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France

French police take DNA samples of Roma, rights group claims

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-10-07

A human rights group has accused French police of taking DNA samples of Roma as condemnation of France’s crackdown on illegal traveller camps intensifies.

French police have taken DNA samples of Roma (Gypsies) as part of a crackdown on illegal traveller camps, a leading human rights organisation has alleged.

Jean Claude Vitran of the French Human Rights League told FRANCE 24 at a camp in Pontoise, near Paris, that many of the Roma at the site had been subjected to DNA testing.

Citing the example of one Roma woman, Vitran said: “It is not right, if not illegal. It's absolutely not right to take their DNA. The authorities will probably say that she has committed an offence because she’s trespassing, but she hasn’t been arrested or taken into custody. There is no reason to take her DNA.”

A DNA database of mainly sexual offenders has existed in France since 1998, but samples can only be taken if a person is charged with an offence.

‘Secret list’ claims

The claim from the HRL comes amid reports that French police are compiling secret lists of “ethnic minorities” from travelling communities.

On Thursday the French daily Le Monde claimed “illegal” and “undeclared” documents were being made by France’s Central Office for the Fight Against Delinquency (OCLDI), which is run by the country’s Gendarmerie, a paramilitary police force.

According to human rights groups quoted by the newspaper, the OCLDI compiled documents in order to “make a genealogy of Gypsy families”. To do so “is only possible by the use of a file” based on ethnic origin, it said.

It is illegal in France for officials to gather demographic data based on ethnic origin.

French authorities have been accused of targeting Roma because of their ethnicity. But French authorities deny any such policy exists.

‘Roma a priority’

The interior ministry, which took over control of the gendarmes from the defence ministry last year, said in a statement that it "had no knowledge of such a database," but ordered that police databases be checked "out of concern for total transparency."

It said the OCLDI formerly had a "genealogical file" which "was deleted on December 13, 2007."

In August, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said authorities had gathered some data on nationalities - but not on ethnic groups.

He denied that the government was targeting Roma, hundreds of whom were deported to Romania and Bulgaria during a widely condemned crackdown over the summer.

But since then Hortefeux's chief of staff Michel Bart sent a note dated August 5 to police chiefs stating that "Roma camps are a priority" in the crackdown.

Date created : 2010-10-07

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