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Roma evictions: “aggravated” violation of the European Social Charter by France

The European Committee of Social Rights concluded unanimously, in its decision on the merits of 28 June 2011, that:

I) The forced evictions of Roma of Romanian and Bulgarian origin in the summer 2010 constitute a violation of Article E (non discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 31§2 (Right to housing – Reduction of homelessness)

The application of the circular of 5 August 2010 – which stipulated that “within 3 months, 300 unlawful sites must be cleared, with priority given to those occupied by Roma. .... It is therefore the responsibility of the prefect of each département to organise the systematic dismantling of the unlawful sites, particularly those occupied by Roma" – led to the forced eviction of Roma of Romanian and Bulgarian origin which amounted to directly discriminatory treatment based on the ethnic origin of the persons concerned. These evictions took place against a background of constraint, in the form of the threat of immediate expulsion from France

The circular of 5 August 2010 was replaced by a circular of 13 September 2010, no longer targeting Roma sites explicitly. The latter however states that the actions resulting from, inter alia, the circular of 5 August 2010 must continue. The Government has not denied that before it was withdrawn, the circular of August 2010 applied to the evictions that took place in the summer of 2010, the consequences of which continue to affect the rights of the Roma concerned.

II) The de facto collective expulsion of Roma of Bulgarian and Romanian origin from France during the summer 2010 constitutes a violation of Article E (non discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 19§8 (guarantees concerning deportation)

The circular of 5 August 2010 explicitly established a sort of inseparable link between forced evictions and expulsions by describing the operational steps to be taken in terms of "priority to illegal sites occupied by Roma", including "the eviction from illegal settlements and the immediate removal of foreign nationals unlawfully in the country". Moreover, according to the circular of 5 August 2010, a threat to public order resulted from the mere existence of unlawful Roma camps. This does not constitute an adequate justification in terms of protection of public order.

The "voluntary" returns were disguised forms of forced collective expulsions, given that:
- The returns in question were "accepted" under the constraint of forced eviction and the real threat of expulsion from France.
-  The willingness to accept financial assistance of € 300 per adult and € 100 per child as an incentive to leave the territory reveals a "situation of destitution or extreme uncertainty" in which the absence of economic freedom poses a threat to the effective enjoyment of the political freedom to come and go as one chooses.

Any waiver of the right not to be subjected to racial discrimination is unacceptable as such a waiver would be counter to an important public interest. Since the Roma of Romanian and Bulgarian consented to repatriation under constraint and against a background of racial discrimination, they cannot be assumed to have waived their right to freedom of movement and their right of residence under Article 19§8 of the Revised Charter.

The Committee of Ministers yesterday took note of the report including the decision of the European Committee of Social Rights and decided to make it public immediately. In its Resolution, the Committee of Ministers invited France to report at a forthcoming meeting on the measures taken or foreseen in order to deal with the situation described in the complaint and to report on co-operation with other countries concerned.