Thousands Mount Silent Protest through Paris
A silent parade snaked through the streets and neighborhoods of Paris on Saturday, October 11, 2008 headed by two super-sized figures representing an asbestos victim and a magistrate.
Behind these imposing figureheads came six thousand asbestos victims, their relatives and supporters and grieving family members of those whose lives were cut short by asbestos. They had made their way to the capital on buses and trains from far-flung French ports and industrial areas, big cities and small towns to highlight the plight of asbestos victims and condemn the Government's inadequate response to the unprecedented human tragedy which could cause up to 100,000 deaths. This was the fourth mass demonstration mounted by ANDEVA,1 the French umbrella group representing asbestos victims; the huge turnout illustrates the growing discontent over the country's failure to get to grips with the tragedy affecting so many individuals and families throughout the country.2
In the silence, their banners spoke for the protestors as they followed the route from Sevres Babylone in the 7th district of Paris to La Place Vendome in the 1st:
One marcher pushed a coffin as he made his way through the streets of Paris. The demonstrators carried with them a petition with 18,000 signatures which condemns FIVA, the national asbestos indemnization fund, for gross incompetence. Chronic staff shortages are cited as excuses for FIVA's delays in paying benefits to dying claimants. FIVA can't, so government officials say, cope with the deluge of applications from the injured. As if asbestos victims can be blamed because there are too many of them!
ANDEVA officials told the crowd which assembled in Le Corbusier Place, under the windows of the Ministry of Justice, of the repeated injustice experienced by asbestos victims. They compared the awards for moral damages of €30,000 received by an asbestos widow to the €45 million received by French businessman Bernard Tapie. It is not right, one speaker remarked that moral suffering is judged differently depending on whether you are rich or poor. The day's events attracted massive media coverage, including scores of articles on the internet.3
In 1996 ANDEVA called for a national lawsuit on the asbestos dossier similar to that initiated over the contaminated blood scandal. Perhaps fearful of what might emerge about the state's role in this deadly affair, there has been a pronounced lack of political appetite to implement the many promises made by the government to advance this case. Few resources have been allocated and, at the current rate of progress, it won't be until 2014 that the authorities will be ready to begin a prosecution.4
The day before the demonstration, an ANDEVA delegation met with officials from the Ministries of Justice and Labor but, according to ANDEVA's Vice-President Michel Parigot nothing has been done about this complex investigation which needs to address the actions and interactions of companies, politicians, doctors and public agencies. The two new government advisors handling the case, Parigot reported, did not really know the dossier.5 The representative of the Ministry of Justice told the ANDEVA delegation that the amount of resources allocated to the asbestos case will be tripled and that 11 investigators will work exclusively on this file.
French lawyer Jean-Paul Teissonniere, who has been representing asbestos victims for more than a decade, believes that the time has come for employers to be condemned for criminal liability in asbestos cases. Selected remarks made by the Paris-based advocate in an interview published in June 2008 are informative:
With 3,000 French people dying of asbestos-related diseases every year combined with the increased social mobilization of those affected and a heightened public awareness of the issues, ignoring the asbestos debacle is no longer an option for the French Government.
November 2, 2008
2 Manifestation silencieuse de victimes de l'amiante a Paris. October 11, 2008.
3 As of November 1, 2008, there were 71 google hits referring to this protest.
4 Amiante: le président de l'ANDEVA a "la certitude" que les pouvoirs publics freinent l'instruction. October 10, 2008.
5 Valiant G. Amiante: La colère des victimes. October 11, 2008.
6 Asbestos Attorney wants to put industry offenders in the dock. HESA Newsletter, June 2008, No. 34. pages 17-18.