The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twenty-second and twenty-third periodic report of France, with Committee Experts commending the State on ceasing police checks of members of the Traveller community with French nationality, and asking questions on closures of places of worship and dismissals of racial discrimination complaints by the prosecutor’s office.
Noureddin Amir, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for France, said that, in the past, certain members of the Traveller community with French nationality needed to go to police stations to undergo checks. He was pleased to note that Travellers with French nationality were no longer required to undergo such checks.
Bakri Sidiki Diaby, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about the reasons for the closing of places of worship. What was the population that had been the most affected? Vadili Rayess, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur, said that closures of places of worship were serious issues that harmed France’s international reputation. He called on the State to address this issue.
A Committee Expert said most cases of racial violence were either dismissed or dropped by the courts; what training was provided to the police, judges and prosecutors who dealt with these cases? How many appeals had been lodged with the prosecutor against decisions to dismiss cases?
The delegation said significant progress had been made on promoting the rights of Travellers. A law had been introduced in 2017 to protect their right to travel. There had been several halting sites set up for Travellers, and 54 per cent of Travellers made use of these sites. Working groups had been established to develop legislation on the status of caravans and access to education for Traveller children.
On closures of places of worship, the delegation said the right to appeal closure decisions was granted by the State. There had been 12 decisions to close places of worship to date, one of which had been appealed and overturned.
Sophie Elizeon, Inter-ministerial Delegate to Combat Racism, Anti-Semitism and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Hatred and head of the delegation, said the national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism (2018-2020) provided greater training to police officers, gendarmerie, magistrates and judges on how to handle cases of racial discrimination. Although in 2021, 12,500 complaints were filed by victims of racism, xenophobia and anti-religious acts, there was an issue of massive under-reporting of racism and anti-Semitism in France. The delegation added that around 50 per cent of complaints regarding racial discrimination had not been followed up by the prosecutor’s office. This was not due to a lack of desire to do so, but because the act reported could not be prosecuted; 51 per cent of offenders were issued with alternative punishments rather than referred to courts.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Amir said that the Committee had posed frank questions to the delegation and encouraged restoration of peace, security and justice. He expressed hope that the concluding observations of the Committee would be followed up with concrete, specific actions, and that the population of France would be made aware of these observations.
Ms. Elizeon, in her concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for its questions, and for the opportunity to demonstrate France’s commitment to combatting racial discrimination. The Government would strengthen its national action plan on racial discrimination to promote increased reporting of cases of discrimination, and better access to housing and employment for racial minorities, refugees and asylum seekers. All groups of society needed to be able to fully access their rights, and there was a need for targeted actions to support the access of the rights of vulnerable populations.
The delegation of France consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of National Education and the Youth; the Ministry of the Interior and Overseas; the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs; Inter-ministerial Delegation to Combat Racism, Anti-Semitism and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Hatred; the Office of the Ministry to the Prime Minister; the Inter-ministerial Delegation to Housing and Access to Housing; the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies; and the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of France after the conclusion of its one hundred and eighth session on 2 December. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s one hundred and eighth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 16 November at 3 p.m. to consider the combined eighteenth to twentieth periodic report of Brazil (CERD/C/BRA/18-20).
The Committee has before it the combined twenty-second and twenty-third periodic report of France (CERD/C/FRA/22-23).
Presentation of Report
SOPHIE ELIZEON, Inter-ministerial Delegate to Combat Racism, Anti-Semitism and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Hatred and head of the delegation, said in 2019-2020, 5.8 million people living France were immigrants, representing nine per cent of the population. Almost half were born in Africa and a third in Europe. In 2021, 130,385 people were welcomed into French nationality, which was 53 per cent more than in 2020. Since the submission of the report in 2019, progress had been made in the implementation of the national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism 2018-2020. France had adopted two laws in 2020 and 2021 to fight hateful content on the Internet more effectively, imposing new responsibilities on platforms.
