The UN human rights body condemned on Friday a recent
series of “racist attacks” on Justice Minister Christiane Taubira – including a far-right magazine cover that made references to monkeys – warning that “xenophobia and intolerance” are on the rise in Europe.
“We condemn the racist attacks that have been taking place against French Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira over the past few weeks,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights.
“This utterly unacceptable abuse of a prominent politician, on the basis of her colour, is a stark manifestation of the rising racism, xenophobia and intolerance aimed at members of ethnic and religious minorities – as well as migrants – in many European countries,” he told reporters.
The Human Rights Office added that it “reiterates previous UN recommendations for France to step up its efforts to counter racism and xenophobia”.
The weekly edition of French far-right magazine “Minute” published a cover picturing Taubira alongside the headline: “Crafty as a monkey – Taubira gets her banana back.”
Colville rejected the magazine’s claim that it was simply using two common French expressions, the latter a reference to someone who is so happy that they have a smile as big as a banana.
“The underlying racist intent of this play on words could not be more clear,” the UN’s Colville said.
Critics have said the French political mainstream was late in coming to Taubira’s defence, until a fresh outcry over the “Minute” cover this week.
Taubira herself has spoken out twice about the abuse she has been subjected to, once to voice dismay over the lack of support she received from government colleagues, and then on Wednesday to denounce the “Minute” cover.
She described the weekly’s cover story as being tantamount to “denying I belonged to the human race”.
Taubira is hated by some on the political right for being the minister who led a push for the legalisation of gay marriage in France earlier this year.
Demonstrators, including children, at gay marriage protests have brandished bananas at Taubira and shouted epithets such as, “Monkey, eat your banana.”
A local election candidate from the far-right National Front said in a TV documentary last month that she would rather see Taubira “swinging from the branches, rather than in government”.
UN’s Colville said it was crucial for politicians to speak out, and that he welcomed a “prompt and unequivocal condemnation” by the government and other politicians.
The treatment of Taubira has sparked soul-searching among liberal commentators over whether racism is on the rise or is simply still widely considered acceptable in parts of French society.
Opposition UMP takes action
France’s main opposition party, the UMP, on Friday began expulsion proceedings against a local councillor over a racist Facebook post about Taubira.
UMP councillor Claudine Declerck posted a picture of Taubira on the social networking site along with the slogan “Y’a pas bon, Taubira.”
Her comment literally means, “It’s no good, Taubira,” but it is also a reference to a notorious (and now discontinued) advertising campaign for Banania,
a cocoa drink product that featured a caricature of a smiling
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African and the slogan, “Y’a bon, Banania” – a phrase that means “Banania’s good” in pidgin French.
UMP President Jean-François Copé took to Twitter as soon as the story broke to announce that Declerck would be kicked out of the centre-right party.
“Wherever it comes from, the hatred of others is not acceptable,” Copé wrote.