|A Romanian Roma boy who attended school in France until he was deported [Reuters
A leading European rights watchdog says France's expulsion of Gypsies last year violated their rights.
A report by the Council of Europe issued on Thursday said the expulsions of more than 1,000 Gypsy immigrants, also called Roma, and the demolition of hundreds of illegal Roma camps were "discriminatory" and "contrary to human dignity", constituting an "aggravated violation of human rights".
Many of the Roma were originally from Romania and Bulgaria, and as citizens of EU member states were entitled to freedom of movement within the bloc.
The expulsions pitted Nicolas Sarkozy's government against European officials, with the European Commission's justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, comparing France's treatment of the Roma to Nazi-era deportations.
In the wake of that, the European Commission asked France to alter its laws so they were in line with EU regulations.
A Council of Europe committee has now condemned the move as a violation of its social charter - a document that sets out "social rights", such as the right to fair working conditions and to housing. France is a signatory.
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."
The Hungarian American business magnate and philanthropist George Soros warned that "disintegration" in the European Union potentially exposed vulnerable minorities to a dangerous backlash.
"The problem of the Roma is deteriorating with the economic situation. And the majority of the public is releasing its anger and frustration at its own economic situation by attacking the Roma," Soros said in an interview with the EUobserver website.
The condemnation was made public on Thursday. It has no legal force but asks France to ensure that such evictions don't happen again.
Human rights NGOs have reported that France and Italy are continuing to forcibly expulse Roma.
Also on Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights condemned France for inhumane and degrading treatment of a prisoner detained in an evil-smelling, burnt-out cell.
Kacy Plathey, convicted of a string of crimes and jailed in the Saint-Quentin-Fallavier prison in Isere, southern France, was ordered to be held 45 days in a punishment cell after a dispute with a prison guard in January 2009.
The cell had been burnt out by a previous detainee and was "completely destroyed and insanitary with an atmosphere that was highly unpleasant", the court found.
Plathey stayed for 28 days - locked down for 23 hours out of each 24 - in conditions described by a visiting senator as "at the limit of suffocation."
Court judges said the conditions "were an attack on human dignity and constituted degrading treatment, awarding the plaintiff 9,000 euros for moral distress.
His lawyer Patrice Spinosi said it was the fourth time this year France had been condemned by the court for degrading treatment of prisoners.