U.N. rights experts urge France to respect Roma rights

Reuters News

8/29/2012 3:12:37 PM - Reuters News

GENEVA (Reuters) - France must ensure that its policy of dismantling Roma settlements and expelling some Roma migrants does not violate international standards, U.N. human rights investigators said on Wednesday.

They said that better housing conditions were needed for the Roma and noted that collective expulsion was banned under international law.

French Interior Minister Manual Valls has overseen several raids on Roma camps near Paris, Lyon and Lille, saying they must be dismantled on health and sanitation grounds.

"Evictions continue and threaten to place families in highly vulnerable situations," the United Nations special rapporteurs on minority issues, migrants, housing and racism said in a joint statement.

The independent experts report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, a 47-member Geneva forum that includes France.

Francois Crepeau, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said that "the ultimate objective seems to be the expulsion of migrant Roma communities from France".

"Collective expulsion is banned under international law and any repatriation should be voluntary, in compliance with international standards, and based on individual assessment and independent monitoring," he said.

Raquel Rolnik, U.N. special rapporteur on adequate housing, said: "Forced eviction is not an appropriate response and alternative solutions should be sought that conform with human rights standards."

Legal safeguards must be in place including adequate housing alternatives to ensure that people, particularly children, women and those with illnesses or disability, are not left homeless, she said.

Valls said on Monday he would ask Romania and Bulgaria to do more to integrate their Roma minorities as the new government in Paris grapples with how to handle Roma immigrants in France.

The Roma come mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, European Union members that human rights groups say discriminate against the minority. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Roma immigrants in France live mainly in squalid camps in city outskirts.

"The Roma are European Union citizens and Europe's most marginalized minority. Regrettably, these acts demonstrate that they do not always enjoy the same right of free movement and settlement, and continue to experience discriminatory treatment," said Rita Izsák, the U.N. independent expert on minority issues.

The evictions are fuelling an "already worrying climate of hostility against Roma in France", said Mutuma Ruteere, U.N. special rapporteur on racism.

(This story is corrected by inserting dropped word in lede so it reads...does not violate)

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams)