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France denies targeting Roma after being pulled up by UN panel


france mapFrance on Wednesday defended its policy of clearing illegal camps after a special UN panel condemned the social exclusion of Roma and the “trivialisation” of hate speech in the country.

Successive French governments have drawn fire for demolishing Roma camps and evicting families with children, although the tough approach has been welcomed by some within the country.

“The actions of the government do not target a specific population but are aimed at (illegal) camps,” Claire Vuillet, a justice ministry official told a UN panel on racial discrimination in the country.

She said these camps were often “very precarious” and posed a hazard to the inhabitants.

“The evacuations almost always follow a court order following a complaint lodged by the owner of the land,” she said, adding that French law also punished any discriminatory remarks about the Roma.

The two-day review of racism in France comes five years after the last such routine UN assessment.

The deliberations of the 18-member committee will only be made public on May 15.

On Tuesday, Ion Diaconu, the president of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, opened the review with a scathing report on France’s record in dealing with minorities and foreigners.

Deploring a “certain trivialisation of hate speech,” Diaconu said numerous reports had shown that there was a “massive exclusion” of the Roma minority from French society.

“There is violence against the Roma committed by both individuals and by the police,” he said, adding that many Roma children did not have access to education as local authorities did not want to enrol them.

The experts however welcomed a decision by France to invest 100 million euros $110 million) in a major anti-racism and anti-Semitism action plan devised after deadly jihadist attacks in and around Paris in January, which killed 17 people.

The programme, which increases penalties for crimes deemed to be fuelled by racism and anti-Semitism, comes at a time when acts against Muslims and Jews have shot up in France.

The two communities — the largest in Europe with an estimated four to five million Muslims and around 600,000 Jews — are not the only targets.

The Roma, a minority group that comes mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, also face considerable discrimination, according to activists.

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