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international bordercamp strasbourg

Legal team: Summary and Base of Action for the Future.

(This texte has been written by people involved in the legalteam during the camp itself)

this item is available in: [en] [fr]

05.Nov.02 - This text should allow us to at once reevaluate the work done by the Legal Team acording to its objectives that were set before the camp, and to propose bases for action in the future. The Il-Legal team was called to continue its activities as long as the trials linked to the camp lasted. We hope that this update will contribute to a more general reflection on self-organization as regards means of reaction to repression, and we hope that it will be useful to all those who would like to get involves in similar initiatives on other occasions.

We refer to the various texts that have laid out the explanation of the legal team before and after the camp (particularly "About the Legal Team" which was edited before the camp and integrated into the Camp Guide, "Il/Legal Team: How to Go On?" and "Call for Solidarity: neither good nor bad, neither guilty nor victims" which were written just after the camp, and "Legal Consequences of the Camp" which was written later, based on the previous texts, to organize mobilizations and financial solidarity). These texts can all be found at

To evaluate the evolution of the legal team, this summary is organized chronologically in three parts: before, during, and after the camp.


We found ourselves a small group of people involved in the preparation of the No Border Camp, and we elaborated a proposal for the self-organization of the legal team that was retained by all of the groups and individuals preparing the camp. This concept was based on experiences from previous legal teams (in general, those put into place during counter-summits) in that the legal team was not to be made up of lawyers and barristers but of camp participants, who would act secondarily as a liaison with lawyers in case of arrests.

This concept seemed to us to be perfectly concordant with the general perspective of self-organization proposed by the whole camp and played out in various ways through the different camp activities (kitchens, organization of protests and actions, and infrastructure construction): To self-organize the reaction to repression seemed to us, furthermore, to be the best way to react effectively: to compile information about repression to enable a rapid reaction from all the camp's participants, and to collectively decide upon means of defense which would always involve political decisions. Besides, this style of collective organizing appeared to us to be the best way to make all the participants of the camp responsible so that action initiatives or demonstrations on site would be organized with knowledge of the surrounding situation, because most of the participants, usually foreign, did not know anything about the French judicial and police system.

The goal in terms of organization was, therefore, enormouse: to spread information in all languages, so that participants would be able to immediately use that information, to organize ourselves on-site to react to arrests, knowing that the camp would gather about 2000 people from very heterogeneous backgrounds and that there would be no overt limit in terms of the kinds of actions and initiatives (we did not know in advance what situation we could have to deal with and we could only vaguely guess at how to police would react to the camp.)

Therefore, we began by writing out two guides, one for protesters in General, coming from the CAMI Guide, the other more specifically geared toward sans-papiers, coming from the experiences of some of us in sans-papiers struggles in France. Writing these guides gave the opportunity for a certain number of motivated people to join the legal team. We hoped that the team would expand to include non-french-speaking people and we've pretty much failed in that regard. The guides were very quickly and effectively translated, but very few foreigners joined the legal team that is still almost entirely French. We are partly responsible for this problem since, being French from the start and not speaking other languages very well, esepecially not when we had to discuss such complex things as legal questions, and we made very little effort to translate. This was a vicious spiral: since we were all french, we made no translations, and since we made no translations, it was very difficult for those who did not speak french to join us.

In light of the situation in Strasbourg (very little contact between local groups and progressive lawyers) and the magnitude of the repression, we decided to work with public defenders, which allowed us to have a simple course of action in case of problems, while we still planned to bring in other lawyers in case of serious charges.

We developed a very comprehensive file that we transmitted on the widest possible basis to lawyers from Strasbourg and groups like GISTI. We also decided to meet all the public defenders during the camp, to warn them about our way of working and to meet some lawyers who would be willing to work with us afterward, These meetings were very positice. We met a few lawyers who intervened and are still intervening to defend the accused, and we always bought with us participants of the camp who were not part of the legal team, so as to counteract the specialization of labor that we were descending into.

One could say that our work was very involved in the general preparation of the camp, and we had very useful discussions with the other teams (particularly regarding technical questions, with the alternative media group that took our concerns very seriously, particularly our concerns about photos taken during demonstrations and actions, and with the medical team, which allowed us to write a little bookled together with practical advice for demonstrators.)

We also were able to start a discussion on not using external judicial authorities to resolve internal camp problems and, even though this point should have been discussed more deeply, on this point we got the agreement from the whole team that prepared the camp.

Those of us who were there before the camp had to stay locked up behind computers and had a hard time participating in the rest of the preparation, which is because we were already too few to accomplish our own goals.

