France violated the human rights of Roma who were forcibly expelled from the country last year, the Council of Europe said Thursday, asking Paris what steps it was taking to remedy the action.
The council, a rights watchdog for its 47 member states, on Wednesday released the findings of a report into the expulsions which ruled that they targeted people by ethnic origin.
They were "discriminatory" and "contrary to human dignity", constituting an "aggravated violation of human rights," said the report.
The expulsions triggered fierce controversy in France and a war of words between President Nicolas Sarkozy and the European Union.
The expulsions ran counter to rights to housing and protections against expulsion enshrined in the European Social Charter, according to the report issued in June this year by the Council of Europe`s Committee of Social Rights, which monitors compliance with the charter.
The committee, investigating a complaint from the Centre of Housing Rights and Evictions, a Geneva-based NGO, ruled that the expulsions took place in a "climate of ethnic discrimination and force" and were aimed specifically at "vulnerable groups."
Coinciding with the release of the report, the council also asked France to indicate what steps it was taking to remedy the rights violation, Regis Brillat, the secretary of the social rights committee, told a press conference in Strasbourg Thursday.
France began expelling Roma last summer but following a public outcry the interior ministry repealed an order to police which specifically said the priority was to expel the minority groups.
The order was replaced in September by one which made no reference to Roma.
France claimed the expulsions were "voluntary" repatriations only.
The committee dismissed the argument, saying "the so-called voluntary returns were in fact disguised forced repatriations in the form of collective expulsions."