the French delegation.
France's treatment of Gipsy communities, the debate on national identity and immigration, minority rights and a hardening political discourse were all questioned.
US lawyer and former State Department official Pierre-Richard Prosper, vice chairman of the committee, pointed to a lack of "real political will".
French President Nicolas Sarkozy last month announced draconian security measures on traveller communities following a spate of urban violence.
He has also threatened to strip foreign-born nationals of French citizenship if they committed some crimes.
One UN committee member said some of the measures on Gipsies were reminiscent of the period of France's Vichy government, which collaborated with the German Nazi occupiers in World War II.
French officials told the committee on Thursday that under EU agreements on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007, restrictions could be imposed on free movement of citizens from those countries for seven years.
Returns to their home countries were also in line with European law for those who were jobless and represented a social burden, they argued.
"All the measures are taken in the context of voluntary return, accompanied by humanitarian aid," added French immigration ministry official Frederique Doublet.
France was also reviewing domestic permit requirements on traveller communities, thought to number 300,000 mainly French people, the delegation said.
However, they declined to comment on the issue of removing citizenship, saying draft legislation had yet to be drawn up.
Malik Salemkour of the League for Human Rights, a French pressure group, described the hearing as an unprecedented grilling for France.
The committee oversees the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which has been ratified by 173 nations.
© 2010 AFP