During the camp

We can say on a general basis that the legal team managed to work will as regards the main objectives that it had given itself, but with too few people. Some people joined us during the camp and the il-legal team is now largely made up of those who have joined us since the camp. We were able to establish sufficient agreement to work effectively together. However, there were two problems: the lack of non-french-speakers and the fact that, in the same vicious cycle as beforehand (no non-french speakers -> no translators; no translators -> no french-speakers) made worse by the fact that we had to act immediately and did not leave enough room for more people to join us (we even, unfortunately, involuntarily discouraged well-meaning people, because we did not give them enough of a basis of legal knowledge to be helpful). En sum, the legal team's work, carried out under a state of emergency after the first mass arrests, was not calm or orderly enough.

The skillsharing workshops to complement the use of the guides were useful, but not well enough attended, and should have had a system to transmit the information back to other camp groups. Some groups sent one or two people to attend the skillshares, who then retransmitted the information to the rest of hteir group, a method that was very effective but which was not widespread. The project to organize general discussions on the relationship to law and repression under the European Unifiation, such as the "Europe-Wide arrest warrant" did not really work out, because we did not have enough time and availability. However, we did gather material and commentary on these questions; it is still available, and the il-legal list could eventually become a forum to discuss the general problematic of repression in the EU.

The goal of rapidly gathering information on the arrested people and reagint rapidly was carried out effectively (even during the demo on the 24th, and with Ahmed's immediate trial were we were able un two days to get together the largest number of pieces possible to prepare his defense, and to bring him a lawyer.)

Looking back, it was a question of size: this work had no meaning for us other than a strictly legal defense of the accused, so as to permit the whole camp to respond intelligently and collectively to repression, so as to construct a balance of power sufficient to limit the eventual prosecutions. The political response was the business of the whole camp and we might say that the camp was not able to effectively react, except during the first arrets where, as soon as one demonstration set off toward the police station, the arrested people were freed without charges.

Afterwards, all discussions were paralyzed by fear, which had two effects:

-it prevented us from taking advantage of the real balance of power that we could have had (for example, during the Exodus, people agreed to leave after picking up the two arrestees at the end of their processing period, with trial dates still pending, rather than demanding their release without charges)

-the legal team found itself, despite itself, in a position of power. All the participants of the camp waited for the legal team to determine the path they should follow, which was absolutely not our job, and which was a role that we refused several times to fulfill; however, the camp did not manage to resolve these problems on its own. In light of our real inability to react collectively in case of emergency, we tried to engage barrio meeting discussions about possible reactions to repression; however, these discussions never led to conclusions that could be put into practice.

Another negative point: we should have coordinated better with the corporate media team, so that they could write and quickly send out press releases about the arrests. We ended up doing this work ourselves, which took us a lot of time, and which reinforced this position of authority that we had but did not want. The legal team was, at times, transformed into a press agency, with endless telephone calls from journalists, even though we had plenty of other work to do.

Looking back, we want to underline that the alternative media group made themselves available at all time to discuss the problems posed by spreading information about the arrestees and the circumstances of their arrests. The alternative media group gethered to discuss responsible reporting and proposed a text that established a few minimal rules for journalists. This is, to our knowledge, the first time that this question of the relationship between legal considerations and the spreading of pictures and information has been worked out in a way that allowed us to work together.

(Does anybody have a copy of this text? It's not on the newswire anymore, and it would be good to have. Here are the guidelines as I remember them:

-Don't say full names of arrested people, speculate about possible cause of arrest, or give details about the circumstances of the arrest that could be used against them Discussing police brutality is OK.

-Don't discuss sensitive actions <after all demos were banned, this meant, don't discuss any actions> until those carrying them out are safely returned to the camp.

-Tell people to talk to the legal team and write out a protocol of their interactions with police, before they talk on the radio or before news is spread about them via the net.

-Don't take photos without permission.

-Remember that anything you say over the web, IRC, or the phone, is tapped.)

After the camp

The legal team was able to contine to work with those who had prepared the camp and those who had joined us afterwards (many had spent a large part of the month of august in Strasbourg). Participants of the camp stayed a bit longer in Strasbourg to help people get organized for the follow-up work and to react to the immediate emergency (it was possible to react quickly to Ahmed's placement in solitary confinement and the prison's refusal to allow him visits by organizing an action where we sent balloons over the prison walls, a few days after the end of the camp.) Many Strasbourg people who had not participated in the legal team during the camp got involved in setting up a support group for the arrestees, in Strasbourg. A text was immediately written so that the collective functioning of the groups could be estabished upon clear bases (see "How to Go On?" at

The various guides written during the camp are still available on the Noborder site and can be modified and completed for use in other situations, if anyone wants to work on that. A Sans-Papiers collective in Pari is, for example, translating the speacial Sans-Papiers legal guide into Chinese.

