France continued to face significant challenges in addressing the exclusion and marginalization of its minorities in 2013. In particular, the French state's promotion of secularist policies, such as the 'Charter for Secularity in School' announced by the government in September, has alienated many members of non-Christian groups, such as Sikhs and Muslims. The charter effectively reiterates the principles of the 2004 legal prohibition of 'ostentatious' religious symbols which, while not targeting any specific religious group, impacts particularly on wearers of the veil and turban. Similarly, as a result of the 2011 ban on face covering in public places, a fine or mandatory citizenship training can be imposed on anyone apprehended for wearing a full face veil, such as a burqa or hijab, in a public place. In July, a riot broke out after police stopped and charged a veiled woman. The woman accused the police of brutality during the arrest, although police unions claimed the woman's husband attacked the arresting officers.
France is also home to the second largest Roma community, after Spain, among Western European countries. France's Roma community occupy marginal positions in society, living on the outskirts of cities, with many in abandoned houses and segregated settlements. They continued to face ongoing violence and discrimination in 2013, particularly in the area of housing. In 2012, the then opposition leader François Hollande committed, in the run-up to the elections, to addressing the rights violations associated with the government's ongoing eviction of Roma settlements. However, human rights organizations estimated that over 19,000 were evicted during the year – more than double the number in 2012. Deportations of Roma also continued, with the Interior Minister Manuel Valls announcing in September that 'the Roma should return to their country and be integrated over there', with only a 'few families' allowed to stay on. Among those deported was a 15-year-old girl, Leonarda Dibrani, who was arrested in front of fellow pupils during a school trip.
The year 2013 also saw the continued rise of the National Front, with the party winning a by-election in October. A poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion (Ifop) released the same month suggested that a quarter of French voters intended to support the far-right populist party in the May 2014 European elections, putting them for the first time in the lead in a national vote, ahead of the incumbent Socialist Party at just 19 per cent and the other main party, Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The party's success has been credited to its strongly anti-migration platform, coupled with a hostile attitude towards Islam, reflected in the December 2010 comments of its leader, Marine Le Pen, comparing the sight of Muslims praying in the street to the Nazi occupation. In July, the European Parliament voted to strip her of immunity following a request from the prosecutor's office in Lyons, meaning she can be charged for incitement to hatred in France. Nevertheless, there is evidence that these remarks tap into widely held assumptions about Islam and migrants. According to the results of a survey by Ipsos released in January 2013, 70 per cent of respondents agreed that there were too many foreigners in France, while 74 per cent rated Islam as 'intolerant' and 'incompatible' with French values. Similarly, in April 2014 the government's National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) released the survey results of its annual report for 2013, showing that 35 per cent of respondents admitted to being 'quite' or 'a little' racist – up from 29 per cent the year before.
In this context, there has been a marked rise in violent acts against minorities. According to the National Observatory for Islamophobia, attacks on Muslims and Islamic places of worship rose by 11.3 per cent during 2013 compared to the previous year. In one incident, abusive statements were sprayed on the walls of the capital's oldest mosque, the Grande Mosquée de Paris. In another incident swastikas were daubed on the walls of a mosque in the town of Lesparre-Médoc near Bordeaux. Other abusive slogans painted on the walls of mosques included 'Arabs Out!' and 'France for the French'. There was also a reported increase in physical attacks against Muslim women wearing a veil. Evidence suggests that the 2011 ban on the veil may have actively contributed to increased hostility towards Muslims. A 2013 research report, After the Ban, published by the Open Society Foundations, based on the testimonies of 35 Muslim women, indicated that for those women who continue to wear the veil, harassment and abuse by members of the public is commonplace. Some of the respondents in the study reported physical assaults, being spat at, and having their veil pulled off, perceiving that some of the attackers – ordinary citizens – believed that they were entitled to take the law into their own hands.
France's Roma have also been subjected to targeted violence, with attacks continuing in 2013. In one incident in June, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Roma settlement in Hellemes. This was only the latest in a series of attacks again the community. A report published by the European Roma Rights Centre in 2013 lists violent attacks against Roma across 2011-12 and cases of stigmatizing rhetoric on the part of public figures, politicians and the press whereby Roma are associated with criminality. In July 2013, French MP Gilles Bourdouleix was widely condemned for derogatory remarks he was alleged to have made in a confrontation with a group of Travellers, in which he allegedly referred approvingly to Adolf Hitler. The local prosecutor later confirmed that a case had been opened against Bourdouleix.
Other minority communities are also vulnerable to violence and denigration. According to the FRA survey of anti-Semitic discrimination and hate crime, the Jewish community in France was the most likely among EU member states to experience hate crime, with 21 per cent of French Jewish respondents reporting that they had personally experienced verbal insults, harassment or physical attacks on account of being Jewish in the last year. The country's sub-Saharan African population also face discrimination. In a notorious incident of hateful invective in October 2013, a photograph of the French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira was paired with a picture of a chimpanzee on a Facebook page by a local candidate for the National Front. The party subsequently suspended the candidate. The following month far-right newspaper Minute ran a front cover with the headline 'Cunning as a monkey'. The abuse against the Justice Minister sparked a national debate about racism: the national newspaper Libération ran a front cover with the headline 'Is France racist?'
Disclaimer: © Minority Rights Group International. All rights reserved.
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.