A specialised unit was created in January 2021 to fight online hate, which had taken on more than 1,100 cases, 21 per cent of which related to hate speech. In August 2020, a hate crime division was established within the Central Office for Combatting Crimes against Humanity and Hate Crimes, which was responsible for handling criminal investigations into complex crimes of a racist, xenophobic, and anti-religious nature. At the international level, France had made the fight against racist hatred and discrimination one of the priorities of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The assassination of Professor Samuel Paty in 2020 shook the entire country and guided the development of the next national plan to combat racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination based on origin. The national plan made the protection of citizens, education against prejudice, and support for actors on the ground strong axes of government action. Around 2,400 police officers were distributed in urban areas, and 205 magistrates had been appointed to the courts. To make the judicial handling of complaints even more efficient, a network of 140 specialised investigators had been trained. Although in 2021, 12,500 complaints were filed by victims of racism, xenophobia and anti-religious acts, there was an issue of massive under-reporting of racism and anti-Semitism in France. In 2021, the number of convictions for racist offences committed had increased to 1,382 offences; this was 45 per cent more than in 2020.
The Ministry of National Education had taken action to train and equip teachers and raise awareness among pupils regarding prejudice. Fact sheets were provided to understand the drivers of racism and anti-Semitism, and to react to and prevent hateful behaviour and speech in schools. A new national plan 2023-2026 to combat racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination based on origin had been developed. For the first time the fight against discrimination based on origin was integrated into the plan. In addition, the fight against anti-gypsyism was an integral part of the new plan. The obligation to provide training in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination based on origin would be deployed through an inter-ministerial contract for all civil servants, all categories combined. By 2025, 100 per cent of State employees would have been trained. France was more determined than ever to fight racism, anti-Semitism and racial discrimination in this universal approach to defending the rights of human beings in the name of their dignity and equality.
MAGALI LAFOURCADE, Secretary-General of the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights, said the Commission welcomed the increase in the resources of the Inter-ministerial Delegation to Combat Racism and Anti-Semitism, as well as the development of a new national action plan. However, several areas of concern remained, including violent acts against Jewish people and the weakness of the penal policy in the fight against racism, including the phenomenon of under reporting. The Commission called for a profound change to reduce the obstacles to the filing of complaints and to restore the confidence of minorities in the institutions of the police and justice.
An internal report on combatting discrimination in the work of security forces, commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior, offered avenues to combatting discriminatory police practices, including to criminalise non-public racist insults when uttered by law enforcement agencies. Anti-gypsyism was the most trivialised form of racism and Travellers faced multiple discriminations. The Commission welcomed the national action strategy for Roma inclusion. It encouraged the public authorities to provide the Inter-ministerial Delegation for Accommodation and Access to Housing with the necessary resources for its deployment. The Commission called on the Government of France to use the human rights-based approach to design its public policies based on people’s concrete difficulties in accessing rights.
Questions by Committee Experts
NOUREDDIN AMIR, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for France, said he fully agreed with the statement made by the head of the delegation. France was a nation and a heavyweight in history. However, difficult times had been experienced, and the nation had suffered, including the colonial period. Today things were different; the President had established a group to analyse the events of the colonial period, by competent and neutral historians, to attain peace. The extreme right was against France going in the right direction. Those against the fight against racial discrimination wanted France to return to the same kind of environment as that of the second world war. When the issue of racial discrimination arose, victims awaited solutions which allowed them to be better understood and listened to. The role of the Convention was to assist States and help them review criminal and civil legislation, and assist in economic terms. The problem of conscience was a vital issue. The President would save France from colonial racist scourges and discrimination. It was hoped the country would take this direction so that France did not lose its soul.
BAKARI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for France, said France had been a champion in the transatlantic trafficking of slaves and colonialism, which continued to cause structural forms of discrimination. He hoped that at the end of this discussion, France would be a champion in the fight against racism and discrimination and all violations related to them. There was a lack of statistics based on racial or ethnic origin within the report. Could the State party provide the updated number of complaints filed, investigations and prosecutions, and convicted officials concerning racial hate speech and incitement to racial discrimination and violence? Would the State party consider integrating intersectionality into policies to combat racial discrimination, including hate speech? Could examples be provided of sanctions imposed on people who spread racist messages on the Internet. Were political figures punished for spreading racist discourse? What financial means were available to implement the new action plan? The Committee welcomed the establishment within the departments of operational committees against racism and anti-Semitism and the adoption of territorial plans. Could further information on the mandate and work of these operational committees be provided, and the content of the plans. Did they take the Convention into account?
