Can the government really disband Earth Uprisings?

A few days after the violent clashes around the mega-basin project in Sainte-Soline, in the Deux-Sèvres, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, announced on March 28 his intention to dissolve the group Les Uprisings of the Earth (SLT ), co-organizer of the March 25 protest

Can the government really disband Earth Uprisings?

A few days after the violent clashes around the mega-basin project in Sainte-Soline, in the Deux-Sèvres, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, announced on March 28 his intention to dissolve the group Les Uprisings of the Earth (SLT ), co-organizer of the March 25 protest.

The dissolution could be the subject of a decree at the next Council of Ministers, on April 20. Initially expected for April 13, it has not yet been discussed because "the investigation of the file may take a little time," said government spokesperson Olivier Véran during a briefing. press. This file indeed raises many legal questions, the lawyers of the movement having already warned that they would challenge the dissolution before the Council of State.

Is it possible to disband a movement like SLT?

Freedom of association is highly protected in France: the law of July 1, 1901 provides that associations are formed freely and without any prior control by the administration. In 1971, the Constitutional Council even raised freedom of association "to the number of the fundamental principles recognized by the laws of the Republic and solemnly reaffirmed by the preamble to the Constitution". The dissolution of an association by the administrative authority, strictly supervised, can only be decided by decree in the Council of Ministers.

In this case, Les Uprisings of the Earth is not an association strictly speaking, but a movement born in January 2021 from the grouping of a hundred organizations and collectives (la Confédération paysanne, Les Amis de la Terre France, Attac, Youth for Climate, Extinction Rebellion…) and many individual supports. However, the government considers itself justified in dissolving the movement by calling it a "de facto group". This term refers to associations of people formed freely, without official declaration to the authorities, characterized for example by a slogan, a visual identity or specific communication channels.

A qualification disputed by SLT, which refers to itself as a "vast heterogeneous and composite movement", a "grand alliance" with "horizontal" functioning. In support of these claims, more than 75,000 people signed a petition to publicize their membership in the Earth Uprisings, arguing that the movement "cannot be dissolved, because it is multiple and alive".

"If dissolved, will the state prosecute thousands of people who will continue to claim Earth Uprisings?" Are they going to attack every association that claims to be part of the movement? This does not seem credible to us, ”declares to Le Monde Me Aïnoha Pascual, lawyer for the movement, who sent on April 7 with her colleague Me Raphaël Kempf a ten-page argument to the ministry to challenge the dissolution of the movement.

On what grounds can a dissolution be pronounced?

The grounds that may justify a dissolution, detailed in article L212-1 of the internal security code, range from incitement to hatred to acts of terrorism, including threats to the "republican form of government". In the case of the Earth Uprisings, the government intends to rely on the first paragraph, which authorizes the dissolution of associations that "provoke armed demonstrations or violent acts against persons or property" - a ground expanded by Gérald Darmanin in his law against "separatism", in August 2021. In its letter launching the administrative procedure for dissolution, the Ministry of the Interior notably accuses SLT of "advocating[r] and justify[r] the practice of eco-sabotage".

In their argument, Mes Pascual and Kempf point out that "none of the people officially declaring themselves Earth Uprisings, or even singled out by your intelligence services as belonging to said movement, have been the subject of prosecutions and convictions for facts in connection with the activities of the movement". They denounce the use of this administrative procedure "which is only a diversion of a criminal procedure which would be more respectful of the rights of the defense".

The same reason had already been invoked by Mr. Darmanin to pronounce, on March 30, 2022, the dissolution of the Antifascist Group Lyon and surroundings (GALE), which he accused in particular of having relayed calls to demonstrate which could have generated clashes with the police. But the judges of the Council of State, seized in summary proceedings, had suspended this dissolution in May 2022, considering that "the elements put forward by the Minister of the Interior do not make it possible to demonstrate that the GALE has [had] incited to commit violent actions and seriously disturbed public order". If the GALE "makes radical and sometimes brutal remarks" against the police, "it cannot be considered" that it has "called for violent actions", estimated the supreme administrative court.

On this occasion, the Council of State came to clarify the meaning of these new provisions providing for "the dissolution of associations or de facto groups whose activities seriously disturb public order". Thus, it is possible to impute to associations violent acts committed by their members, in this capacity, or acts directly linked to the activities of the association "as soon as their leaders, although informed, have refrained from taking the measures necessary to put an end to them, taking into account the means at their disposal".

This modification of the law was accompanied by a clear acceleration of dissolutions. Thus, since the beginning of 2021, fourteen associations or de facto groups have been dissolved, mainly far-right organizations or organizations accused of conveying a radical Islamist ideology. Over the previous decade, between 2010 and 2020, 29 such dissolutions had been pronounced.

What are the remedies ?

The administrative decision of dissolution can be challenged before the Council of State, by means of an appeal for annulment on the merits or in an emergency procedure - in particular in summary-freedom under the title of the attack on the fundamental freedom of association. It is also possible to request a summary suspension so that the judge temporarily suspends the dissolution, but it is necessary to file an appeal at the same time before the Council of State to request the definitive cancellation of the decision.

The highest administrative court thus suspended several dissolutions in 2022. Referred to in summary proceedings, the Council of State suspended the dissolution of two pro-Palestinian associations in April 2022. The judges considered that the positions of the Palestine Action Committee, "well radical or even virulent on the situation in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict", could not be regarded as incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence, which could justify a measure of dissolution. They also considered that the call for a boycott of Israeli products by the Collectif Palestine Vainra reflected "the expression of a dissenting opinion and cannot by itself (...) be regarded as a provocation or a contribution to discrimination, hatred or violence towards a group of people". The judgment of the action for definitive annulment has not yet been rendered.

Other dissolutions contested before the administrative courts have, on the contrary, been confirmed by the Council of State in recent years. This is particularly the case of the dissolution by the government of the far-right association Génération identitaire (May 2021), the CCIF and BarakaCity, accused of "Islamist propaganda" (September 2021) or the libertarian association Le Lorraine block (December 2022).

After the Council of State, a final appeal remains possible before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The Collectif contre l'islamophobia en France (CCIF) filed a petition in January before the ECHR against France for "disproportionate interference in its rights to freedom of expression and association". Its dissolution by the government at the end of 2020 was confirmed by the Council of State the following year.

The law punishes by three years' imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros the fact of participating in the maintenance or reconstitution of a dissolved association or group. This means that you cannot use the logo, slogans or social media accounts of a disbanded group.

The dissolution of the Earth Uprisings could also have consequences for the surveillance of environmental activists who revolve around the movement. Since the Intelligence Act of 2015, the intelligence services can indeed use special techniques to prevent actions tending to maintain or reconstitute dissolved groups.