Tirailleurs sénégalais troops as POWs; photo credit.
The question of the pensions of the colonial veterans
As most French colonies were in the process of acquiring their independence, the French government passed a law on December 26, 1959, effective on January 1, 1961, that officially replaced the pensions due to the now foreign veterans with an indemnity, as shown below:
« Loi de finances no 59-1454 du 26 décembre 1959
Pensions servies à certains anciens ressortissants des territoires d'outre-mer.
Art. 71— I. A compter du 1er janvier 1961, les pensions, rentes ou allocations viagères imputées sur le budget de l'Etat ou d'établissements publics, dont sont titulaires les nationaux des pays ou territoires ayant appartenu à l'Union française ou à la Communauté ou ayant été placés sous le protectorat ou sous la tutelle de la France, seront remplacées […] par des indemnités annuelles en francs, calculées sur la base des tarifs en vigueur pour lesdites pensions ou allocations, à la date de leur transformation. »
(Finance law # 59-1454 of December 26, 1959
Pensions allocated to a certain number of former inhabitants of the overseas territories.
Art.71- I. Effective January 1, 1961, the pensions, annuity or allowance for life, deducted from the State’s budget or that of public establishments, received by the nationals of countries or territories that used to be part of the French Union or the Community or that used to be protectorates or under the tutelage of France, will be replaced…by annual indemnities paid in francs, established on the basis of the current rates applied to the afore mentioned pensions or allowances, at the date of their transformation.)
In other words, the veterans of the former French colonies saw their compensation for their service in the French armed forces frozen to the rate of 1959 whereas their French brother-in-arms still received pensions based on the cost of living in France. This decision of the French government is known as the “cristallisation,” or freezing, of the pensions of veterans from the colonies. Retirement, pensions for invalidity and pensions due to veterans having experienced combat were thus affected. Unfortunately, the tirailleurs were relics of a past that the newly independent colonies and France were eager to forget.
The first step in the abolition of this discrimination was made in 1989 when a few Senegalese veterans obtained from the Court for Human Rights committee of the United Nations an acknowledgement that France was indeed discriminating against these men. However, this victory remained symbolic as the French Higher Court rebutted the committee’s interpretation of the law. It was then up to the European Court of Human Rights to condemn France for its violation of article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The article does indeed prohibit discrimination based on national origins. In response, the French government implemented a revision of the 1959 law by adjusting, in December 2002, the indemnities to the cost of living of the country of residence of the veteran.
This new law was only a half-measure in the sense that overseas veterans received much smaller pensions than their French counterparts. Me Houssam Othman-Farah, a lawyer in Bordeaux, France, thus noted that while a French veteran would receive a pension of 600 euros, a Senegalese would get 150 euros and a Moroccan 80 euros. In 2006, the popularity of the movie “Indigènes” contributed to the reevaluation of the pensions by the French government, which then opted for a partial reform or “décristallisation partielle.” All veterans, French or foreign, eligible for a pensions for invalidity or for having experienced combat, would receive payments based on the same criteria. However, this reform did not apply to the foreigners who served 15 years or more in the French military but never experienced combat.
The final chapter of this “décristallisation” was written by the French president in July 2010 and set into law in December 2010:
“L'article 211 de la loi n° 2010-1657 du 29 décembre 2010 abroge l'ensemble des lois cristallisant les pensions des ressortissants des pays ou territoires ayant appartenu à l'ancien empire colonial français.
Par ailleurs, les dispositions législatives décristallisant partiellement ces pensions (articles 68 de la loi n° 2002-1576 du 30 décembre 2002 et 100 de la loi n° 2006-1666 du 21 décembre 2006) sont également abrogées.”
The article 211 of the law n° 2010-1657 of December 29, 2010 abrogates the corpus of laws freezing the pensions of the citizens of the countries or territories that used to be part of the former French colonial empire.
Furthermore, the legal dispositions reforming partially these pensions ((articles 68 of the law
n° 2002-1576 of December 30, 2002 and 100 of the law n° 2006-1666 of December 21, 2006) are likewise abrogated.)
Parity between all veterans has finally been achieved. However, pensions are established on a point system that takes into consideration the type of service provider by the veteran and the duration of such service but the French government has no obligation to look for such information. In other words, it is up to the veteran to provide justification for each point he or his family may claim.
This last reform, presented by the French president as a just retribution for the debt owed by France to its former colonies, should not distract us from the fact that many of the veterans of WWII are long deceased and that this law only applies to the remaining few. Furthermore, the payment of these pensions has to be claimed and justified, point by point, by the veteran or his family. In the words of French general Lang, “On a décristallisé pour se donner bonne conscience mais on n'a pas rendu suffisamment les choses possible” (We have decrystallized to have a clear conscience but we have not made things sufficiently possible).