The European rights court on Thursday ruled that a blanket ban on trade unions within the French armed forces was a violation of the rights of military staff.
The court ruled that while there could be limits to military personnel exercising freedom of association, "a blanket ban on forming or joining a trade union encroached on the very essence of this freedom".
The decision was hailed as a "great victory that is extremely favourable for soldiers" by Michel Bavoil, vice-president of the Association for the Defense of Soldiers` Rights, in comments to French television.
The court had examined the case of a French paramilitary officer who had created an association called "Gendarmes and Citizens", as well as an Internet forum of the same name, where members could exchange views.
Shortly after Jean-Hugues Matelly informed his superior officers that he had created the association, in 2008, he and its members were ordered to resign.
"This senior commanding officer considered that the association resembled a trade-union-like occupational group," which is prohibited by the armed forces, read the judgement.
Matelly then filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights which backed his claim that the acts of his superior officers had violated his right to freedom of association.
The court said that while France had put in place institutions to take into account the concerns of military personnel, these did not replace the right to form and join trade unions.
France was ordered to pay Matelly 1,400 euros ($1,760) and the judgement could require Paris to change its legislation.
Judgements by the court, which rules on violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, are binding on the country involved.
"In some cases the State will have to amend its legislation to bring it into line with the Convention," the court says on its website.