The French government’s former Minister of Health, Agnes Buzyn, has been charged with “endangering the lives of others” over her mishandling of the pandemic. The former minister, who served from 2017 until her resignation in February 2020, was called to a hearing of the Republic’s Court of Justice – a special court for government ministers. Upon her hearing on Friday (September 10th), Buzyn welcomed “an excellent opportunity for me to explain myself and to establish the truth.”
Buzyn, a doctor who specialises in transplants and cancer, originally downplayed the dangers of the Coronavirus; first arguing that there was “practically no risk” of it spreading from China to France, before moving to suggest the “risk of a spread of the coronavirus among the population is very small.” These words proved to be very wrong, with 219 million cases recorded in France as of September 11, 2021. Buzyn would later argue in a parliamentary investigation she had warned then prime minister Edouard Philippe of potential dangers back in January, seemingly contradicting what she said publicly at the time.
The Republic’s Court of Justice was set up in 1993 to address a perceived lack of accountability of government ministers. It allows for citizens to file complaints should they believe themselves victims of a crime by a minister, and has gone on to receive 14,500 complaints over Coronavirus handling alone, according to the court’s top prosecutor. The court is not uncontroversial, having been accused both of inefficiency and leniency, and of judicial overreach. President Macron has previously committed to doing away with the court.
It is not only Buzyn who could face legal trouble for their part in France’s Coronavirus spread. The current health minister, Olivier Veran, is also under investigation, as is former Edouard Philippe. Since the end of her political career, Buzyn has gone on to join the cabinet of the World Health Organization’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The charges against Buzyn are the first significant legal challenge against the ministers of any government for their handling of the Coronavirus. When nations such as France, the UK, or the USA have seen the levels of infection and death that they have, while other nations such as Cuba or China – a nation which had no time to prepare for the virus – have seen much lower levels; it is clear that the thousands upon thousands of deaths in these capitalist nations have resulted not from chance but government action. It is not insensible therefore to hold the governments of these nations responsible for all these deaths, never mind the many millions more who have fallen ill and continue to suffer from the effects of COVID. The emergence of COVID-19 was a matter of chance, that much is true, but the consequences facing so many bereaved families and long-COVID sufferers are unmistakably the result of governments’ failed policies.
Philip English, is a member of the YCL’s Greater Manchester branch