The European Court of Human Rights is Questioning France’s Evictions Policy
22 May 2014
Budapest, Strasbourg, 22 May 2014: The European Roma Rights Centre welcomes the European Court of Human Rights’ decision to hear the case of Hirtu and others v France, about the forced eviction of Romani families in early 2013. In response to complaints from Roma forcibly evicted from their homes, the Court will scrutinise France’s practice of forced evictions, and the way the French courts have responded to this practice. The Court has given the case priority treatment, a measure reserved for the most serious category of cases.
The Court has stepped up its scrutiny of French evictions of Roma and Travellers. In Winterstein v France (17 October 2013), concerning the forced eviction of Travellers (“Gens du voyage”), the Court found that the French authorities breached the European Convention on Human Rights (art.8) by automatically ordering evictions without taking into account the impact on the people concerned. Just a few weeks ago, in response to a request from Roma to stop their eviction, the Court required the French Government to guarantee that children and seriously ill people would be re-housed.
The French Government will now have to explain to the Court the exact circumstances of the 2013 eviction and why that eviction did not violate the rights of the Roma who were forced from their homes.
The applicants are Roma who moved from Romania to France, exercising residence rights. Most of them have been living in France for over ten years and prior to the eviction received residence permits from the French authorities confirming their status. Like many Roma who have moved to France in search of a better life, they were living in difficult circumstances, in immobile caravans. Their children were attending the local school. The applicants had been subjected to forced evictions in the past.
On 29 March 2013, the local prefect made a decision ordering the applicants to leave the land within 48 hours relying on a law the ERRC contends was inapplicable. The applicants challenged the decision but lost their appeal. On the evening of 11 April 2013, police officers came to warn the applicants that they would be evicted the next day. In order to avoid the now-familiar trauma of being forcibly evicted, the applicants took as much of their belongings as they could and left. On 12 April 2013 what was left of the applicants’ homes was removed.
According to data collected by the ERRC and its partner, the Ligue des droits de l’homme, the applicants were among over 21,000 Roma forcibly evicted from their homes by the French authorities in 2013. This was more than double the number of forced eviction of Roma in 2012. 2014 promises to be another record year for forced evictions.
Adam Weiss, Legal Director of the ERRC, explained the significance of the case: “While the European Court cannot always stop evictions before they occur, the Court can make clear the State’s obligations under European law and help prevent such evictions from occurring in the future.” The Court has asked the Government to respond to the allegation that the evictions were inhuman and degrading and violated the right to respect for private life, family life and home (articles 3 and 8 of the Convention). The Court has also required the Government to explain whether the notice given to the applicants and the appeal procedures available to them afforded the applicants an effective remedy (art.13).
The French Government must reply to the Court by 16 September 2014. The applicants, assisted by the ERRC, will then have an opportunity to respond. The ERRC expects a judgment in 2015.
The Statement of Facts and Questions to the Parties can be found here (in French).
For more information, contact:
Media and Communications Officer
European Roma Rights Centre