Landmark French court ruling on screening of beneficiaries of aid

In February 2023, the Conseil d’État (the French Supreme Administrative Court) repealed screening guidelines applicable to international aid organisations, on the ground that existing law does not provide for this. This was in response to a petition by 8 French NPOs, coordinated by Coordination SUD, challenging the 2021 guidelines issued by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs on screening all individuals and legal persons who receive funds from French institutional donors against national and international sanctions lists. Under these guidelines, the personnel, partners, service providers, suppliers and populations who were the ultimate beneficiaries of aid were required to undergo screening procedures.

The guidelines were repealed on the ground that no law, either at French or European level, provides for a screening obligation, and that institutional donors cannot make their grant to NPOs conditional on the implementation of such measures. This revocation applies to all screening requirements, including checks on personnel, partners, suppliers and the people who benefit from the aid. In its reasoning, the Conseil d’État specified that, unlike banking institutions (among others), the law does not define specific measures that are applicable to civil society organisations in order to ensure compliance with international sanctions and asset freezing measures.

Coordination SUD hopes that this decision will lead to the adoption of a risk-based approach by French donors, leaving the organisations responsible to set and implement their AML/CFT (risk prevention and management) procedures, and will, above all, irrevocably exclude a screening obligation for beneficiaries of aid (also in line with international humanitarian law provisions).