Could the delegation provide more information on concrete measures to combat racial and structural discrimination against minorities, including Roma, people of African descent, Arabs and non-citizens? What impact had these measures had on the enjoyment by these groups of their rights, including economic, social and cultural rights? What specific measures had been adopted to ensure their access to the labour market, adequate housing, health services and care without discrimination? What measures were taken to combat multiple forms of discrimination against women belonging to minorities, as well as migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee women? Could the Committee be informed about cases of police violence and the internal monitoring mechanism within the police force? Would a law protecting human rights defenders be adopted? What were the reasons for the closing of places of worship? What was the population which had been the most affected?
VADILI RAYESS, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for France, said France was committed to article four of the Convention. Could more information on cases of non-application of the Convention by the courts and local authorities be provided? Could the State provide examples of decisions when the Convention had been applied by judges or invoked before the courts? Did the State consider that the laws were sufficient to respond to ideas based on racial superiority or racial hatred? Could examples of recent cases in this area be provided? What were the number of complaints of racial discrimination closed without further action? How many appeals had been lodged with the prosecutor against decisions to dismiss cases?
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-up Rapporteur, said the highlight of the introductory remarks was the political will shown by the French Government to fight racial discrimination in all forms. The follow-up report from France had never been received. The Committee attached great importance to the follow-up procedure. It would appreciate if this time around, the authorities would be more punctual. The Committee had asked the State party to provide training to local governments on their obligations under the Convention. There needed to be stronger, more relevant examples showcasing the legal infrastructure and policy prepared by the State party to highlight the application of the Convention at the local level. The Committee had recommended that France establish sufficient guarantees to ensure that anti-terrorism measures did not lead to racial hatred and discrimination or hate speech. It would be appreciated if more up to date information on these issues could be provided.
A Committee Expert said France had made little progress since the previous report in taking measures against some kinds of conduct by the forces of order that disproportionately affected immigrants or persons belonging to minority groups.
Another Committee Expert asked about discrimination against Muslims in France? What was the perception regarding the impact of the training of judges on the legal response to racial discrimination? What did the State party plan to do to increase the response to racist events and police violence?
One Committee Expert asked how France could justify the creation of spaces within society dedicated to discriminating against Muslims, Roma and Jews? What measures could the State take to end this phenomenon? Could the delegation provide a reason for the number of racially motivated complaints? What were the results of the investigation into victimisation?
A Committee Expert said most cases of racial violence were either dismissed or dropped by the courts; what training was provided to the police, judges and prosecutors who dealt with these cases?
Responses by the Delegation
SOPHIE ELIZEON, Inter-ministerial Delegate to Combat Racism, Anti-Semitism and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Hatred and head of the delegation, said the rise in complaints in 2021 about racial discrimination was a result of the implementation of the national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism (2018-2020), which provided greater training to police officers, gendarmerie, magistrates and judges, as well as raising awareness of victims to provide them with support in lodging these complaints. The effects of this training could be seen in the increase in the number of complaints. This training was ongoing and provided police officers, gendarmerie and judges with the tools to handle cases of racial discrimination, including the principles of the Convention. An online observatory aimed to pinpoint online hate phenomena, and to develop measures to deal with those involved in online hatred. France combatted all forms of racial discrimination. This did not prevent the State from undertaking specific efforts, including when it came to anti-gypsy sentiment.
The delegation said there were significant barriers to the labour market for some individuals with a certain geographic origin. A survey had been undertaken which highlighted a huge number of mixed marriages. The survey allowed the tracking of the trajectory of immigrants when it came to universities, and the initial results had been published this summer. Although the Convention could not directly be invoked before the courts, domestic laws had been adapted to comply with France’s obligations under the Convention. These were invoked by defence lawyers to ensure the principles therein had been satisfied and to punish any offensive discriminatory acts. The French legislation framework was very complex. There was an offence around the dissemination of personal information that could put persons in danger; this allowed situations where personal information had been broadcast to be dealt with.
As of 2017, an aggravating circumstance connected to racism or sexism could now be applied to any offence. This allowed the response of the legal system to be increased. French law punished all acts of discrimination.
