International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) v. France

Complaint No. 13/2003, 40 Eur. H.R. Rep. SE25 (2005).
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Changes in French domestic law required foreign nationals to have lawfully resided in France for three continuous months and to satisfy an economic means test in order to qualify for benefits under the country’s universal medical coverage (CMU) program. The benefits for lawful nationals included health insurance with a potential to receive supplemental insurance. Conversely, foreign nationals not lawfully present in France for three continuous months could not receive benefits under the CMU program but could only receive treatment for emergencies involving “life threatening conditions.”

The petitioner, International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), claimed that such a regulatory scheme violated the right to social and medical assistance under Article 13, sections 1 and 4, of the European Revised Social Charter, as well as restricted the rights of children and young persons in violation of Article 17 of the Charter. FIDH noted that such restrictions included the denial of coverage to children of illegal immigrants for glasses and dental prostheses, a delay in the provision of medical services by making children of illegal immigrants await entry into the assistance program, and the provision of medical care to children of illegal immigrants only in cases that involve an immediate threat to life. The Government claimed that the legislation would, in effect, provide for the medical costs of children in full, regardless of their legal status in France. The European Committee of Social Rights declared the complaint admissible in March 2003.

The Committee found that France’s legislation did not violate Article 13 (the right to social and medical assistance) of the European Revised Social Charter. Although delaying a foreign national’s entry into the assistance program may create challenges for prevention and the provision of care and that “life threatening conditions” is not a sufficiently clear term, the legislation provides at least some form of medical assistance to foreign nationals.

However, the Committee concluded that the legislation did violate the rights of children and young persons, Article 17 (the right of children and young persons to social, legal and economic protection) of the Charter, insofar as delays in admitting children to the scheme and treating only “life threatening conditions” during that period fails to adhere to the general protection of children and young persons envisioned in the Charter. The Committee considered that the circumstances threatened the right to life, "a right of fundamental importance to the individual," and "the very dignity of the human being."

"30. As concerns the present complaint, the Committee has to decide how the restriction in the Appendix ought to be read given the primary purpose of the Charter as defined above. The restriction attaches to a wide variety of social rights in Articles 1-17 and impacts on them differently. In the circumstances of this particular case, it treads on a right of fundamental importance to the individual since it is connected to the right to life itself and goes to the very dignity of the human being. Furthermore, the restriction in this instance impacts adversely on children who are exposed to the risk of no medical treatment."

"31. Human dignity is the fundamental value and indeed the core of positive European human rights law – whether under the European Social Charter or under the European Convention of Human Rights and health care is a prerequisite for the preservation of human dignity."

"32. The Committee holds that legislation or practice which denies entitlement to medical assistance to foreign nationals, within the territory of a State Party, even if they are there illegally, is contrary to the Charter."

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