Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chadians Demonstrate Against French Charity's Attempt to Kidnap Children for Adoption

19:28 MECCA TIME, 16:28 GMT

Chadians protest against Zoe's Ark

Hundreds of Chadians protested against the detained Europeans, arguing that they be tried in Chad

Hundreds of Chadians have protested against 16 Europeans charged over a plan by a charity to fly 103 children to France from the border with Sudan's Darfur region.

The protesters in the eastern town of Abeche accused France of being involved in the attempt to take the children from Chad, demanding that the Europeans be tried in a Chadian court.

Nine French nationals - six members of the charity Zoe's Ark and three journalists – have been charged with kidnap and extortion.

Zoe's Ark says it wanted to rescue children from Darfur, but French officials and UN aid workers say they believe many were from Chad and were not orphans.

The charity had received thousands of dollars from would-be foster parents in France to receive a child.

Spain is also seeking the release of seven of its nationals, who were crew members of the aeroplane chartered for the airlift.

Relations harmed

In Chad's capital, N'Djamena, a prosecutor on Wednesday charged Jacques Wilmart, a Belgian pilot involved in the affair, with "complicity in abduction", before sending him to jail.

Wilmart, 75, made several flights ferrying the children between Adre on the Sudan-Chad border and Abeche.

The case has harmed Chadian-French relations before Paris begins its leadership of a European peacekeeping force in Chad.

The peacekeepers are there to protect thousands of Darfur refugees and Chadians displaced by a continuing rebel insurgency against the Sudanese government.

Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's president, has offered to mediate in the crisis, but Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, rejected the offer, saying he was in direct contact with Idris Deby, Chad's president.

Sarkozy, who has condemned the airlift operation by Zoe's Ark, suggested he would seek to have the members of the charity tried in France.

"I think that by clearly putting the Chadians and the French around the table, since the investigation was first opened in France ... well, you can imagine what my preference would be," he told reporters.

Mahamat Hissene, Deby's cabinet director, said the location of the trial had yet to be decided.

"Will they be tried in N'Djamena? Will the French authorities ask for them to be tried elsewhere? No one has raised the question yet, and we have no fixed position on the matter," he said in an interview with a French radio station.

Paris is under pressure from Chad's government after it emerged the French army provided the charity members with assistance in Chad.

Source: Agencies

Spain Defends Pilots in Child Abduction Row

Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
30 October 2007
By Tito Drago

Authorities and civil society organisations in Spain have roundly condemned an apparent case of trafficking of children from Chad.

But they defend the innocence of the seven Spanish crew members of a plane chartered by the French charity L'Arche de Zoe (Zoe's Ark) to remove 103 children from the country in north-central Africa.

Prosecutor Amat Daoud from the city of Abeche in eastern Chad ordered the arrest and prosecution last week of nine members of the French non-governmental organisation on charges of child abduction. The seven Spanish crew members were also arrested, as accessories.

On Tuesday, the prosecutor called for 20 years of forced labour for the 16 European detainees.

The arrests took place when the aid workers were loading 103 children between the ages of three and 10 on a plane that was heading to France. Officials in Chad have alleged that the children were to be sold to families in France, or may even have been sold to child sex abuse rings or used for their organs.

The seven Spanish nationals work for Girjet, a Barcelona-based charter company, which was hired by the French charity.

Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Bernardino León told IPS that the government "differs" with the measure taken by the Chadian state and has arranged to provide diplomatic assistance to the flight crew and to assign them defence lawyers.

"Of course we condemn trafficking of children, whether in Chad or anywhere else in the world," he added. "But one thing is trafficking and another is that a company was hired for a charter flight. The logical thing would be for customs officials in the airports to verify who is embarked on these or other flights, and how that occurs."

The Spanish government is urging the authorities in Chad to keep in mind the presumption of innocence and is calling for a fair trial with all due legal guarantees.

Spain's Foreign Ministry sent its consul in Cameroon, Vicente Mas, to Chad to become familiar with the case and take any necessary action.

León said that a doctor and a chaplain who had access to the two Spanish pilots and five cabin staff reported that they were in good health.

Girjet executive Antonio Cajal told the press that his company has no ties to Zoe's Ark and that this was the first time it was hired by the NGO, which told them it was a humanitarian mission involving the transfer of children with medical problems to France for treatment that they would not otherwise receive in Chad.

According to Cajal, his company did not even have direct contact with the NGO, because the charter flight was arranged through a broker. He also said the flight had previously received permission from authorities in Chad as well as France.

But reports from Chad indicate that some of the children were taken to the plane with bandages on their faces even though they had no wounds or injuries. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees delegate in Chad Annette Rehrl was one of the sources who made that allegation.

The president of Zoe's Ark, Eric Breteau, a volunteer firefighter from France who founded the amateur charity in the wake of the December 2004 Asian tsunami, initially said the aim was to evacuate 10,000 orphans from the civil war-torn region of Darfur in western Sudan and place them with foster families in France.

But he later said the group was carrying out a medical evacuation rather than an adoption campaign.

French families willing to provide the children with a home reportedly paid several thousand dollars up front to take the children in.

But U.N. and Chadian officials say many of the children were actually from Chad, not Sudan, and were not even orphans.

One boy, Osman, said his parents had gone to work in the countryside, and that several Chadian adults showed up at his village along the border with Sudan and offered the children candy if they would go with them, with the promise that they would later be returned to their homes.

They were first taken to the town of Adre and later to Abeche, where they spent more than a month and were well-fed, although they were not allowed to leave until they were finally taken to the airport.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called his counterpart in Chad, Idriss Deby, to tell him that the adoption campaign of Zoe's Ark was "illegal and unacceptable."

