France: FIDH refers the case to the European Committee of Social Rights to finally guarantee the rights of the outermost regions of France

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Radio France - Thibault Lefèvre (courtesy)

With the support of the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH) and Kimbé Rèd F.W.I., the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is taking France to the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe to demand urgent access to drinking water in Guadeloupe, compensation for chlordecone pollution and application of the European Social Charter. With this legal action, our human rights organisations are seeking to defend universal rights for the whole of France, thereby putting an end to historical inequalities between the French overseas territories and the mainland.

Paris, 21 March 2024. Access to drinking water is a human right. Chlordecone pollution is a violation of the right to health. France must apply the European Social Charter throughout its territory. On March 18 of 2024, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), with the support of the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH) and Kimbé Rèd F.W.I., a French Antilles human rights association, lodged a collective complaint against France with the Council of Europe’s European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR). Responding to an appeal by civil society in the French Antilles, led by the association Kimbé Rèd French West Indies (F.W.I.), the complaint denounces the violation of the right to drinking water and sanitation in Guadeloupe, as well as the chlordecone poisoning of the populations of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

FIDH and LDH have been campaigning for many years for the recognition of environmental rights as human rights in their own right. The right to drinking water is one of these rights. They guarantee the fundamental right to a safe, clean, and healthy environment.

In Guadeloupe, up to 80% of the water produced is lost through leaks in the networks, causing daily power cuts that can last from several days to over a month. When water is available, it is not drinkable because of outdated pipes (which have not been properly maintained for 30 years), inadequate sanitation (80% of wastewater treatment plants are not up to standard), and chlordecone pollution.

In Guadeloupe and Martinique, while 90% of the population of the two islands - more than half a million people - are affected by this pollution through contamination of water, soil, and food, the traceability of chlordecone as a preventive measure and the detoxification of human beings as a curative measure is still not guaranteed and, by the end of 2023, only forty-five people had been compensated for the damage suffered.

To date, France is refusing to implement emergency measures to guarantee access to drinking water in Guadeloupe and to grant reparation and compensation to the victims of chlordecone in the French Antilles, even though these measures have been recommended by several United Nations bodies. By refusing to assume its responsibilities, the French government is violating several fundamental rights of the populations of the French overseas territories, which are enshrined in the revised European Social Charter and numerous international texts ratified by France, such as the rights to health, education, housing and social protection, as well as the right to drinking water and to a safe, clean and healthy environment, enshrined respectively by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010 and in 2022.

To defend equal and effective access to these rights, and to all the human rights of people living in the French overseas territories, the FIDH, with the support of the LDH, is denouncing not only these serious and repeated violations but also this discriminatory treatment, which would be unimaginable in continental France. Despite its commitment to the constitutional principle of equality and respect for international human rights law, including the right to non-discrimination and the social rights enshrined in the European Social Charter, France hasn’t expressly recognised the applicability of the Charter and its protocols to these non-metropolitan territories.

"It is essential that the Committee clarifies the full application of the Charter and its protocols to the French overseas territories, to hold France responsible for violations of social rights committed in the overseas territories", says Patrick Baudouin, President of the LDH.

"France cannot continue to ignore the recurring problems in the French Antilles. They have gone on for far too long", says Elena Crespi, head of the FIDH’s Western Europe office. "It must finally recognise that the European Social Charter must apply to all its territories. By responding favorably to this collective complaint, the ECSR would be inviting France to take more seriously the historical inequalities between France and its overseas territories, and to move closer to the realisation of the many fundamental rights in the latter".

— -The Council of Europe’s European Social Charter, a counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights, guarantees respect for fundamental economic and social rights such as employment, protection against poverty, education, housing, health and non-discrimination by the States that have ratified it or its revised version. France ratified the 1961 European Social Charter in 1973 and the 1996 revised Charter in 1999, as well as the 1995 Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints, which provides for its actionability. France is also one of the States that have accepted all the provisions of the Charter.

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