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UN rights committee calls on France to implement plan to end discrimination

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination [official website] on Thursday concluded its review [press release] of France's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) [text], holding that while France has a laudable action plan for eradicating racial discrimination, it must increase efforts to make the plan a reality. The debate was launched in 2009 in order to set up guidelines for strengthening France's national identity and the integration of immigrants. Committee Expert Pierre-Richard Prosper applauded certain efforts made by the French government such as language training for immigrants, but stated that France needs to enhance its compilation of population statistics in order to successfully implement the national plan for eliminating racial discrimination. The report also raised questions pertaining to draft legislation which would strip naturalized citizens of citizenship for committing certain crimes and a recent decision to dismantle 300 unauthorized Roma [JURIST news archive] encampments. Committee experts stated that despite France's efforts, the Roma community still encounters significant economic and social difficulties. The report also addressed issues of travelers in France and their rights as European Union citizens, racism in sports, and measures taken to ban religious symbols in school. The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the report of France at the end of its session, which concludes on August 27.

Several issues addressed in the Committee's report on France has come under international scrutiny. Last month French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] ordered measures [JURIST report] against illegal Roma communities in France and announced new legislation aimed at making their deportation easier. The announcement comes a week after riots by members of the Roma community sparked by the shooting of a young man, resulting in the deployment of 300 troops [DW report]. The government aims to dismantle half of illegal Roma camps in the country within three months and to immediately deport of all those found to have broken the law. Earlier that month, the French National Assembly [official website, in French] approved a bill [JURIST report] that would make it illegal to wear the Islamic burqa [JURIST news archive] or other full face veils in public. Under the legislation, women who wear the veil can be required by police to show their face, and, if they refuse, they can be forced to attend citizenship classes or be charged a USD $185 fine. The proposed legislation would also make it a crime to force a woman to cover her face, with a penalty of one year in prison and a fine of USD $18,555. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] condemned the vote [press release] stating, "A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab as an expression of their identity or beliefs."

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