The Spanish air crew has been held virtually incommunicado, receiving only visits by the doctor and the chaplain.

Cajal maintains that they have been "kidnapped, held incommunicado, threatened continually by the security forces and stripped of their belongings and personal effects."

There seems to be little doubt that the transfer of the children by Zoe's Ark was illegal. French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Rama Yade described the incident as a "clandestine operation."

Yade said that months ago, the government had warned the French charity that it was facing the risk of breaking the law, and that it was under investigation in France.

French Justice Minister Rachida Dati said "The Chadian justice system is sovereign."

U.N. agencies have expressed indignation over the actions of Zoe's Ark. UNICEF, the children's agency, said the operation was illegal and contravened national and international standards.

The children are currently being cared for at an orphanage in Abeche with support from UNICEF while investigators try to determine where the children are from.

Well-established NGOs have criticised the actions of Zoe's Ark, which they said could discredit the activities of aid agencies that have put a great deal of effort in establishing relations of trust.

However, the role of the Spanish air crew is being defended. On Tuesday, Spanish Minister of Justice Mariano Fernández Bermejo reported that "every possible effort is being made to convince officials in Chad that the Spanish nationals had nothing to do with the attempt to remove the children from the country," because they had merely been contracted by the French NGO and were not even informed of the identity, ages or conditions of the passengers.

Unicef Says Children Nearly Taken Out of Country Are in Good Health

UN News Service (New York)
30 October 2007

Following the attempt by a French non-governmental organization (NGO) to fly them out of Chad, the 103 children held in an orphanage appear to be in good health and are doing fairly well, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported today.

The agency has supplied food and games for the children, UN spokesperson Marie Okabe said in New York.

UNICEF has also dispatched 10 staff members - including the Head of the Child Protection Unit - to Abeche where the children are and is training 40 staff members to care for the children.

Investigators are currently trying to determine where these children are from and whether they have living relatives. UNICEF emphasizes that all process involving the movement of children should be transparent, and that proper investigations should always take place to locate their relatives and to determine available options, such as children remaining with their parents, extended family or appropriate caregivers.

According to media reports, nine French aid workers with the organization Zoe's Ark will be charged with abduction and fraud by Chadian authorities.

NGOs Work to Clear Their Name After Child 'Trafficking'

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
30 October 2007

Aid agencies and authorities in eastern Chad are urging local people not to lose confidence in the international humanitarian community, after members of a French association claiming to rescue Sudanese orphans from the war in Darfur were charged with fraud and abduction of minors.

Six members of the Paris-based group L'Arche de Zoé (Zoe's Ark) were arrested on 25 October at the Abéché airport in eastern Chad, as they were preparing to take 103 children to host families in France. The Chadian government has accused them of child trafficking. Under Chad's legal system they could face up to 20 years of forced labour.

"Many [non-governmental organisations (NGOs)] working with children were a little bit afraid that the practices that Zoé's Ark had used would appear as the norm, which is absolutely not the case," said Aurélie Lamazière, of Save the Children UK's emergencies department.

A committee of 21 NGOs working in eastern Chad, including Save the Children, Oxfam, and Action against Hunger, has signed a joint statement expressing "profound concern" over the incident, which the committee calls a "serious violation" of the children's rights.

"Since our arrival in Chad, we have worked very closely with the Chadian and Sudanese communities to assure that their basic needs are met," the statement says. "We have always respected the rights of children in the communities we serve, and we will continue to integrate these fundamental principles into our work."

In a joint statement UN agencies operating in Chad said they learned of the attempted evacuation with "indignation" and "deplore that such acts would alter the serious work that the majority of international NGOs in Chad have been developing for decades, in respect of national laws and international standards."

Members of L'Arche de Zoé have insisted they were simply trying to save the children's lives, and that they had full authorisation from the Chadian government. None of the charges against the group has been proven in court.

In Sudan's Darfur region, on the border with Chad, armed conflict pitting government forces and allied militia against rebel groups has killed an estimated 200,000 people and displaced 2.2 million since 2003. Around 230,000 Sudanese refugees are living in camps in eastern Chad, which is itself plagued by violence that has displaced 180,000.

Save the Children estimates that at least half of the Chadian displaced and Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad are children.


Locally, L'Arche de Zoé is reported to have another name, Children Rescue, which translates in Arabic (one of two official languages in Chad) to Save the Children.

"There was some confusion at the beginning," Lamazière said. "We clarified that immediately with the local authorities," who then broadcast messages on local radio clarifying that Save the Children and other NGOs "had nothing to do with these activities."

Pahimi Padacké Albert, Chadian Minister of Justice, told IRIN: "This act should not be confused with all the important humanitarian work being done for the Chadian people. It's an NGO that operated outside of the norms."


Some humanitarian workers had expressed fear that this event would make their work more difficult, as local populations would paint all NGOs with the same brush.

"People are hearing that a Western NGO is trafficking children. It's a real problem," said Makbidji Henri, a Chadian national who has worked with various international aid organisations. "When we want to work with children or the elderly, people will ask if there isn't a hidden agenda."

But according to Roland Van Hauwermeiren, Chad country director for Oxfam Great Britain and spokesperson for the committee of NGOs, in the days following the arrests, the activities of other NGOs have not been affected.

"We continue delivering services as ever before," he said. "The population is smart enough to make differences."

The children are now in an orphanage in Abéché, in the care of the Chadian Ministry of Social Affairs, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross. They have received food, clothes and recreational materials, and will be returned to their families in Tiné, Adré and Goz Béïda, an aid official said.

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire

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