This article is also available in French: Examen Périodique Universel de la France : Les discriminations demeurent une préoccupation quotidienne

This week, the 15th session of the Universal Periodic Review started here in Geneva, and for its first review, that of France, we were there.

During France’s review, a few issues were pointed out, many regarding in particular the second generation of human rights, i.e. those now known as social, economic and cultural rights.

Indeed, the main human rights violations highlighted by the Working Group were:

–       Discrimination and intolerance towards ethnic minorities, especially Romani people

–       Discrimination against religion and particularly against the Muslim faith

–       The living conditions of detainees in French prisons

–       Child pornography and exploitation

–       Gender inequality in the workplace

The discrimination against immigrant communities

The UPR Working Group urged France to end the persistent discrimination against Romani people, to find a livable and durable solution to the sanitation issue of settlement camps, and to reinforce its legislative framework to ensure Roma’s equal access to education, employment, housing and health.

François Zimeray, French ambassador for human rights, admitted that Roma people living in France are suffering from deeply rooted prejudices as well as racial discrimination, and that since they are not legally recognized as a specific group within the French society, they could not benefit from minority protection rights.

He further insisted on the high degree of complexity of the situation of these communities, owing to the fact that this issue is undoubtedly present in other European countries as well, and therefore requires the full cooperation of the European Union and of Roma people themselves.

In addition to the Roma question, several Muslim States brought up the major issue of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in France. They made reference to the controversial laws of 2004 and 2010, banning wearing conspicuous religious symbols and covering the face in public schools and spaces, and called upon France to amend them, as they constitute discrimination towards the Muslim religion.

Veiled Muslim women are the first victims of this discrimination, since their access to employment is made much more difficult.

Many other countries denounced the discrimination endured by all African populations, the high level of unemployment among migrants and the general religious intolerance towards Muslims.

In his response, the French ambassador reminded the UPR of the principle of secularism (i.e. the separation of the State from religious institutions) as a fundamental value of the French Republic, but he also insisted on the fact that secularism was a principle of freedom, not a denial of religions; though it is used as an argument for the above-mentioned laws to prohibit anything that would be considered as religious symbols.

According to him, these laws are actually a manner to relieve tensions in French society, as they only aim to condemn a behaviour that is contrary to the ‘social contract’ of the society and that excludes women from social life. He stated that covering one’s face prevents any form of social interaction and is a denial of one’s identity.

However, as has been mentioned, the consequences on everyday life for many women are that they suffer a double discrimination: for being women and for being Muslim.

Gender inequality

Regarding the inequalities between men and women in the workplace, the Working Group praised the re-establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Rights. It also encouraged France to enhance gender equality further, especially in the workplace, by increasing women’s representation both in the public and private sectors, particularly in high-level positions.

France’s backwardness concerning gender equality is obvious, but changing institutions is not sufficient to reach gender equality: it’s above all a matter of mentality, as the main difficulty is to put an end to sexist stereotypes.

What can we do now?

Now civil society, like our WILPF Section in France, has a great tool to make sure that all the recommendations made at the UPR will effectively be implemented within the next four years. In that way, human rights can become a reality for all.

All the recommendations will be found soon in the UPR website and in UPR-info website.