The delegation said victims of acts of discrimination were often vulnerable and needed support. Public policies were set up to allow access to the system and to support these individuals as much as possible. Legal aid was provided to all, and the budget had been increased. Training had been established for judges, lawyers and attorneys, which dealt with discrimination theoretically and practically. Lifelong, obligatory training was in place for legal staff. It was also important to train prison staff, and there were modules focusing on training for prison staff in this context. In terms of initial training, the Ministry of the Interior had extended the length of the training for peace guardians for 12 months. Psychologists were responsible for training on inbuilt prejudices and stereotypes. Training had been established around religion and secularism, where there had been a well-developed strategy which brought students into communication with each other and confronted them with their different prejudices. New training had been set up, welcoming the public into police stations, which was a national priority.
Since 2008, the national police inspectorate carried out surveys to see if victims were informed of the difference between a “main courante” and a criminal complaint. Victims received information about the ramifications of not lodging a formal police complaint. When a person was a victim of racism or anti-Semitism, there was a possibility to lodge a complaint at the police station of their choice. France was careful not to allow the excessive use of force to go unpunished. Any officer who was suspected of excessive use of force was subject to an administrative or judicial inquiry. Checks were carried out by the gendarmerie on the excessive use of force and perpetrators were punished. Identity checks were strictly provided by legal provisions in France. When an identity check was carried out by police, it could not be carried out based on any physical or distinctive feature. Any checks outside of those rules would be sanctioned by the judicial authorities.
Efforts to undertake sanctions against racial profiling were being made. Victims could request reparation for the moral harm caused. As of 2018, a database had been established to determine those who had been wounded or passed away because of the police, with a report published publicly. A mechanism had been established to allow victims to lodge complaints online and several platforms had been set up so that persons who felt they were victims within their own profession could flag these events. In 2001, there were over 6,000 reports which had been addressed to the inspectorates, and over 3,000 had been subject to sanctions.
The fight against gypsy sentiment covered the period from 2020 to 2030, in response to a recommendation by the European Commission to allow for the inclusion of the Roma population. These included Travellers, who were French citizens and had a semi-nomadic life, as well as the Roma, who predominantly came from Romania and Bulgaria and had set up in camps in France for more than 20 years. This racism had a specific history and was a topical issue. A monument had been inaugurated to commemorate nomadic burials, which was important. Up to 2017, there had been a discriminatory regime for Travellers, which had come to an end. The new national action plan to combat racial discrimination and anti-Semitism had been launched, bringing together non-governmental organizations and human rights institutions; 22 strategic objectives had been identified, as well as 70 proposals for action. There was an opportunity to train police to assess racism and anti-Semitism more closely, and to cover 100 per cent of officers by 2025.
Questions by Committee Experts
NOUREDDIN AMIR, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for France, said that racial hatred was a source of conflict and war. In the past, certain members of the Traveller community with French nationality had needed to go to police stations to undergo checks. Mr. Amir was pleased to note that Travellers with French nationality were no longer required to undergo such checks. The issue of discrimination of the Roma community was a common issue across Europe. The Roma needed to be considered as victims of the second world war. A quite significant proportion of the Roma community lived in ghettos, and could not enrol their children in school or access medical care as they did not have a fixed abode. The rights of Roma persons needed to be protected. Legislation could be amended to achieve this. Courts needed to understand international norms related to justice, provide fair trials, and provide access to interpreters for those who needed them. France would “regain its soul” by protecting those rights.
BAKRI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for France, asked for information on the implementation of the Emergency Plan for French Guiana. Measures on land issues and local economic development had been adopted. What progress had been made in implementing this plan, and what challenges had been faced? In the emergency plan, France committed itself to allocating 400,000 hectares to indigenous peoples through the Customary Grand Council of Amerindian and Bushineng Peoples. What was the exact area that had been returned to these peoples? What measures were in place to recognise and respect the rights of the indigenous peoples of French Guiana?
Since 2008, the army and gendarmerie of French Guiana had been participating in an operation against illegal gold panning on the territory. Had this operation improved the environment and the living conditions of the indigenous populations of French Guiana?
Mr. Diaby said that in French Guiana, the recognition of indigenous mother tongues in schools had been a priority in all sectors. Efforts to improve indigenous peoples’ knowledge of their mother tongues had been enhanced through a 2013 legal framework for training teaching assistants. A law had been implemented in 2017 to better balance the teaching of French and mother tongues, and to make native speakers competitive. What was the current number of speakers of indigenous languages in the education system?
