Christiane Taubira’s name is familiar, so much so due to the tremendous changes she brought to the French political landscape during her mandates. From being deputy to a minister, this Guyanese woman has given her name to three laws in France, which today represent major victories for human rights. She is a left-wing personality who helped the Republic evolve, through the strength of her battles and the richness of her career: here is her portrait.
Christiane Taubira was born in Cayenne (French Guyana) and began her studies in the 1970s at the Panthéon ASSAS University in Paris. During this period, she took numerous university courses: she graduated in economics, sociology and Afro-American ethnology, and also studied agri-food.
Throughout her life, she remained deeply attached to Guyanese affairs, particularly during her twenty years as a Member of Parliament. She brought to the podium the social, political and identity-related demands of her people, which were inspired by her early pro-independence activism. In the 1970s, she founded the Caricoop association (Confédération Antilles Guyane de la Coopération Agricole) and became a professor of Political Science in 1978, while continuing her committed activities.
Her first steps in politics
The first years of her political life were quite virulent and radical. In the 1970s, she became a leading figure in the MOGUYDE independence movement, of which her husband Roland Delannon was a founder.
In 1981, the Mitterrandian Left came to power in France. With a desire to make herself useful, she decided to get involved in politics again, but this time with more strength, in order to represent the left the best she could in the Regional Council of Guyana. She founded the Walwari party with her husband in 1993. This party is socialist and advocates Guyanese independence. She remained loyal to it until 2015.
Christiane Taubira, Guyanese deputy
That same year, Christiane Taubira entered the National Assembly and left the Socialist label for a small group called “République et Liberté” (Republic and Freedom). In 1997, she finally joined the Socialist group for her second term of office as a deputy, during which she was asked by Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to draw up a report on gold in Guyana. Between 1994 and 1999, Christiane Taubira was also a member of the European Parliament and was on Bernard Tapie’s list in the European Radical Alliance (AER) group.
In 2001, however, she left the Socialist group for the RCV group (Radical, Citoyen Vert) supporting Lionel Jospin’s government and in which she still represented the Walwari party. During this second mandate, Christiane Taubira really revealed herself in the hemicycle: on 18 February 1999, she gave a memorable speech which was to be the starting point of a long and perilous struggle for the 2001 memorial law.
2001 and the fight for just reparation for slavery
During this speech, Christiane Taubira joined the movements that had been raging in France in the 1990s for recognition of the history of slavery perpetrated by France and its European neighbours from the 15th century onwards. Supported by her party, 150 years after the end of slavery, she demanded that the Republic take responsibility. She then began a relentless fight to make France acknowledge its guilt in the monstrous crime of the slave trade, which she defined in these words:
“The horror that accompanied the most massive and longest deportation in the history of men who slumbered, for a century and a half, under the heaviest blanket of silence.”
The 2001 law is a victory. The French State recognised that “the transatlantic slave trade as well as the trade in the Indian Ocean on the one hand, and slavery on the other hand, perpetrated from the 15th century onwards, in the Americas and the Caribbean, in the Indian Ocean and in Europe against African, Amerindian, Malagasy and Indian populations” constitutes a crime against humanity. (Article 1)
The law sheds light on the past and clarifies the collective history: it modified school curricula to include this part of history and proposes a day of commemoration on May 10th, the day of its adoption. It became a symbol.
Christiane Taubira also carried the idea of ‘reparation’ for these four centuries of suffering inflicted through the “Code Noir”, which nothing could really forgive. She therefore supported the importance of a whole range of cultural enhancement work, for example to bring to life the Creole languages, the medicines used by the slaves or the funding of archaeological studies.
The law was criticised at length, and Christiane Taubira was also criticised relentlessly. The historian René Rémond sees in this law a rewriting of history, and she is subjected to extremely violent racist and sexist attacks..
“I found myself in an extremely virile field where I was greeted with great astonishment. The astonishment says everything about the prejudices that feed the gaze. The second surprise came from the fact that I am black and therefore supposed to be underdeveloped.”
In 2002, Christiane Taubira stood as a candidate for the presidential election under the PRG (Radical Left Party) label and quickly became the “candidate of minorities” during the campaign. She obtained only 2.32% of the votes in the first round but achieved more than half of this score thanks to Guyanese voters (52.7% of the votes cast). Her programme was largely based on equal opportunities but she was criticised, particularly by Lionel Jospin’s voters, for scattering the left-wing votes.
In the end, she was supported by the Guyanese for a third and then a fourth term as a deputy for the first constituency of French Guyana, still alongside the Walwari.
