PARIS – France’s human rights watchdog on Monday urged authorities to take key measures to fight racial discrimination as the country has seen a series of anti-racism gatherings in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the U.S.
In an 80-page report, France’s defender of rights, Jacques Toubon, said discrimination affects the lives of millions of people and their fundamental rights in the country.
“People with foreign origins, or perceived as having them, are disadvantaged in terms of access to jobs or housing and more exposed to unemployment, poverty, poor housing, police ID checks, poor health and educational inequality,” Toubon said in a statement.
Statistics and scientific studies show that racial discrimination has a “systemic dimension” in French society, Toubon noted.
The report came as two Paris statues related to France’s colonial era were daubed with red paint Monday amid growing demands by anti-racism activists in several countries to take down monuments that honor prominent historical figures who played a role in the slave trade or colonialism.
Also on Monday, dozens of people peacefully gathered in front and in support of a mural painting denouncing racism and police brutality in Stains, next to Paris. The protesters gathered in reaction to an unauthorized police union protest demanding its removal.
The police union claimed the mural “generalizes and creates confusion” around police racism and violence, which they denounce as false accusations.
The mural was painted by local artists and inaugurated by the Stains mayor last week in homage to Adama Traore, a Black Frenchman who died in police custody in 2016. Traore died in 2016 in circumstances that remain unclear despite four years of back-and-forth autopsies.
Mostly Black, North African and a few white people attended the protest staged by Traore's supporters.
Josué Isakwa, 17, came to protest police violence and racism. “When we were kids, big people would tell us about it, and we would laugh about it,” he said.
But at around 15 years old, Isakwa said he witnessed his first instance of police slapping people and harassing them. “I remember it very distinctly, it was the first day of Ramadan, on a Sunday,” he said.
There was no police presence during the protest and it scattered peacefully an hour later.
In his report, the defender of rights said that “people identified as Black and Arab are subject to bias and discrimination practices on a systemic basis in their relations with police forces.”
Toubon proposed creating a body to better monitor the situation in the country and to organize national testing campaigns to uncover racial discrimination in hiring, housing and in business.
He also suggested stricter rules for police ID checks and legal changes to make it easier to prove discrimination cases in court and ensure “dissuasive” penalties.
AP journalist Arno Pedram contributed to the story from Stains.