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Court finds France negligent in Guadeloupe and Martinique pesticide case

Published:Tuesday | June 28, 2022 | 10:08 AM
Lawyer Harry Durimel (right) stands next to an activist with a sign that reads in French "No to Chlordecone poison," as they protest during the arrival of the French government's Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot in Raizet Abymes, Guadeloupe, November 18, 2007. Durimel is among the attorneys representing agricultural workers in Guadeloupe and Martinique in a separate lawsuit demanding a trial for those who allowed the use of a banned pesticide known as chlordecone. (AP Photo/Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte, File)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A court in Paris found the French government guilty of wrongful negligence involving the former use of a banned pesticide in the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique but denied compensation to those affected, officials announced Monday.

The ruling was bittersweet for activists and attorneys who argued that the French government's authorisation to use chlordecone in those islands was illegal as they sought damages for the defendants.

“This decision is a significant step forward in the sense that the fault of the state is recognised,” Christophe Leguevaques, one of the attorneys involved in the case, told The Associated Press.

“On the negative side, the court does not recognise financial reparations for the victims... . However, West Indians have been exposed and are still exposed to this dangerous product.”

The lawsuit is one of at least two filed against the French government involving the use of chlordecone in Guadeloupe and Martinique.

The first lawsuit, filed in 2006, is still pending before the courts and accuses the French government of failing to protect the health of its people and not doing enough to identify and limit the effects of chlordecone pollution in both islands.

On June 25, a judge in France temporarily set aside the lawsuit to allow for three months of research.

“We want the court to condemn the persons who put money before health,” attorney Harry Durimel told the AP, adding that officials sought to keep using chlordecone because they were in competition with banana producers from Latin America.

“They are known. They are ministers, directors and politicians from Guadeloupe and Martinique. ... We want them to go to trial.”

Chlordecone is a pesticide known as Kepone that the US banned in 1976 and is blamed for slurred speech and other neurological problems.

French officials have said they worry it could be linked to high rates of prostate cancer in Guadeloupe and Martinique, and some studies have suggested it may be linked to premature births. The Stockholm Convention has banned its production and commercialisation since 2004.

Chlordecone was legally marketed in France from 1981 to 1990 and was used for three additional years in Guadeloupe and Martinique to fight the banana weevil under an exemption granted by the French government.

Attorneys and activists have argued that the exemption was illegal.

In a response filed in April, France's agriculture minister asked that the court reject the lawsuit, saying it was inadmissible and noted that the government had since taken numerous steps to protect people's health, including banning fishing in certain areas.

Elie Califer, a legislator who represents Guadeloupe, described the recent ruling as a considerable step forward but said he would push for the creation of a victim compensation fund and demand that the government invests in further cleaning of still-polluted areas, among other things.

“It's high time that the state, responsible for this serious pollution and accountable for this contamination, take all responsibility,” he said.

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