Skip to main content
Mobile riot gendarmes policing a protest against the construction of a new water reserve for agricultural irrigation in Sainte-Soline, France on March 25, 2023.  © 2023 Ugo Amez/SIPA/AP Images

(Paris) - French officials’ decision to dissolve an environmental group appears wholly disproportionate in violation of France’s obligations under international law, Human Rights Watch said today.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin confirmed on June 21, 2023, the dissolution of Collectif Les Soulèvements de la Terre (The Earth Uprisings Collective)alleging the group incited violence, among other actions, during March 25 protests opposing the construction of a giant water reservoir in Sainte-Soline, western France.

“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,” said Eva Cosse, senior Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of dissolving environmental groups, the government should live up its commitment to protect the environment and investigate the concerns these groups raise.”

The French authorities should undo the dissolution of Collectif Les Soulèvements de la Terre and stop shutting down civil society, Human Rights Watch said. If the government has evidence of incitement to violence, it may fairly prosecute those individuals responsible.

The government of France has an obligation under international law to respect, protect, and facilitate the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. These rights are interconnected and fundamental in a democratic society. While they are not absolute, any restriction must be both necessary and proportional to an intended legitimate purpose. They must also be the least restrictive option available.

There should be a presumption that assemblies are peaceful. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors government compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has stressed that “isolated acts of violence by some participants should not be attributed to others, to the organizers or to the assembly as such.” In general, in such cases, 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.

Dissolving an independent organization should be a measure of last resort only in the event the organization advocates a clear, imminent threat of violence or has acted in grave violation of the law.

Human Rights Watch is concerned by the French government’s hostile rhetoric toward activists, including environmental activists, and notes that multiple UN experts recently expressed concern “about a growing trend of stigmatization and criminalization of individuals and civil society organizations raising awareness about the consequences of climate change.”

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country