2007 Zoé's Ark controversy
The 2007 Zoé's Ark controversy started when members of a French charity organization, the Zoé's Ark (French: L'Arche de Zoé), attempted to fly 103 children out of Chad to France. The members of the charity were charged and eventually convicted of child abduction.
Events and trial
On 30 October 2007, six members of the charity organization Zoé's Ark were formally charged by the government of Chad for child abduction. Despite the group's claim that the children were orphans from Darfur who were being taken to be fostered in France, most of the 103 children were found to be Chadian, and to have had at least one living parent or guardian. Three journalists, seven Spanish Girjet flight crew members, four Chadian and Sudanese nationals, including two Chadian officials, were also charged for complicity.
Allegedly, some parents were convinced to give up their infants for promises of schooling, but had been told that the schooling would occur in Chad rather than France, while some children were offered sweets and biscuits to leave home. These claims were denied by the aid workers. To ensure their authenticity as Sudanese war orphans, the aid workers applied fake blood and bandages to the children.
The incident strained Franco-Chadian relations, ahead of a planned deployment of French peacekeeping troops into the country. Anti-French protests were staged within Chad.
Over the course of the trial, all six aid workers participated in a hunger strike. Possibly as a result, one of the accused fainted in court and required hospitalization. The six were protesting at what they perceived as abandonment by French authorities.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy successfully negotiated the dropping of charges and release of the journalists and flight crew members prior to trial. Six members of the group were convicted on 26 December 2007 and sentenced to eight years of forced labor, although they served just five months in France, which has no forced labor in its penal system, under an accord between Chad and France. The six were released in March 2008 but were ordered to pay each of the 103 victims restitution equal to approximately $87,000, which amounts to $8.9M per defendant. The founder, Eric Breteau, is among the six. A Chadian national and a Sudanese national were each also sentenced to four years. The two Chadian officials were acquitted. In March 2008 the president of Chad pardoned the convicted aid-workers, and they were released from the prisons in France.
- Profile: Zoe's Ark, BBC News, Last Updated: Monday, 29 October 2007. Consulted on 29 December 2007.
- French Charity Workers Sentenced (Times Online) Accessed 26 December 2007
- "Aid worker falls ill in Chad trial - CNN.com".[dead link]
- "Families weren't duped, Zoe's Ark duo tell court". The Sydney Morning Herald. 24 December 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2009.
- Zoe's Ark accused deny duping Chad families | International | Reuters
- EuroNewsEuroNews : Chad kidnap families want millions in compensation
- Zoe's Ark Workers Get Hard Labor (CNN.com) Accessed 26 December 2007
- French Zoe’s Ark charity workers released from prison Archived 6 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine., Enjoyfrance, 1 April 2008
- Chad president pardons French charity workers, ny Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, 1 April 2008