PARIS — French police are keeping secret lists of Roma and other travelling minorities in breach of laws on ethnic profiling, lawyers for rights groups alleged in a formal complaint seen by AFP on Thursday.
The allegation of the secret list of ethnic minorities from travelling communities, also reported on Thursday by the newspaper Le Monde, comes after the government drew international criticism this summer for stepping up expulsions of Roma.
The complaint cites what it calls “illegal” and “undeclared” documents held by the Central Office for the Fight Against Itinerant Delinquency (OCLDI), a state body run by gendarmes, France’s paramilitary police.
According to the text of the complaint lodged by the groups, the office compiled documents that aimed to “make a genealogy of Gypsy families.”
To do so “seems to be possible only by the use of a file” based on ethnic origin, it said.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said he “didn’t know of” such a document and ordered a probe to determine if such lists exist.
Earlier the ministry said all police databases would be checked “out of concern for total transparency.”
The ministry said the OCLDI formerly had a “genealogical file” which “was deleted on December 13, 2007.”
The gathering by officials of demographic data classified by ethnic origin is prohibited in France. Authorities have denied such a list exists amid an outcry against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Roma crackdown in recent months.
“My information, which comes directly from the gendarmerie, is that no such document exists or rather no document of that type has existed since 2007,” Sarkozy’s special advisor Henri Guaino said on the Canal+ television channel.
Hortefeux said in August that authorities held data on nationalities but not on ethnic groups and denied the government was targeting Roma, hundreds of whom have been repatriated to Romania and Bulgaria.
However a note later came to light, signed by Hortefeux’s chief of staff Michel Bart and dated August 5, which was sent to police chiefs and stated that “Roma camps are a priority” in the crackdown and expulsions.
In the complaint revealed Thursday, lawyer William Bourdon and two others acting for four Roma rights groups called for prosecutors to launch an inquiry.
The European Commission has slapped down France over its Roma expulsions and threatened legal action unless Paris abides by EU rules on freedom of movement by October 15.
Failing that France will face a formal notice of infringement proceedings, a process which in theory could land it in the dock at the European Court of Justice — though such cases are generally resolved amicably.
EU justice chief Viviane Reding said last month she was “appalled” by France’s treatment of Roma and upset Paris by saying it was “a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War.”