Paris Appeal Court admits civil lawsuit against EDF's windpark in Mexico


Mexico City, Berlin & Paris, 18 June 2024 - The Paris Court of Appeal admitted the civil lawsuit brought by the Mexican indigenous community Unión Hidalgo against French energy giant EDF. It further clarified crucial steps regarding access to justice for future cases under the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law (Loi de Vigilance - LdV). 

Human rights defenders from Unión Hidalgo, together with NGOs ProDESC and ECCHR, and with the support of CCFD Terre-Solidaire, filed a lawsuit at the Paris Civil Court against EDF in October 2020 for violation of its duty of vigilance. The organizations claim that EDF failed to respect the indigenous community’s right to free, prior and informed consent in the planning of the Gunaa Sicaru windpark in Oaxaca, Mexico. The company also failed to take adequate steps to prevent intimidation, harassment and violence against human rights defenders critical of the project. 

Today's ruling paves the way for a judicial evaluation of the substance of Unión Hidalgo’s claim: specifically, whether EDF's vigilance plan adequately identifies and mitigates the risks pertaining to infringements on free, prior, and informed consent, as well as land rights linked to the windpark project, along with the threats and violence faced by human rights and land rights defenders.

In this decision, the judges of the Court of Appeal followed the arguments of the plaintiffs, who emphasised that the duty of vigilance is a continuous obligation of means that is not limited to a compliance exercise of publishing a vigilance plan. 

In particular, the judges noted that the law does not require that the formal notice and the lawsuit refer exactly to the same vigilance plan, and that it is up to the judge to verify whether the evolution of a vigilance plan published by a company after its formal notice complies with the due diligence obligation.

For the Unión Hidalgo community—the first indigenous community to invoke their rights under the French supply chain law to hold a French company accountable for violations of their collective land rights— the ruling is a crucial step forward in their fight for justice.  

Regrettably, the Appeal Court did not order EDF to suspend the development of the windpark project until a final decision on the merits has been made, despite the clearly documented ongoing risks faced by community members, which have also been recognized by the Mexican authorities. 

We are encouraged by the court's decision to recognize the admissibility of our lawsuit against EDF, which reaffirms our right to challenge corporate actions that violate our communal land rights and human rights. However, we deeply regret the court's refusal to issue conservatory measures to suspend the ongoing project despite clear evidence of the risks and violations we face”, says Guadalupe Ramírez, Unión Hidalgo human rights defender.

Declaring the appeal admissible significantly strengthens the Duty of Vigilance law  as a legal recourse for communities harmed by the activities of French multinational corporations. By also clarifying the admissibility requirements under the law on the need to file a formal notice, the Appeal Court removed one of the ambiguities in the interpretation of the law. 

“After more than three years of procedural arguments, the case can finally move on to the merits: if EDF is in compliance with its vigilance obligation. This case presents a unique opportunity to clarify the corporate responsibility to uphold indigenous rights in a transnational setting”, says Chloé Bailey, Senior Legal Advisor at ECCHR.

The French Duty of Vigilance law gives national courts the ability to control the actions of French companies where they are causing harm overseas. By deciding to decline to adjudicate on the request for conservatory measures, the court has limited the preventive objective of the law. 

“This landmark decision sends a clear message for transnational corporations: their activities can be subject to judicial review whenever they fail to comply with the law. It also opens up the way for other affected communities to demand access to justice in corporation's home countries, thanks to this adequate interpretation of the LdV”, says Guillermo Torres, Senior Lawyer from ProDESC.

“This is the first victory in a long legal struggle, and we salute the courage of human rights defenders from Union Hidalgo in continuing their fight to obtain justice! This decision means that the focus can finally shift to the substance of the case, and look at the reality of the rights violations experienced by the community”, says Clara Alibert, Advocacy Officer at CCFD-Terre Solidaire.

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