Paris Poop Protest: A Call to Action Against the Olympics and International Law

It all began with the Seine River, an important river in the center of Paris that has long been polluted and contaminated.

French citizens are well-known for their action criticizing the government, as evidenced by the Yellow Vest Protest back in 2018, which erupted after President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to raise fuel oil taxes (BBM) to fund the development of ecologically friendly energy. In recent weeks, the global community has been shocked once more by their actions. This time, Paris has witnessed an unprecedented and controversial protest, dubbed the “Paris Poop Protest,” in which activists intend to defecate in the iconic River Seine to highlight alleged contamination and excessive spending by the French government in its efforts to clean up the river for the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics. These protests, indeed drew major media and public attention, prompted concerns about the effectiveness of such unconventional techniques in addressing environmental issues, as well as the role of international law in regulating such actions.

So, how did this demonstration occur? It all began with the Seine River, an important river in the center of Paris that has long been polluted and contaminated. Despite the French government’s €1.5 billion effort to clean up the river, concerns over water quality persist. Surfrider Foundation Europe conducted water testing in the River Seine from September 2020 to March 2024, indicating significant levels of bacteria, including E. coli and enterococci, which exceeded the allowable limits set by the sports federation.

In response to these discoveries, President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced plans to swim in the Seine River to demonstrate its safety ahead of the Olympics. This initiative was received with skepticism and mockery from Parisians, who realized the Seine River was too polluted, resulting in a creation of the satirical hashtag #JeChieDansLaSeineLe23Juin, which translates to “I poop in the Seine River on June 23.” The hashtag grew in popularity, and a website was created to help with the protest, replete with a countdown timer and a tool to calculate how long it would take for the waste itself to reach Paris’ center.

This protest, which was intended as a joke, quickly grew into a large-scale movement. The demonstrators declared that they would defecate in the Seine River to highlight the government’s apparent inefficiency in clean-up operations. Furthermore, the government carried out the clean-up not for the sake of the people, but because France wanted to host the Olympics. After the hashtag #JeChieDansLaSeineLe23Juin went viral on social media, and influencers joined the conversation, uploading photos of the dirty Seine River. Some of the effects of this action’s trending were increasing public awareness. This demonstration brought attention to the Seine River’s persistent pollution problem, emphasizing the need for more effective and long-term solutions, also, of course, the government’s response, in which the protests resulted in the postponement of the swim planned by French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on June 23. The event was postponed for the week of July 15, barely two weeks before the beginning of Olympic Games swimming. Lastly, international attention that the protest drew widespread international notice, with media outlets and social media platforms reporting it. This raises challenges regarding the role of international law in regulating such actions, as well as the need for collaboration among governments, international organizations, and civil society in finding effective solutions.

Just like what stated before, The Paris Poop Protest raises concerns regarding the role of international law in controlling such behavior. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has established water quality standards for Olympic competitions, which the Seine River does not match. The IOC’s executive director, Christophe Dubi, expressed confidence in the water’s safety, but continued pollution concerns put a pall over the approaching Olympic festivities.

In this sense, the protest might be viewed as a kind of civil disobedience, challenging the authority of the government and the IOC. But, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) both acknowledge the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression as international law. Under Article 19 of the UDHR, “everyone has the right to freedom of expression; This right includes freedom to express opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference from public authorities and regardless of frontiers.” This right includes the freedom to hold peaceful protests and demonstrations.

Furthermore, Article 21 of the ICCPR indicates, “The right to peaceful assembly shall be recognized.” No restrictions on the exercise of this right may be imposed except those required by law and essential in a democratic society in the interests of democracy. national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), public health or morals, or the protection of other people’s rights and freedoms.” This rule ensures that peaceful assemblies are safeguarded, and any restrictions must be justified.

On the other hand, the protests also sparked worries about public health and environmental safety. Defecation in the River Seine could lead to increased contamination and constitute a health danger to demonstrators and the general public. This emphasizes the importance of striking a balance between the right to protest and the protection of public health and the environment. The World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the International Health Regulations (IHR) in 2005 with the goal of preventing and controlling disease transmission. The regulations stress the necessity of safeguarding public health and the environment. In this situation, the demonstration may be considered a violation of these standards since it causes further risks to public health and the environment.

To conclude, the Paris Poop Protests, although unconventional, contentious, and unique, highlight the need for more effective and long-term solutions to environmental challenges. International law establishes a framework for governing such actions, balancing the right to protest with the need to preserve public health and the environment. These protests in Paris emphasize broader issues of environmental policy, public health, and governance, posing critical questions about the role of international law in controlling such acts. Additionally, point out the significance of involving local communities and stakeholders in environmental decision-making, as well as the necessity for greater monitoring and enforcement measures to ensure compliance with environmental laws.

Allene Florence Darmawan
Allene Florence Darmawan
I am Allene Florence Fadhilah Darmawan, an undergraduate student of International Relations at Gadjah Mada University. My academic pursuits have instilled in me a deep fascination with international issues, particularly those related to gender equality and socio-cultural problems. I also enjoy writing as my tools for expressing my understanding,