Christiane Taubira will thus have held this position of MP from 1993 to 2012. During these years, she was sometimes able to disassociate herself from her political family or from partisan dynamics in order to pursue her ambitions. Although this indiscipline may have caused her many frustrations in the Assembly, these twenty years are marked by her strength of conviction and the righteousness of her battles.
Between 2012 and 2016, Minister of Justice & Keeper of the Seals
In 2012, as she was holding several mandates, she gave up her position as deputy in Guyana when François Hollande became President of the Republic. She then accepted the position offered to her by Jean-Marc Ayrault, which was the crowning achievement of her political career, that of Minister of Justice. This position enabled her to carry out a number of projects, notably in 2014 with the penal reform project for the individualisation of sentences, and the abolition of correctional courts for minors, which was originally planned in François Hollande’s programme.
As soon as she became a minister in 2012, she led a fight against sexual harassment and called for new legislation. In May 2012, she denounced “an absolutely unbearable legal vacuum” surrounding this issue.
2013 and the fight for same-sex marriage
In 2013, Christiane Taubira introduced the bill opening marriage to same-sex couples: it was a historic turning point, an ultimate victory, in her words, a “reform of civilisation”.
It was one of François Hollande’s campaign promises, and she led the fight from the presentation of the law to the Council of Ministers in 2012 until its promulgation. Until then, the political battle to legally recognise same-sex couples had only resulted in the possibility of the PACS under the Jospin government in 1999.
On 29 January 2013, Christiane Taubira gave a memorable speech at the National Assembly, quoting the poet Léon-Gontran Damas: “The act we are about to accomplish is as beautiful as a rose whose petals finally bloom on the besieged Eiffel Tower at dawn.” She addressed the opposition MPs and right-wing political groups who tabled more than 5,000 amendments during the ensuing debate, and also promised adoption to homosexual couples.
“Marriage for homosexuals takes nothing away from heterosexuals. Let’s put words to feelings and behaviours (…). Yes, it remains hypocritical to pretend, to ignore these homoparental families, and these thousands of children who are exposed to the reproachful social gaze… You speak to us of psychological effects on children, but the psychological effects are above all the result of discrimination, rejection, and the refusal of citizenship”.
The law was promulgated on May 17th, 2013, and opened up the possibility of civil marriage to couples of two women or two men, previously reserved for heterosexual couples.
During this fight, she faced sharp criticism from the UMP and the FN. Her commitment to the rights of LGBTQI+ people made her the sworn enemy of the Catholic and conservative branches of society and an ideal target for the conservative and misogynistic media. However, she never shied away from blows, and often returned them to the opposition MPs.
Christiane Taubira will also be responsible for the law of the 15th of August 2014, about the individualisation of sentences and reinforcing effectiveness of criminal sanctions. This law modifies the method of incarceration and sanctions for convicted persons by adapting the sentence to each offender, in order to better prevent recidivism. The “penal constraint” is created. It aims to offer magistrates an alternative to imprisonment.
From 2016 to 2020
At the beginning of 2016, Christiane Taubira was forced to defend a law that she did not approve of, that of including the loss of nationality for bi-national terrorists in the constitutional reform. On 27 January 2016, she submitted her resignation to the government. Christiane Taubira’s departure was rather bitter, as most of the issues concerning the conditions of prisoners or prison overcrowding remained suspended. On the day of her resignation, she simply tweeted:
“Sometimes resistance means staying, sometimes resistance means leaving. Out of loyalty to oneself, to us. For the last word in ethics and law.”
Christiane Taubira was relatively discrete during the 2017 presidential elections, she simply supported Benoît Hamon. From then on, she continued her associative activities which honoured her commitments, notably with the Women’s Foundation and the Urgence Homophobie association. She also fights for France to welcome migrants with dignity, denouncing the lack of a strong and supportive policy on this subject.
In 2017, for her book “Nous habitons la Terre” (We inhabit Earth) she was awarded the International Human Rights Prize of the Human Rights trimestrial report.
“Woman, black, poor, what a fabulous asset! All the challenges to be met. A life of exhaustion in promise. But life is more felonious than we think.”, Mes météores : combats politiques au long cours (2012).
Christiane Taubira is what one might call a free electron of politics. Rigid on human rights, she remained faithful to her humanist ambitions throughout her career, fighting to pass strong laws, always assuming her controversial positions. She remains an important figure of socialism in France, having embodied her ideas throughout her career.
She is a free and daring woman, who knows the racism and sexism of the political world, having suffered it at every stage of her life. Through her divisive personality, she embodies a form of ethical intransigence that arouses so much admiration but crystallises so much hate.
Her numerous works reflect her struggles and her ardent defence of justice and freedom, also combining her love of letters, her lyricism and her search for the right word.