French Armenian journalist Marc Garmirian, who is one of the Europeans freed after being arrested for alleged child kidnapping, has explained that idealism clouded the judgement of the Zoe’s Ark charity workers involved in the scandal. Marc Garmirian was with Zoe’s Ark charity in Chad when the workers were arrested 11 days ago but he was set free on Sunday and returned to France with the other French people who had also been released. President Nicolas Sarkozy accompanied them all on their journey from Chad. Ecoutez: (french video) / Vidéo en francais:
- avec Marc Garmirian sur L’affaire Arche de Zoé avant son arrestation;
- L’Arche de Zoé avec Marc Garmirian sur Fr5.
Marc Garmirian – Lebanon and France
He says: “What struck me was their state of mind, their conviction; they were sure they were doing good and had a mission to carry out” … and: Although Marc Garmirian said he thought the charity workers had shown a ‘tragic amateurishness’ in their behaviour, he did not believe them to be involved in child abduction. (full text).
But Adoum never met any of the white people. “They didn’t come directly to our village. It was the head of a neighbouring village who visited to inform us of the opportunity to send the children to the ONG in Adre”. That was five weeks ago. (full text).
Look at the more than 3′400 blog statements on this Google blog-search about Zoes Ark.
More than 300,000 Darfur refugees are living in camps along the Sudanese border, having fled four years of conflict that has left more than 200,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced from their homes. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Tuesday criticized the French group and expressed hope that the case didn’t discredit other non-governmental organizations doing “remarkable work” in Chad and Darfur — “and which now are suffering suspicion and violence”. Zoe’s Ark was founded in 2005 by volunteer firefighter Eric Breteau. According to their Web site, the group announced in April an operation for “evacuating orphans from Darfur”. The group launched an appeal for host families and funding. (full text).
Chadians protest on a street in N’Djamena November 8, 2007. Protesters took to the streets of Chad’s capital N’Djamena on Thursday to demand that seven Europeans freed at the weekend return to face trial … (full text).
French lawyers Gilbert Collard and Mario Stasi, who are acting for the accused Zoe’s Ark members, told reporters in Chad their clients felt the charges against them completely misrepresented what they were doing. “They really hope to be able to explain themselves, to show that the charges are not real … that they were acting with a humanitarian objective,” Collard said in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, where the accused have been formally questioned. (full text).
French defense lawyers acting for the six detained in Chad said on Wednesday their clients felt the charges against them completely misrepresented what they had been doing. “Maybe they were acting outside of classical methods, but their sole goal was to save children from horror and death,” one of the lawyers, Gilbert Collard, told reporters in N’Djamena. (full text).
We could file this story under the category of good intentions gone awry, but that file is getting pretty thick when it comes to Africa and the West. From what’s emerged so far about Zoe’s Ark, this was sort of a fly-by-night charity operation that wasn’t registered with the French foreign ministry and whose aims went far beyond the accepted bounds of humanitarian work in a war zone. The group’s French website (the English version is down) proclaims: “We must save the children of Darfur while there is still time. In a few months, they will be dead!” Despite having almost no visible experience working in the region, the group’s website features an impressive array of maps and statistics about the Darfur conflict. Its emotional appeal clearly registered with some well-intentioned but naive French families, who were led to believe that a group of “doctors, nurses, firemen and other specialists” — as the group describes its members — could swoop into a faraway country and bring back several dozen of its children. (full text).
According to Mr. Ahmad Daoud Chari, the state prosecutor of Abeche—the Chadian city where the staff members of the French group “Arche de Zoe” were arrested with more than one hundred children ready to be flown to France—the penal code of Chad is just a blank register: there are no laws written in the books to deal with such crimes. “There are no other penalties in the abduction chapter [of the criminal code] stronger than the one we chose,” Mr. Chari told reporters of IRIN, the news agency of the UN Office for the Coordination of the Humanitarian Affairs. He then added: “Our penal code is limited. It doesn’t cover [many] infractions. There is a gap.” In other words, Chad is a nomad rogue lawless state. One then wonders on what basis the Chadian Chief Prosecutor is seeking 20 years against the suspects. Worse, in a country where the whims of the head-of-state have oftentimes force of law (where the court system has no jury of peers), … (full text).
In an April 28 press release, the organization promised to rescue no fewer than 10,000 children from the jaws of death and resettle them in Europe, Canada and the U.S. — with the avowed intention of breaking the law in all of the countries involved. The operation attracted support from at least 350 families who forked out thousands of euros and joined the Collective for the Families of Darfur, led by Arche de Zoé member Philippe von Winkelberg, a doctor from Castellane, now among the arrested in Chad. (full text).
Comité de soutien pour Marc Garmirian, Jean-Daniel Guillou et Marie-Agnès Peleran, October 31, 2007: Le reporter de Capa Marc Garmirian, le photographe Jean-Daniel Guillou (agence Synchro X) ainsi que Marie-Agnès Peleran, journaliste reporter d’images à France 3 Méditerranée, ont été arrêté le 25 octobre, alors qu’il suivait l’opération l’Arche de Zoé, et filmaient l’arrivée des groupes d’enfants à l’orphelinat d’Abéché, ainsi que la tentative de départ du Tchad vers la France. Ils sont inculpé pour “enlèvement de mineurs” par les autorités tchadiennes avec des membres de l’association, et l’équipage de l’avion affrété pour le trajet. Un collectif de soutien s’est mis en place : Nous, journalistes, mais aussi membres de sa famille, amis, proches, lançons un comité de soutien pour demander la libération immédiate du journaliste Marc Garmirian, incarcéré au Tchad, et inculpé, depuis lundi, dans l’affaire l’Arche de Zoé. Reporter pour l’agence Capa, Marc Garmirian réalisait une enquête sur cette association au moment où il a été arrêté. Journaliste professionnel depuis quinze ans, il n’a aucun lien avec cette ONG. Il ne nous appartient pas de juger le bien-fondé de l’opération menée par l’Arche de Zoé mais au nom de la liberté et de l’indépendance de la presse, nous estimons que Marc Garmirian ainsi que le photographe Jean-Daniel Guillou du collectif Synchro X, appréhendé dans les mêmes conditions, doivent être relâchés sans délai. Le comité de soutien se réunit en présence de personnalités des médias ainsi que de la compagne et des parents de Marc Garmiirian le mercredi 31 octobre à 18 heures 30 dans les locaux du Centre de formation des journalistes (CFJ), 35 rue du Louvre, 75002 Paris. Les journalistes sont appelés à se mobiliser à titre personnel ainsi qu’à titre professionnel. Capa soutient aussi son journaliste en diffusant 2 minutes 30 de son reportage sur l’Arche de Zoé, et devrait diffuser sur M6 les travaux journalistiques de Marc Garmirian afin d’accélérer sa libération. Marc Garmirian faisait une enquête sur l’Arche de Zoé et l’opération Rescue Children à notre demande. Nous sommes choqués qu’il soit assimilé à cette association alors qu’il n’était évidemment pas un acteur, mais un observateur“ – Hervé Chabalier, Pdg de Capa. Une pétition est disponible sur le site des anciens du CFJ. (full text).
The head of Zoe’s Ark, Eric Breteau, said in the footage that he knew he might be arrested over the operation. “If I am thrown in prison for saving children from Darfur … I think that after all I would be proud to go to prison for that,” Breteau said. (full text).
TV script Octobre 31, 2007;
TV script NOVEMBER 5, 2007;
Seven Europeans released in Chad over child case;
Chad investigating reports that 74 children had already been flown to France;