France sued for 'crimes against humanity' over nuclear tests in South Pacific

France is being taken to the International Criminal Court for nuclear weapons tests in French Polynesia. France has long denied responsibility for the impacts of the tests and only recently began compensating civilians.

France is being taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for carrying out nuclear weapons tests in French Polynesia, a Polynesian opposition leader announced on Tuesday.

Oscar Temaru, the archipelago's former president and current leader of the Tavini Huiraatira Party, announced the move during a United Nations committee dealing with decolonization.

Temaru accused France of "crimes against humanity" and said that he hopes to hold French presidents accountable for the nuclear tests with the ICC complaint.

"We owe it to all the people who died from the consequences of nuclear colonialism," he told the UN committee.

Maxime Chan from Te Ora Naho, an association for the protection of the environment in French Polynesia, told the UN that there had been 368 instances of radioactive fallout from the tests and that radioactive waste had also been discharged into the ocean — violating international rules.

France carried out almost 200 nuclear tests in the South Pacific, including on the island of Mururoa

Three decades of nuclear tests

The French territory, currently home to 290,000 people, is best known for the popular tourist island of Tahiti, but its atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa were used for decades for nuclear tests.

France carried out 193 nuclear weapons tests on islands in the archipelago between 1960 and 1996 until French President Jacques Chirac halted the program.

Around 150,000 military and civilian personnel were involved in France's nuclear tests, with thousands of them later developing serious health problems.

France has long denied responsibility for the detrimental health and environmental impacts of the tests, fearing that it would weaken the country's nuclear program during the Cold War.

In 2010, France passed a law allowing military veterans and civilians to be compensated if their cancer could be attributed to the nuclear tests.

Out of approximately 1,000 people who have filed complaints against France, only 20 have been compensated.

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

A movement is born

Germany’s anti nuclear movement got its start in the early 1970s, when protestors came out in force against plans for a nuclear power plant at Wyhl, close to the French border. Police were accused of using unnecessary force against the peaceful demonstrations. But the activists ultimately won, and plans for the Wyhl power station were scrapped in 1975.

Demonstrators in Brokdorf, 1976 (picture-alliance / dpa)

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

Civil disobedience

Following the success of civil disobedience in Wyhl, similar protests were held in Brokdorf and Kalkar in the late 70s. Though they failed to prevent reactors being built, they proved that the anti-nuclear movement was a growing force.

A protest march in Gorleben, 1979 (picture-alliance / dpa)

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

No to nuclear waste

Gorleben has seen fierce protest against the nuclear industry ever since plans to store nuclear waste in a disused salt mine there were first announced in 1977. The site is a sparsely populated area close to the then-border with East Germany. Yet locals quickly showed they weren't going to accept radioactive material close to their homes without a fight.

An anti-nuclear activist with sign walks past line of riot police in Gorleben, 1997 (AP)

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

People power

From the beginning, the German anti-nuclear movement brought together church organizations, farmers and concerned local residents - along with student activists, academics, and peace protestors who saw a link between nuclear power and the atom bomb. Being at the frontline of the Cold War meant the threat of nuclear war loomed large in many German minds.

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

Breaking into mainstream politics

In the late 70s, anti-nuclear activists joined with other environment and social justice campaigners to form the Green Party. Today, this is a major force in German politics and probably the most powerful Green Party in the world. They won their first seats in the German federal parliament in 1983.

The Green's Joschka Fischer speaks at an anti-nuclear debate, 1986 (picture-alliance / dpa)

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

Worst fears realized

In 1986, a reactor meltdown hundreds of miles away in Ukraine hardened public opinion against nuclear power in Germany. The Chernobyl disaster released radioactive fallout across Europe. In Germany, people were warned not to drink milk, eat fresh meat or let children play on playgrounds, where the sand might have been contaminated.

Masked demonstrators hang a banner against nuclear power in 1997 (picture-alliance / dpa)

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

End to nuclear becomes law

In 1998, the Green Party came into German federal government, as the junior partner in a coalition with the Social Democrats. In 2002, the "red-green" government passed a law banning new nuclear power plants and limiting the lives of existing plants so that the last would be switched off in 2022.

Green Party leaders Jürgen Tritten and singer Nina Hagen Berlin (AP)

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

Keeping the pressure up

Even with an end to nuclear power finally in sight, the anti-nuclear movement still had plenty to protest about. Many activists, including in the Green Party (with leaders Jürgen Tritten and Claudia Roth pictured above in Berlin in 2009) wanted nuclear power phased out far faster. Meanwhile, the German movement continued to join international calls for a global end to nuclear power.

Castor transport protest, Harlingen, 2010 (dapd)

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

Stop that train

Then there was still the question of what to do with nuclear waste. By 1995, containers of radioactive material were coming back from reprocessing abroad for storage at Gorleben. Over the years, transport of these "castors" has regularly been met with mass protests, including clashes with police.

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

New lease of life for nuclear

Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party had always opposed the law limiting the life of Germany's nuclear power plants - so after the party came to power in 2009, it effectively scrapped it by prolonging the lives of power plants - a major setback for the anti-nuclear movement.

Fukushima demo in Rostock, 2011 (picture-alliance/dpa)

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

Fukushima changes everything

In 201,1 the meltdown of a Japanese nuclear reactor saw Merkel's government make a rapid about-face. Within days of the Fukushima disaster, it passed a law to shut down the last of Germany's nuclear power plants by 2022. The phase-out was back on, and eight reactors were shut down that same year.

40 years of German anti-nuclear action

The fight goes on

Since the grassroots action of the 70s, Germany's anti-nuclear movement has seen the country commit to ditching nuclear altogether. It's also helped push forward a shift to renewables, making Germany an international example in the fight against climate change. But the protests go on. This week, activists stopped the first boat carrying nuclear waste.