Sunday, November 14, 2010

France recognizes NGO's right to sue

Transparency International (logo at left) just won a major victory in the French courts: in a precedent-setting decision, the Cour de cassation ruled Tuesday that NGOs may bring international human rights cases in French courts. In particular, the decision was handed down
in a corruption case calling for an investigation into how luxury assets (properties and cars, as well as bank accounts) were acquired in France by three foreign heads of state - Denis SASSOU NGUESSO (Congo-Brazzaville), Omar BONGO ONDIMBA (Gabon, now deceased), Téodoro OBIANG MBASOGO (Equatorial Guinea) - and their relatives.
The decision is a major milestone in a country where rules are very strict regarding standing, and class actions do not exist:
  • it recognizes the legitimacy of using the French courts to help fight corruption elsewhere and the bad government and poverty that result;
  • it also recognizes the legitimacy of NGOs to represent people living under corrupt leadership, and more broadly to act as spokespersons for an emerging global citizenry striving for justice in the face of increased economic and financial globalization. Provided, that is, that the NGOs in question satisfy criteria of democracy and transparency.
The decision is also a very timely mise en garde to the French government. Since 2007, President Sarkozy has pressured the prosecutor's office to squelch the affair, and Omar Bongo even persuaded Sarkozy to fire one of his cabinet members for having publicly denounced these African leaders' pocketing of funds earmarked for their countries. This case, about which we've posted here, has thus highlighted the lack of separation of powers between the executive and the prosecutor's office, which would be reinforced under Sarkozy's planned reform of the judicial system. In particular, Sarkozy would like to eliminate the juge d'instruction (prior IntLawGrrls posts here, here, and here). The Cour de cassation has just ruled, in essence, that the juge d'instruction is a necessary cog in the wheels of French justice, without which cases like these will most likely not see the light of day.

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