Asbestos Victim Honored in Belgium
Yesterday (September 22, 2012), during Belgian Solidarity Day in Bredene-sur-Mer, the results of a nationwide search for the most civic-minded action in 2012 were announced. A lawsuit instigated in 2000 on behalf of Mrs. Françoise Jonckheere1 won against stiff competition from other campaigns including actions by: a coalition against far right political organizations, a movement to promote a more realistic image of women in films, a group which encouraged solidarity with the people of Greece and the slow science movement. The ten candidates for the prize were listed on the web and readers were asked to cast their votes online.2 Eight thousand people attended the family fun day during which the Solidarity Prize was announced. Under a sunny sky, the seaside crowds enjoyed the various activities provided by home-grown and international talent at the festival including: entertainment for children, political discussion groups, workshops, musical offerings, dancing and food stalls. There were more than 120 booths of Belgian associations which are part of the Solidarity movement.
Having received more than one thousand votes, the Jonckheere legal action against Eternit was the clear winner. Often described as a battle of David vs. Goliath it took eleven years for the family to obtain justice in 2011 for Françoise, who died from cancer caused by her exposure to Eternit's asbestos. This was the first environmental lawsuit to succeed in Belgium against Eternit, formerly one of the world's biggest asbestos conglomerates. The fact that it took so long to achieve the landmark victory is an indication of how challenging the case was and the number of formidable obstacles which had to be overcome. The verdict announced on November 28, 2011 recognized the culpability of Eternit and awarded damages to the family. The judgment highlighted Eternit's violation of Mrs. Jonckheere's fundamental human rights, including the right to life and the right to family life.
From left: Eric Jonckheere, brother Xavier, Lawyer Jan Fermon, Eric's sons Cédric and Max.
The award was accepted by Eric Jonckheere, one of Francoise's three surviving sons; no one in the family had known about the competition until Eric received a call from the organizers informing him that the family had won. Speaking for the Jonckheeres, Eric thanked Solidaire, the coalition behind this initiative, and said:
Eternit tried to buy my Mother's silence. She would not be bought. She was determined to hold the company to account for what it had done to her, my Father and so many others in our home town of Kapelle-op-den-Bos. We hope that as a result of the verdict others will be able to obtain justice from Eternit.
September 23, 2012
1 Kazan-Allen L. Justice for Françoise? October 26, 2011.