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Does Separating Romani Schoolchildren in France Violate the Equality Principle or Establish Ethnic Discrimination?

11 May 2017

Budapest, 11 May 2017: In 2013 several Romani families living in an informal settlement in Ris-Orangis (Essonne) made a formal request for school enrolment of 12 children.  The mayor created a separated class for these children in an isolated room in a sport centre without any connection with any regular school instead of enrolling them in schools located in that municipality. The geographical proximity with the children’s living area as well as the need of evaluation of children’s school level were the bad pretext emphasized by the mayor trying to justify this discriminatory measure.

The families together with several NGOs referred to the Administrative Court of Versailles, asking it to cancel the measure1 taken by the mayor. Moreover the French Ombudsman provided observations in support of this request.2 With its judgement of 16th of March 2017, the Administrative Court of Versailles recognised the illegality of this separated class based on ignorance of the principle for equal access to public services in the field of education.

In fact the court noted that these children are “exclusively Romanian citizens of Roma ethnic origin”, separated by the other children enrolled in primary or middle schools in the municipality, and denied access to services related to education, were put in a situation less propitious than the other pupils enrolled in regular schools in the municipality.3

We appreciate the court’s action recalling the legal obligations that local authorities have in the field of access to education especially while Roma children or those designated as such, living in slums and squats, are often denied access to education.

Nevertheless we express our deep regret that the court ruled four years after the case was taken to the court while other municipalities persisted in such discriminatory practices.

In particular we think it is highly regrettable that the court limited its decision considering the separated class as reversing of the equality principle and did not consider the ethnic discrimination motive claimed by the families and organisations, civil parties in that legal case, as well as the detailed observations provided by the French Ombudsman. 

Highlighting the fact that the children targeted by this specific measure are “Romanian citizens of Roma ethnic origin”, the court itself emphasizes the main criterion leading to this adverse treatment imposed to these children, aiming to isolate them through a specific   educational measure and in the same time the court evaded the discriminatory dimension of this practice.

Thus, the Administrative court did not take into consideration the European court for Human rights case-law according to which “the discrimination of a person based especially on the ethnic origin is a form of racial discrimination [...] particularly reprehensible, which requires special vigilance and vigorous reaction from the authorities in view of its dangerous consequences”.4

Signed by

The judgement of the Administrative court of Versailles is available here.

This press release is also available in French here.

For more information contact:

Jonathan Lee
Communications Coordinator
European Roma Rights Centre
jonathan.lee@errc.org
+36 30 500 2118

Endnotes:

  1. See: http://www.gisti.org/spip.php?article5588.
  2. See: http://www.defenseurdesdroits.fr/fr/actus/actualites/le-defenseur-des-droits-condamne-fermement-la-discrimination-subie-par-des-enfants.
  3. See: http://versailles.tribunal-administratif.fr/A-savoir/Communiques/Pas-de-dispositif-special-de-scolarisation-pour-les-enfants-roms.
  4. CEDH, 5 septembre 2008, req. N° 32526/05, Sampanis et autres c. Grèce. 

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