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In a highly sensitive case that relates to the poisoning of up to 90 percent of the population of Martinique and Guadeloupe by a pesticide used on banana plantations, French court judges have put an end to the affair, claiming legal challenges on the effects of the chlordecone chemical were lodged long after its use was discontinued.
On Monday, investigating judges dismissed a court challenge into the massive poisoning of the French West Indies with chlordecone, a pesticide authorised in banana plantations until 1993.
The unfavourable decision, which came to light on Thursday from judicial sources close to the case, had been anticipated by elected officials and the inhabitants of Martinique and Guadeloupe, who have consistently warned that “justice would be denied”.
The ruling from the Paris court’s public health and environment division – which is more than 300 pages long – has effectively put an end to further investigation into the chlordecone claims which began in 2008.
In what is seen as a rare move, the two judges concluded their decision with a five page explanation for the reasoning behind their dismissal of the legal action.
However, they admit that the chlordecone pollution of the Antilles is a “health scandal” and an “environmental attack” whose human, economic and social consequences “will affect the daily lives of the inhabitants [of Martinique and Guadeloupe] for many years”.
The case established “the reckless behaviour of some of the economic actors in the banana industry, which was … amplified by the carelessness, negligence and ignorance of the public authorities, administrators and politicians who authorised the use of chlordecone at a time when economic productivity took precedence over health and ecological concerns”.
Time gap thwarts proof of criminal misuse
But the decision to dismiss the litigation was justified by difficulties in providing direct criminal proof of the misuse of the pesticide “committed 10, 15 or 30 years before the complaints were lodged” – the first of which was in 2006.
The judges also called into question the “state of technical and scientific knowledge” at the beginning of the 1990s, which did not make it possible to establish the “certain causal link required by criminal law” between the pesticide and damage to health.
However, the order subtly criticised most of the civil parties involved in the action, who had been “silent for a long time” in during the investigation and whose interest in the case was only “awakened” two years ago.
The two judges quite openly invited the victims of chlordecone to take advantage of the established link between the pesticide and the damage suffered by the population to bring their case before “other authorities”.
For the Confédération paysanne – the French farmers and agricultural union – the dismissal of the chlordecone case is a “disgrace”.
Philippe Pierre-Charles, a member of the Lyannaj pou Depolyé Matinik eco-collective, said the ruling did not come as a surprise, but “What we do know is that all the lawyers intend to continue the proceedings … to contest this decision.”
For lawyer Louis Boutrin, who represents the civil association Pour Une Écologie Urbaine, the decision is “a denial of justice”.
90 percent of the population affected
Introduced in the early 1970s to combat weevils in banana plantations, the continued use of chlordecone was authorised in Martinique and Guadeloupe until 1993, long after the rest of France’s overseas territories had banned its use.
It was only banned in the Antilles 15 years after the World Health Organisation warned against it, having already caused significant and lasting pollution on both islands.
According to a report published on 6 December by the French National Health Security Agency (ANSES), nearly 90 percent of the population of Martinique and Guadeloupe are contaminated with chlordecone.
And the Antilles regrettably hold the world record for cases of prostate cancer.
Since 22 December 2021, prostate cancer has been recognised as an occupational disease on the islands, paving the way for compensation claims by agricultural workers.
In 2006, several associations in Martinique and Guadeloupe filed a complaint for poisoning, endangering the lives of others and administering a harmful substance.
On 25 November of last year, the Paris public prosecutor’s office requested that the case be dismissed, considering that the facts were time-barred – particularly in the case of poisoning – or that the administration of harmful substances had not been proven.
Since then, demonstrations and rallies resumed in Martinique, after thousands of people had previously marched in Fort-de-France against “insecticide impunity” in February 2021.
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