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UN watchdog criticises France for resurgence of racism

Photograph by: REUTERS/Philippe Laurenson

Sarkozy waves minority rights goodbye

France is experiencing “a significant resurgence of racism” and lacked the political will to fix the problem, experts from the UN’s anti-discrimination watchdog said Wednesday.

The criticism came as a panel of 18 experts from the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination presented a 90-page report on racism in France, the first since 2005.

The report follows a bad year for French Black and ethnic minorities who’ve suffered continued police harassment, a ban in public places of Muslim women wearing the hijab and President Sarkozy announcing the closure of sites and deportation many Roma living in camps across the country.

After the session, the French delegation unexpectedly announced the preparation of a national action plan against racism. The Government has often denied that any racism existed in France.

Despite numerous legal instruments, France was facing “a notable resurgence in racism and xenophobia”, Togolese expert Ewomsan Kokou said.

According to U.S. inspector Pierre-Richard Prosper, the resurgence was due to “the absence of true political will”. Sarkozy who has suffered a decline in his political ratings and has been accused of seeking to whip up racism in an effort to secure some short term political gain.

The UN debate covered treatment of traveller communities and the Roma, the debate on national identity, the non-recognition of the rights of minorities and the hardening of political discourse.

The situation of travelling communities and immigrants is a hot-button issue in France, following a threatened crackdown by President Nicolas Sarkozy in the wake of recent violence.

Sarkozy’s threat to strip foreign-born nationals of French citizenship if they committed crimes came in for particular criticism:

“I don’t know what a ‘French person of foreign origin’ is,” said Gun Kut, a Turkish inspector. “I ask if this is compatible with the constitution.”

The panel would wait for responses from the French delegation in a session Thursday before drawing up their recommendations.

“France has been placed on the grill,” said Malik Salemkour, from the League of Human Rights.

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