Wednesday, December 26, 2007

French Aid Workers Sentenced to Hard Labour in Chad

French aid workers get hard labour

The workers blame local intermediaries for misleading them over the identity of the children

A court in Chad has sentenced six French aid workers to eight years of forced labour after finding them guilty of trying to kidnap 103 children from the African country.

The court in the capital, N'Djamena, handed down its sentence on the fourth day of the trial of the members of the French humanitarian group Zoe's Ark.

A Chadian and a Sudanese also on trial were given four years in prison and two other Chadians were acquitted on Wednesday.

The six were arrested in October for trying to fly the children, aged one to 10, to Europe.

The defendants denied the charges, saying they were on a humanitarian mission to fly sick and destitute orphans from Sudan's Darfur region for fostering with European families.

They said international law justified the operation.

Eric Breteau, Zoe's Ark's leader, told the court: "I maintain what I've said since the start of this affair ... our intention was to fetch orphans from Darfur."

"Feel the abyss"

Defence lawyers had accused the Chadian court of rushing the trial under political pressure from the French government. They also said their clients were depressed.

"They feel the abyss just a few centimetres away, they are lost, completely lost," they said.

Chad's government maintains that Zoe's Ark had been given no authorisation to take the infants out of the country.

Prosecutors said the group, led by Breteau and Emilie Lelouch, duped parents in eastern Chad into handing over their children with promises of schooling.

State lawyer Philippe Houssine said the sentences requested by the prosecution were justified because Breteau and Lelouch had shown no remorse.

Houssine told reporters: "On the contrary, he [Breteau] displays an arrogant, insolent attitude, which means this is a person who is ready to do it again if asked."

The prosecutor requested that damages be awarded for each of the 103 children in the case $9m in all.

Paris reaction

France, while calling the verdict a "sovereign decision", said it would ask Chad to implement a 1976 bilateral judicial accord to allow the convicts to be transferred to serve jail sentences in their own country.

Pascale Andreani, a spokesperson for the French foreign ministry, said in Paris: "France, after obtaining the agreement of the members of Zoe's Ark, and examining the implementation of the judicial co-operation accord between France and Chad, in particular article 29, will ask the Chadian authorities for the transfer of the prisoners to France."

Gilbert Collard, a defence lawyer, criticised the sentence, saying there was no justice in Chad.

"I hope the French government will move to quickly bring home our compatriots, who have been caught in a trap," he said.

Marian Coulibaly Indiaye, head of Unicef in Chad, refused to comment on the verdict, saying her organisation's job was to serve the best interests of the chidren.

Indiaye told Al Jazeera that the children had not been reunited with their relatives yet, pending a green light from the concerned Chadian authorities.

'Diplomatic deal'

It is widely expected that a deal between Paris and N'Djamena could soon return the aid workers.

France is an ally of Idriss Deby, the Chadian president, and has a military contingent stationed in the landlocked former French colony.

French troops have been supporting Deby's forces against opposition forces in the east and will provide the bulk of a European Union peacekeeping force due to be deployed there in January.

Janine Lelouch, mother of Emilie Lelouch, told France's LCI television: "I think we have to hope that they're transferred quickly to France because they can't stand it much longer."

The French have blamed their local intermediaries for misleading them over the identity of the children, who Chadian and UN officials said were mostly not orphans and came from villages in Chad on its eastern border with Darfur.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It’s high time that we go back and examine the reasons for it really compassion as has been highlighted in this case?

Adoption now a days have become a fad. You go to corner of the world to adopt, whereas there are orphan children just across the street, but people don’t want them, they want to adopt some exotic child from some far of land. So that when they carry the child around, at least I feel like Angelina Jolie. Had compassion alone been the factor...people would have looked for orphans near to their homes only. But there are other factors attached to this and nobody can deny that it’s a big business now a days. With most of the people in western nations marrying late, they are too late to have their own baby so they prefer adopting. And the rules for adoption are not that strict in most of the third world countries, so it’s easier for adoption there then at home. Also it fulfills a human tendency to have something different, so as to render variety in ones life (like adopting exotic animals as pets, which in most cases are illegally smuggled).

So the question really is why did these six people go all the way to Chad to help the so called orphan children, surely not to adopt them, then for what? Help other people to adopt these kids. But are there no orphans in their own country. Who is showing compassion for them, who is adopting them? I think people in Chad are mature enough to take care of their own kids. Had the people in Chad asked the world to help them out by adopting these kids then it would have been another story, but I don’t think they had made any such request to anyone? Since there was no request, the presence of these aid workers at the first place itself was not necessary. Let the countries, no matter how economically backward they might be, have the liberty to take care of their own. Let’s not take this freedom from them. Let these countries decide for themselves what is good or bad for them. As far as the sentencing goes, the law of the land should prevail; if these six are guilty then they should be judged according to the law of the land and not according to the French laws. Let’s not impose our laws on to somebody else.