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H v. France

Court Conseil d’Etat, France
Case number 315499
Decision title Opinion of the Conseil d’Etat Avis du Conseil d’Etat
Decision date 16 February 2009
  • Madeleine H
  • France
Categories Crimes against humanity
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The claimant’s father was a French Jew who was interned in France and deported to a concentration camp by the Vichy regime during World War II. The claimant brought proceedings for reparations before the Administrative Tribunal of Paris alleging that the French State and the French railway company that facilitated the transfer and deportation, the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais (SNCF) was at fault.

The case was transferred to the Conseil d’Etat, the highest administrative body in France, for advice. The Conseil d’Etat ruled that the acts of the French State, which contributed to the deportation of persons considered as Jews by the Vichy regime, constituted faults for which its responsibility was engaged. The Advice was the first time that the Conseil had ruled that reparation of such exceptional suffering could not be restricted to financial measures: they implied a solemn acknowledgement of the collective prejudice suffered by those persons, because of the role the French State played in their deportation, quoting the 1964 law suppressing time limitation on crimes against humanity, or the 1995 Presidential statement acknowledging the responsibility of the French State.

The Advice is to be eminently helpful for the 400 similar cases currently pending before French administrative courts. 

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Procedural history

On 22 April 2008, the Administrative Court for Paris transmitted to the Conseil d’Etat, the highest administrative court in France, questions related to a suit brought by Madeleine H against the French State and the French national railway company, the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais (SNCF). H alleges that the State and the SNCF owe her damages as a result of the prejudice suffered by her father when he was arrested, interned and deported during World War II.

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Legally relevant facts

The claimant’s father was a French Jew who, during World War II, was interned in France and ultimately deported (p. 1). 

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Core legal questions

  • Article 213-5 of the Criminal Code of France provides that there is no statute of limitations in respect of criminal proceedings against individuals accused of crimes against humanity. Absent an express provision to the contrary, can this provision be extended to actions before administrative courts seeking to engage the responsibility of the State for the commission of crimes against humanity?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Articles 121, 122, 213, 214 and 215 of the French Criminal Code
  • Article 3 of the Ordinance of 9 August 1944 re-establishing the legality of the Republic.
  • Articles 12 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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Court's holding and analysis

It results from Article 3 of the 1944 Ordinance that all official acts adopted by the French State establishing or applying a discriminatory measure on the basis of a person’s Jewish religion are null and void. Conduct, which gave rise to the adoption of such measures, may amount to a fault for which the State can be held liable where the perpetrator permitted or facilitated the deportation from France of victims of anti-Semitism. The same is true where such victims were first transferred to so-called transit camps, prior to their deportation outside of France.

Reparation of such exceptional suffering can not be limited to financial measures already in place: they implied a solemn acknowledgment of the collective prejudice suffered by those persons because of the role the French State played in their deportation. The question of the applicability of statute of limitations is therefore rendered moot (pp. 5-7).

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials