20th Sep 2020

US steps into French Roma row

  • Mr Sarkozy has attracted some criticism in the US Congress (Photo: Wikipedia)

The French-EU row over Roma deportations has sent ripples all the way to Washington, where some US officials have urged Paris to stop the expulsions and respect the human rights of this ethnic minority.

"Obviously the human rights of the Roma is something that is important to us and we would encourage France and other countries to respect the human rights of the Roma," said the official under the protection of anonymity, AFP reports.

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His comments were echoed by two congressmen chairing the so-called Helsinki Commission, an independent US agency dealing with security, democracy and human rights in Europe.

France should stop playing a "shell game" with Roma and abandon discriminatory laws targeting Muslims, said the two chairs, Democratic congressman Alcee L. Hastings and his Democratic colleague Benjamin L. Cardin.

Mr Hastings drew parallels between the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the proposed Islamic cultural centre near Ground Zero and France's expulsion of Roma and adoption of laws targeting Muslims.

The French Senate on Tuesday passed a law banning the wearing of burqas, the full-body covering worn by some Muslim women and other face coverings. The law is to take effect in six months, pending approval by the country's constitutional council.

"I perceive such actions as wrong-headed political manoeuvres, particularly the discriminatory policy of targeting Roma for expulsion, and I would argue that there is a danger to politicians, the media, and the public focusing only on these issues," Mr Hastings said.

"France, and other countries, should focus on integrating Roma where they are," he added.

Meanwhile, in Paris, several human rights organisations have announced their intention to take the minister of interior to court for "racial discrimination, along with the authors of the leaked instructions issued on 5 August on how to target Roma "with priority."

The legal action is to be brought by the League for Human Rights and the Information group for immigrants, who jointly deplored France's "pitiful and non-dignifying show", which "not only exposes to racism and xenophobia people who are already particularly discriminated against, but also embarrasses our country."

These are just the latest in a series of reactions following a scathing statement on Tuesday by EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, who said she was "appalled" and "shocked" by the instructions and the fact that ministers had lied about the policy. A legal action at the EU level is expected to start in the coming weeks.

Mr Sarkozy reacted furiously to the statement suggesting Luxembourg, the home country of Ms Reding, should take the Roma instead.

Ms Reding on Wednesday night was forced to backtrack on the part of her statement likening the situation to what happened to Roma during World War II - a comment that particularly angered the French president

"I regret the interpretations that are distracting attention from a problem that must be solved now. I in no way wanted to draw a parallel between World War II and the actions of the French government today," Ms Reding said in an interview with AFP.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sided with Mr Sarkozy on question of the language deployed, saying that she found "the tone and particularly the historic comparison not very appropriate."

However, she sided with the commission on the legal question, adding that the EU executive was right to examine whether France had broken EU law.

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