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France’s Anti-Racism Action Plan Ignores Institutional Racism

Ethnic Profiling by Police and Systemic Racism Need to Be Included

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne presents the National Plan against racism, anti-semitism and ethnic discrimination for 2023-2026, at the Arab World Institute in Paris on January 30, 2023.     © 2023 Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

On January 30, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne launched the National Plan Combating Racism, Antisemitism and Discrimination Linked to Origin 2023-2026. While this new action plan on racism is welcome, it leaves huge gaps.

For instance, the government aims to improve historical teaching and memorialization in school curricula. The plan however fails to tackle institutional racism deeply rooted in France’s colonial past.

Borne also says she wants “better measuring” of discrimination in categories like employment, but the plan doesn’t commit to the collection of disaggregated equality data needed for targeted governmental measures tackling institutional racism. The lack of such data was raised by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in December 2022.

Crucially, the plan is silent on ending well-documented systemic ethnic profiling practices by French police, including in the context of identity checks. In June 2022, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance’s released its sixth report on France, highlighting “little progress” on curtailing the use of ethnic profiling by law enforcement officers.  

The plan intends to introduce complaints mechanisms aimed at tackling massive underreporting of hate crimes to the police. Yet it doesn’t explain how to rebuild trust among minoritized communities who experience such attacks in the very institutions that target them, such as the police. The plan also neglects to outline how its measures will be funded.

The strategy also doesn’t reference the European Commission’s first Anti-Racism Action Plan, which European Union member states were supposed to implement by December 2022. Common guidelinesstressed the importance of collecting disaggregated equality data to provide for evidence-based policymaking and setting objectives that tackle structural racism, including its historical roots. This is missing from France’s new plan.

If France really wants to set out a strategy to combat racism, the government needs to go deeper and look at reforming the state institutions and processes that institutionalize racial biases and discrimination in ways that harm people and their rights.

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