‘Empty Human Rights Lip Service’: France’s Roma Expulsions and the Failure of the European Union to Exercise its Racial Equality Directive
By Audrey Patten Bio
In the summer and fall of 2010, the French government forcibly expelled over 10,000 people from France. Men, women, and children living in camp settlements around the country were rounded up by armed police and told to pack on short notice. Many of their possessions and mobile homes were confiscated and destroyed before police authorities loaded the people into buses, trains, and specially chartered flights and deported them into eastern European countries. These people were ethnic Roma, mainly from Bulgariaand Romania.1 A July 28, 2010 announcement by French President Nikolas Sarkozy, which connected migrant Roma communities to crime, had triggered the high-profile crackdown on eastern European Roma in France.2 It was a government move colored by racial profiling3 and stereo-typed based collective prejudice that threatened the European Union’s human rights principles and stands as an urgent example as to why the European Union (“EU”) must be more proactive in implementing its Racial Equality Directive (“RED”)4 to combat state sponsored racial discrimination.
In October 2010, the EU initially seemed poised to bolster human rights principles by bringing legal sancations against Francefor the expulsions. But what started out as a strong rhetorical condemnation of France’s policy with an emphasis on condemning ethnic and racial discrimination, eventually turned into a focus on infringement proceedings under the EU Free Movement Directive,5 and a comparatively low profile withdrawal of the proposed legal proceedings after France promised to amend its laws to allow more individual process before expelling EU citizens.6 However, by shifting the legal focus onto EU procedural free movement rights, the EU approach left relatively untouched the substantive issue of racial discrimination that was occurring in France. It also avoided the question of how to set a minimum standard for protecting all people in a Member State’s jurisdiction from race or ethnicity driven ill-treatment, not just those with EU citizenship status.
Challenging Franceunder the Racial Equality Directive, instead of only the Free Movement Directive, would have set a stronger example for other Member States that discriminatory law enforcement policies, especially under the guise of border protection, will not be tolerated in the EU. RED is an underused, underdeveloped directive that needs to be exercised to turn it into a robust and effective deterrent to discriminatory state policies. Infringment proceedings against a Member State by the European Commission using RED might also give the EU’s judicial body, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”), the opportunity to develop more substantive caselaw interpreting RED which could better guide national and regional policymakers in respecting everyone’s basic rights, regardless of citizenship, and which can give the EU more power in the future to respond to violations. Because the EU has failed to establish a binding directive coupled with any mechanism that directly enforces human rights protections, the need to demonstrate an effective, pragmatic ability to deal with human rights violations by Member States through its other legal tools is particularly urgent. As, Livia Jaroka, a Hungarian member of the European Parliament, put it succinctly to European Commissioner Viviane Reding during a debate on the French Roma crisis, the “empty human rights lip service of the last decade [in the EU]” is “repulsive.”7
I. Global Context: Irregular Migration and Diminished Rights’ Protections
Many of the expelled Roma fell into the category of “irregular migrants,”8 people who do not have legal status to enter or remain in a foreign state.9 Irregular migrants’ enhanced vulnerability comes in large part because they exist in a gray area. Not within the legal protections of their “home state,” and not welcome and recognized as having a full gambit of legal rights in their “host states,” irregular migrant groups like the Eastern European Roma in France become susceptible to severe human rights abuses without adequate means to access protection. The worldwide trend in hostility toward irregular migrants is growing increasingly acute. The Global Migration Group (“GMG”), a combination of 12 United Nations agencies, the World Bank, and the International Organization of Migration, issued a powerful statement on September 30, 2010.10 Pointing out that it is “deeply concerned about the human rights of international migrants in irregular situations around the globe,” the GMG stated that irregular migrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, violence, arbitrary detention, exclusion and abuse by both state and private actors.11 The GMG criticized the response of states, which have largely handled irregular migration “solely through the lens of sovereignty, border security or law enforcement,” and have often been pushed to do so by “hostile domestic constituencies.”12