A 2017 law on substantive equality overseas aimed to strengthen the capacities of self-representation of the Amerindian and Bushinengue peoples through the Customary Grand Council. How many consultations had been conducted within this framework, and had the opinions of these peoples been effectively taken into account?
What measures were envisaged to ensure the enjoyment of the rights of the indigenous peoples of New Caledonia, including their economic, social and cultural rights, as well as their right to self-determination and their right to access the land and resources traditionally used by them? Why had France not adopted a comprehensive policy concerning the indigenous communities of New Caledonia? In 2016, the New Caledonia Education Project was adopted by the Congress of New Caledonia. New Caledonia now had a genuine education policy. What progress had been made to implement this policy? What was the representation of indigenous peoples in different levels of education? A referendum on New Caledonia’s self-determination had been held in 2017. What was the level of participation of the population in this referendum, and was another referendum being discussed?
What measures were in place to ensure the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed in the Convention, without discrimination, by the Mahorans? What was the universal health coverage rate for persons living in Mayotte? Was France planning to repeal the practice of identity checks conducted during the enrolment process in schools? What was the Government doing to align laws on foreigners in overseas territories with those of metropolitan France?
What measures had been taken to improve access to asylum, reception, social integration, employment, education and decent living conditions for migrants, asylum seekers, stateless persons and refugees? In July 2015, a new national reception system was put in place that served as a one-stop shop for the registration of applications. Since the introduction of this new system, what was the estimated number of applications processed, what percentage of requests had been refused, what were the main grounds for refusals, and what remedies had been established?
What was the estimated number of stateless people in France? Did France envisage ratifying the two international conventions on statelessness? The Global Action Plan to End Statelessness 2014-2024 (Global Plan of Action), developed in consultation with States, civil society and international organizations, included a basic framework of 10 actions to be taken to end statelessness. Two years before the end of this plan, how many of the 10 suggested actions had been implemented in France? What protection measures had been adopted regarding unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children? Did the Government intend to make emergency temporary reception of unaccompanied minors compulsory? Did it apply the principle of presumption of minority to any minor seeking protection?
How had civil society contributed to the preparation of the State party’s report? How many awareness campaigns had been conducted on the Convention since 2015? Who were the targets?
In a letter sent to the French Government, United Nations Special Rapporteurs had expressed that the “law reinforcing respect for the principles of the Republic” did not seem to meet the requirements of international human rights law, non-discrimination and equality before the law. Did the State party have any comments on this?
New artificial intelligence technologies used in sectors such as security, border control and social services had the potential to aggravate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of exclusion. What measures were in place to ensure that such tools, including algorithmic profiling systems, did not compromise the right not to be discriminated against, or the right to equality before the law?
A succession of tragic and high-profile events had contributed to the gradual deterioration of the image of the Chechen community in France. The community had been linked to terrorism and urban violence, triggering the spread of negative messages and discrimination against them. What measures had France taken to prevent widespread discrimination against Chechens?
VADILI RAYESS, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for France, said that the police were required to investigate cases of discrimination. How many times had cases of discrimination been filed without being followed up by the prosecution? The foundational principles of French law did not have proper oversight. The judge, rather than the prosecutor’s office, was responsible for overseeing court proceedings. This system needed to be revised. Non-governmental organizations had reported that the burden of proof fell on the shoulders of the administration, but it was not clear to judges what the appropriate roles were. There were cracks in this system that led to the abuse of the rights of certain races.
Another Committee Expert said that the French Republic was founded on the equality of citizens, and racist practices were outlawed in legislation. However, inequalities between races persisted. Did the State consider immigrants to be foreigners? The Expert called for clarification regarding the difference between these two terms used in the State report.
One Committee Expert said that there were no awareness campaigns in place to combat negative sentiment directed towards immigrants. French politicians used negative sentiments against immigrants in the most recent election. What was being done to tackle such rhetoric?
A Committee Expert said that structural inequalities were exacerbated in the COVID-19 pandemic. What had the State party learned about protecting access to health and other rights for racial minorities during the pandemic? What impact did digital discrimination have on the right to health?