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France must keep its promises concerning equality

Visit to France
headline Paris 26/09/2014
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France must keep its promises concerning equality

“Despite efforts to implement the principle of equality in France, many forms of discrimination remain and show that a number of the Republic’s major undertakings are still to be honoured in this vital area for social cohesion and human rights”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, today, following a five-day visit to France.

Intolerance is on the rise and is reflected in an upsurge of racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and homophobic rhetoric and acts. The solid legal framework which makes it possible to punish these abuses should be complemented by more prevention and awareness-raising measures, particularly among users of the Internet, where hate speech has been increasing. “Politicians, both at national and at local level, have a particular responsibility where it comes to combating intolerance and discrimination. They should not just refrain from any stigmatising or discriminatory words; they should also clearly and firmly condemn all hate speech and promote equality.”

Immigrants and asylum seekers bear the full brunt of intolerance and must cope, on top of this, with very difficult living conditions. “I am very concerned to note that many asylum seekers and many unaccompanied migrant minors do not have access to basic reception facilities and find themselves in emergency accommodation centres which are not suited to their situation, if not on the street. I am particularly saddened by the situation of a number of homeless Afghan asylum seekers whom I met the day before yesterday in the North of Paris”, noted the Commissioner. With regard to asylum, Commissioner Muižnieks also regretted France’s low participation in the UNHCR programme for the resettlement of Syrian refugees. He asked the authorities to allow the 500 people they had undertaken to accommodate to enter France rapidly and pledge to take in further Syrian refugees. He also called on France to ensure that the simplification and acceleration of asylum procedures that have been announced would not be carried out to the detriment of procedural guarantees and asylum seekers’ rights. “A series of recent judgments against France in the European Court of Human Rights show the need to consider applications more thoroughly and to improve the quality of decisions made by French courts in the field of asylum”.

Migrant Roma are also particularly frequent victims of intolerance. Yet they are a relatively small group – there are fewer than 20 000 Roma in the whole of France – and their numbers seem to have been stable for many years. Their fundamental needs are no different from those of anybody else in a highly vulnerable situation: they should have access to housing, healthcare, education and employment. According to Commissioner Muižnieks, “an end needs to be brought to forced evictions from shanty towns, where these measures are taken without any lasting housing solution being provided, as this approach merely relocates and amplifies the problem. It is also essential to give priority to access for all Roma children to school. It is unacceptable that in a camp like the one I went to in Marseille, none of the 25 children who had been living there for nearly two years attended school”, he added.

Commissioner Muižnieks also expressed concern about the situation of Travellers, who continue to face major difficulties because of the insufficient number of camp sites, despite the existence, since 1990, of a law which aims to ensure that such places are provided. He encouraged the authorities to ensure that municipalities observed their obligations in this respect and to continue the reforms intended to do away with the exceptions to ordinary law which still apply to Travellers, such as those relating to circulation booklets and home municipalities.

Lastly, the Commissioner looked at the situation of people with disabilities. He was pleased to note that public policies give priority to autonomy and social inclusion. However, he regretted that the implementation of this priority is still lagging behind and that people with disabilities continue to experience a great deal of discrimination. “Children with disabilities, like all children, must fully and effectively enjoy the right to education. I urge the authorities to take all the necessary measures to ensure that all children with disabilities can go to school and to continue the efforts undertaken to promote their enrolment in mainstream schools”, he stated. He also encouraged the authorities to give full effect to the 2005 law on disability, emphasising that major progress still had to be made to guarantee the access of people with disabilities to public places. “The French authorities must ensure that delays in providing such access are strictly limited in their number and duration”. The Commissioner also regretted that, “despite the findings against France by the European Committee of Social Rights, at least 6 000 French people with disabilities are still placed in facilities in Belgium” and called on the authorities to step up their efforts to provide all people with disabilities support adapted to their situation.

The Commissioner will shortly be publishing a report on his visit to France.