Dissolution of French environmentalist group restricts freedom of expression

Dissolution of French environmentalist group restricts freedom of expression

On June 21, 2023, France’s Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, confirmed the dissolution of the group Collectif Les Soulèvements de la Terre (The Earth Uprisings Collective), claiming that the group had instigated violence and engaged in other unlawful activities during protests on March 25. The protests had occurred to oppose the construction of a water reservoir for farm irrigation in Sainte-Soline, Deux-Sèvres.


This comes not long after the approved national increase of France’s retirement age under the Presidency of Emmanuel Macron from 62 to 64, which caused nationwide unrest. The protests are reflective of the tumultuous environment in France at this time, as citizens look to voice their concerns about a number of issues like poor living conditions, a lack of protection for working people and general distrust of the government. 



impACT International would firstly like to emphasise the dangers of dissolving an environmental group, aiming at opposing a widely criticised infrastructural project, in the name of protecting public order. It is a clear and blatant attempt to silence growing anger about the meagre prioritisation of the climate crisis facing the planet that has become a rather worrying trend in European government. Dissolving groups who carry out legitimate activism, despite the what the Interior Ministry has stated, severely curtails the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. In line with words shared by Eva Crosse, senior Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch:


“Dissolving an independent organization undermines lawful activism and will have a serious chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly… Instead of dissolving environmental groups, the government should live up its commitment to protect the environment and investigate the concerns these groups raise.” 


impACT International’s view is consistent with that of Human Right Watch, and we call upon the French authorities to reverse the dissolution of Collectif Les Soulèvements de la Terre and to refrain from shutting down non-governmental organisations.


If the government possesses evidence of incitement to violence, it should prosecute the individuals responsible in a fair manner, which respects the essential human rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. impACT International stresses that such rights are interrelated and essential to a democratic society. Removing some rights in democratic society is tantamount to degrading others. 


What is important to address is the presumption by French authorities that there would be a level of violence, displayed by the rapid deployment of 3000 police officers armed with tear gas and riot gear. Until the arrival of security forces on Wednesday morning, the protest remained peaceful. Attempts by any government to reduce unrest by illustrating their monopoly on violence is a characteristic of a non-democratic society. The French police and government are responsible for the environment that they foster during protest, illustrating their ability to silence protest forcefully indicates that the state is unwilling to listen to oppositional voices.


Furthermore, it is unjust to hold the organisation accountable for the actions of individuals within the protest.As rightly stated by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, responsible for monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “acts of violence by a few individuals should not automatically mean that the assembly as a whole was not peaceful.” Thus, in cases involving isolated violent acts, any punitive measures deemed necessary should be taken against the individuals alleged to have committed the violent acts. To do otherwise is likely to violate the requirements of necessity and proportionality.


In essence, the dissolution of an independent organisation should only be considered as a last resort when the organisation poses a clear and imminent threat of violence or has committed serious violations of the law. In this instance, the Collectif Les Soulèvements de la Rerre and protestors were utilising their right to protest on a necessary matter, and the French’s government’s hostile approach solely works to deepen the population’s lack of trust in leadership to protect and uphold the right to expression, association, and peaceful assembly.


impACT International expresses concern about such approaches made by the French government, and echoes the existing sentiment regarding the rapidly augmenting stigmatisation and criminalisation of individuals in civil society organisations working to raise awareness about necessary matters, in this instance being the impact of climate change.


Zoe Dales


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