Cedric Herrou has gained widespread recognition for his support of migrants in need | Photo: picture-alliance/Cyril Dodergn
Cedric Herrou has gained widespread recognition for his support of migrants in need | Photo: picture-alliance/Cyril Dodergn

A court in the French city of Lyon has scrapped all charges against Cedric Herrou, a farmer in southern France who had helped about 250 migrants cross the border to France from Italy in 2015 and 2016. His case became synonymous with the term “crimes of solidarity.”

Cedric Herrou has enjoyed great praise among migrant organizations for taking personal risks by bringing in destitute migrants stuck in Italy and setting up a camp for them at his home. But the law hasn’t always looked at the 40-year-old olive farmer quite as positively. 

In August 2017, he was given a four-month suspended sentence for helping about 200 migrants cross the border illegally. He was also convicted of sheltering about another 50 Eritrean migrants in an abandoned railway building.

But France's Constitutional Council later said that Cedric Herrou's actions did not qualify as a crime due to the “principle of fraternity” as enshrined in France's national motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” The council ruled that people cannot be prosecuted in France for “crimes of solidarity,” saying in its ruling that the principle of fraternity in the French constitution specifically conferred “the freedom to help others, for humanitarian purposes, regardless of the legality of their presence on national territory.”

In December 2018, France's court of final appeal overturned Herrou's conviction following the assessment by the Constitutional Council, sending the case back to the appeals court in Lyon.

On Wednesday, the appeals court finally voided all charges against Herrou.

Read more: Refugee aid workers: Heroes or criminals?

‘A triumph for reason and the law’

The human rights organization Amnesty International said that the ruling was going to have implications throughout Europe for the criminalization of "acts of solidarity."

“Cedric Herrou did nothing wrong, he simply showed compassion towards people abandoned in dire conditions by European states,” Amnesty's Rym Khadhraoui said. “Whilst it is a relief that Cedric Herrou's ordeal is now over, he should never have been charged in the first place.”

He added that French law should be amended to specify that humanitarian assistance should not be punishable by law, while stressing that human trafficking must continue to be an offence. Khadhraoui added for clarity that people smuggling - in stark contrast to humanitarian assistance - entails a profit motive.

Sabrina Goldman, a lawyer on the case, said that with the ruling, reason and the law had triumphed: “Why focus on someone who did nothing but help? How can what he did be regarded as anything other than a humanitarian act?”

Read more: Activists on trial for helping migrants enter France


More articles