The only collective way of working that we have found is the internet mailing list,, which is not without numerous difficulties: misunderstandings, french-language exclusivity, heaps of messages about day-to-day problems of organization that get in the way of reflections on long-term possibilities.

The autonomy principle of the support collectives, still respecting theree simple principles that are necessary for collective functioning (see, "how to Go On?") was shown to be relatively effective, even though it caused numerous misunderstandings, doubtlessly because we did not all take enough time to inform ourselves as to the collectively-decided mode of organization. Nobody has proposed other solutions. It is up to us all to contribute to the effective functioning of this list and to effectively integrate non-french-speakers. (In the future, we will need to make a greater effort with translations.)

Financial solidarity allowed us to react to the various expenses without, up to now, using the leftover money from the camp, and to spread information far and wide about the legal consequences (checks with support contributions, mostly from individuals, have arrived from throughout France; collective contributions have ben sent from England, Germany, and Greece.)

Evaluation of the three principles of unity posed for collective work:

These are principles that all support collectives must accept in order to work with the No Border legal team: -Contributions must be collected for the common use of all the accused people. -There should be no contradiction between the different ligns of defense. -There should be no dissociation with the actions and organization of the camp.

These three principles seem to be effective because they have, for example, allowed us to work in a satisfactory manner with the Paris Collective of Friends of Ahmed, which united people from Spontaneous Movement, who had not participated in the camp and with whom we did not necessarily share the same political ideas. Mobilized, at the beginning, only to support Ahmed, they agreed to support, financially as well as in other ways, all of the accused people from the camp. We hope, therefore, to firmly maintain these working principles of unity that allow for autonomous support collectives to work together with a maximum of general cohesion.

(As regards the third point, we have continued to support one of the accused people, Ahmed, even though he has on several occasions, in court as well as to the press, expressed a real dissociation regarding certain styles of action within the camp. We find this dangerous because it may allow the press to present the other accued people as "the bad ones" in contrast with Ahmed, who was falsely accused.)

The fact that Ahmed was in jail, in solitary confinement, without any visits from us, and that we did not give him the choice of whether or not he wanted to be supported by the il-legal team and to adopt our working priciples of unity if he wanted us to support him. We decided that, given the gravity of the situation, solidarity was more important. Now that he is out of prison, we will publicly distance ourselves from any such declarations.

Ahmed's trial raised an important point that we had not previously discussed: the nature of the trials to come. In effect, we eneterd into conflict with the lawyer as to the type of defense. It seemed clear to us (above all because Ahmed's case had obviously been singled out for special treatment by the prosecutor and the jail administration) that we should opt for an offensive trial: that is, make the maximum amount of noise aroudn the trial, bring the maximum number of witnesses to the stand, in short, to create a balance of power with the prosecutor.

The lign of defense that the lawyer chose was, on the contrary, a trial of "passive defense": working things out discreetly with the judge, allowing a judgment that allows all parties to save face (The defense lawyer even went so far as to hide information from us so that he would not have to raise these points in court). In profound disagreement with this option, we were not, all the same, ready to change lawyers because we didn't figure this out until too late. This error is principally due to a lack of experience and a communication problem with the Strasbourg collective. This confirms our general opinion on the role of lawyers: they are advisors, and we should never leave them free rein as far as general tactics go. After this first experience, we will not let this same kind of episode happen again.

Evaluation of the mobolization and suggestion for discussion: an impressive international mobilization took place for Ahmed's trial at the end of Audues, with a relatively effective coordination of the various initiatives (press release sent out the same night, discussing almost all of the support actions.) Ahmed's appeal hearing on October 8 had much less reaction, doubtlessly also because the call for decentralized actions was not spread widely enough and because the support initiatives were not adequately prepared.

As of now, we are sending out a call for ideas and debates, to organize reactios to the trials in february and march (february for all the other accused people from the camp, and marh for the 3 people arrested in front of the Strasbourg Ministry of Justice, which was occuppied to demand visits for Ahmed and to make the jail release him from solitary confinement.): massive presence at the courthouse? To do what; Coordinated decentralized actions? It is up to all those who stand in solidairty with the accused to reflect on these proposals.

We wish to remind all that we must not let up on the fundraising efforts! The beast way to not get bogged down in antirepression wirk is still to make support initiatives the occasion to spread the word about the political message of the camp. It seems to us, furthermore, that the magnitude of the repression that the camp underwent is tied to the French and European security context, and that mobilization for the accused can be an opportunity to organize ourselves against all the security measures and social control mechanisms (such as Frence's new Law on Daily Security and the Law on Internet Security), as the network Halte a la Repression (Stop Repression), which is principally motivated by a group in Saint Etienne, France, proposes to do.

See the text: Legal Consequences of the No Border Camp in Strabourg, for a summary of the trials called to date.

Il-legalteam in exile.