In the West Indies, several associations have decided to take the French state to court regarding its role in the slave trade. The appeal trial took place on October 11 and 12 and the decision will be rendered on January 18, 2022.
“We are direct victims of the crime”, insists one of the lawyers of the civil parties, Georges-Emmanuel Germany, before the three judges of the Court of Appeal of Fort-de-France, in Martinique, in a lawsuit to ask “Justice and reparation” in favor of the descendants of slaves. France is once again being sued for its role in the slave trade, in an appeal trial which took place on October 11 and 12 and whose decision will be rendered on January 18, 2022.
Facing the three magistrates, the 15 civil party lawyers had installed shackles and chains, used in the days of slavery. A strong image to start the pleadings: “One day, France will pay,” said Alain Manville, lawyer at the bar of Martinique.
For this trial, cameras were installed in the courtroom to film the proceedings, a first in the context of civil proceedings. The recordings will be sent directly to the justice archives.
This lawsuit is the result of a long legal fight initiated in 2005 by several associations in the West Indies and Guyana, but also in Africa, such as the MIR, the international movement for reparations, or even COFFAD, the girls’ collective. and sons of deported Africans. After the vote of the Taubira law of May 21, 2001, recognizing the slave trade and slavery as a crime against humanity, the MIR, the CMDPA (World Council of the Pan-African Diaspora) and several natural persons initiated proceedings before the Tribunal of great authority of Fort-de-France.
This was a procedural responsibility summons which was then appealed, then to the Cour de Cassation. As justice considered that the action was time-barred and that the Taubira law was devoid of any normative scope, in 2019, the civil parties therefore turned to the European Court of Human Rights. The latter deemed this request admissible and should render its decision shortly. At the same time as this procedure, a new legal action was initiated by these same civil parties at the court of Fort-de-France in 2015. The judgment rendered on April 4, 2017 once again rejected the claim of the civil parties. They lodged an appeal, and the trial therefore opened at the beginning of the week.
An uncertain legal framework
After having focused their pleadings on the atrocity of the crimes committed during the time of slavery, the civil parties endeavored to insist on the consequences still visible of slavery today in Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guyana. “There is epigenetics, it is the last revolution”, told the judges Maître Evita Chevry, lawyer at the bar of Guadeloupe and Saint-Martin for the MIR. This science studies in particular how the environment can modify our genes in a reversible, transmissible and adaptive way. According to lawyers, recent research could explain the genetic transmission to descendants of slaves from trauma and stress-related reactions.
“The crime extended over two and a half centuries, and this repair may take two and a half centuries,” quipped Alain Manville, one of the lawyers of the MIR in Martinique. In the middle of the day, the two state lawyers, Béatrice Dufresne and Patrick Baudouin, in turn spoke. The latter, a lawyer at the Paris bar and honorary president of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), closed these two days of trial after an hour of pleading during which he recalled the legal arguments advanced during previous MIR procedures. “If the crime against humanity is imprescriptible, how far do we go? History is made up of massacre and barbarism ”, declared the lawyer to the judges, while calling on the French State to continue to support the peoples of the Antilles and Guyana in the“ aftereffects ”, still visible today, of slavery.