France discriminates against Roma and Travellers in violation of the European Social Charter

02 March 2010

Strasbourg, 1 March 2010: The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) has found France in breach of Articles 16, 19, 30, 31 and E of the Revised European Social Charter (Social Charter) in respect of the housing and social inclusion situation of its Traveller and Romani populations, both itinerant and settled. The decision follows a collective complaint filed by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) which complained of inadequacies and discrimination in housing rights, access to voting rights and social inclusion measures.

Despite France’s legal framework on the provision of adequate halting sites for itinerant Travellers, the ECSR found that failures in implementation mean that there are insufficient halting places to accommodate itinerant Travellers. Where such halting sites do exist, the ECSR found that there are poor living conditions and operational failures and that the sites do not meet the basic sanitary standards required by international and French law. The ECSR found two distinct breaches of Article 31§1 of the Social Charter, which enshrines the right to housing and the promotion of access to housing of an adequate standard. Further, the failure of French authorities to take due account and undertake positive action to improve the specific situation of Travellers constitutes discrimination against Travellers, in violation of Article E.

As concerns settled Travellers living in caravans, the refusal to classify caravans as ‘housing’ and the resulting inability of Travellers to access housing benefits and mortgages or comply with planning laws, the ECSR found the consequent lack of access to housing a further breach of Article 31§1.

Regarding the repeated evictions of Travellers for whom there are not enough formal halting sites, the ECSR concluded that evictions are carried out in ways which do not respect basic human dignity; a fact not even refuted by the French government in the case. France is therefore found to be in breach of Article 31§2, which obliges states ‘to prevent and reduce homelessness with a view to its gradual elimination’.

The ECSR found that existing housing policy does not meet the needs of Travellers and that France’s lack of an overall and co-ordinated approach to promoting effective access to housing for persons living in or at risk of social exclusion constitutes a violation of the right to protection against social exclusion, enshrined in Article 30.

In all of these, France was also found to discriminate against Travellers, in breach of Article E; this includes the treatment of Travellers in the exercise of electoral rights due to the different documentation and registration regime for Travellers which means that many Travellers are not able to register as resident in a municipality and, subsequently, vote.

Finally, the ECSR found that France’s failings in respect of housing rights for Travellers also affected migrant Romani workers from other Council of Europe states and that this constitutes a further breach of Article 19§4c of the Social Charter.

The full text of the decision is available here.

For further information, contact:

Victoria Vasey, ERRC Lawyer, victoria.vasey@errc.org Sinan Gokcen, ERRC Media and Communications Officer, sinan.gokcen@errc.org

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