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Minorities’ rights in France: many challenges yet to be addressed

January 31, 2013

Retrouvez cet article en français au format PDF ici : Les droits des minorités en France : de nombreux défis restent à relever

“Democracy is not the rule of majority but the protection of minority”. These wise words of Albert Camus opened the roundtable on minorities’ rights in France on Friday 25 January, which WILPF attended.

This side-event organized with the support of the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) and the Worldwide Organization for Women, echoes back to the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of France in the United Nations Human Rights Council, of which a summary both in English and French can be found on WILPF International’s website. Indeed, many States had raised the issue of minorities’ rights during this UPR.

Photo of the roundtable on minorities' rightsMarc Leyenberger, expert to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, Lola Schulmann, representative of the ROMEUROPE group, and Marouane Mohamed, spokesperson of the Collectif Against Islamophobia in France, together shared with us their expertise and analysis on discrimination and racism endured by immigrant communities (in particular Roma people and Muslims) in France.

The failure of intercultural cohabitation in France

Racism and intolerance are undeniably widespread throughout Europe, including in France. Statistics can prove it: if anti-Semitic acts have decreased by 24% between 2011 and 2012, violence against Muslims has increased by 47% during the same period of time. The threshold of tolerance seems to be going backwards over the years…

The Roma community mainly has to face violations of its economic, social and cultural rights: Lola Schulmann explains us that their access to the labour market remains extremely restricted (despite the recent extension of the list of professions accessible to them), owing to the fact that France, unlike its European neighbour countries, still refuses to lift discriminating transitory measures.

Lola Schulmann also denounces that Roma children’s access to education is made particularly difficult, and sometimes even squarely denied, and that the new government elected in 2012 keeps expelling and dismantling Roma camps without any rehousing solution nor winter break.
One cannot but notice that Romani people remain far from being considered as common-law citizens in France…

But where does such intolerance come from?

The three experts attending this discussion agree to say that the tensions surrounding the current economic context are not favourable to end racism and discrimination.
The economic crisis pulled the most vulnerable groups such as immigrants, Roma and asylum-seekers into a vicious circle. Less and less employment opportunities and social benefits have inevitably increased poverty, thus reinforcing the French society negative perception of these foreign minorities. The real danger remains here in this social divide. Considered as burdens, immigrant communities are the target of discrimination, especially in the face of employment.

But this stereotype of the foreigner coming to France as a parasite with the only aim of taking advantage of social benefits is solely a media fabrication. All these social and economic fears are conveyed by those who can take advantage of them, i.e. media and politicians.

That is why Marc Leyenberger gets passionate when he is denouncing the populist speech of politicians. According to Marouane Mohamed, Islamophobic speech for example comes from both right and left wings: according to right wing, Muslims are threatening the European identity, while for left wing, the Islamic values are contrary to secularism and women’s rights.
One of the stakeholders also argues that media in general is also responsible for “brainwashing” the society by associating violent acts with ethnic minorities, thus developing an amalgam that can lead to xenophobia and intolerance.

How to get out of this situation?

Marouane Mohamed recommends making a global assessment in order to precisely quantify the prejudices endured by foreign communities, and to ensure that the media and political speech gathers all citizens instead of tearing them apart. He reminds that is also essential to take into account the international dimension of this racism and intolerance phenomenon against Muslims and Roma, so that global institutions, independent from local and national political preoccupations, can implement an efficient policy.

Marc Leyenberger strongly encourages civil society to keep up the good work, because if it does not come to grips with this issue, who else will? Civil society has to do its utmost so that combatting prejudices becomes a priority and minorities’ rights are fully respected.

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