Thursday, December 27, 2007

The end comes quickly in Chad 'adopt-an-orphan' affair

You can’t call Chadian justice slow. Nor can you say it’s not thorough.

In what began as a sad farce ended in tragedy. After a speedy four-day trial, a court of Chad convicted six French aid workers for kidnapping more than 100 local children and trying to deliver them without permission to European families. For the next seven years, the days of the aid workers will become increasingly busy as they fulfill their sentence of hard labor.

The court, which according to the U.S. State Dept. is not known for its autonomy from the country’s ruler Idriss Deby, also convicted a Sudanese and a local Chadian for complicity. They will each serve four-year terms. Two other locals were found innocent.

The French defendants will also pay 4.12 billion CFA (€6.3 million) to the families of the children, who told the court the relief organization was taking their children educate them in a different part of the country.

An auspicious beginning
This tale began in October when members of a French NGO, L’Arche de Zoé, were arrested trying to fly 103 children, ages about one to ten, whom they termed “orphans from Darfur,” to Europe for medical treatment. At an airport east of Paris, families from France and Belgium who had paid nearly $2,000 waited expectantly for their newly adopted refugee children.

They never made it. The Chadian authorities had caught the group as it was leaving for the airport. Some of the children were found to have bloody bandages and IVs stuck in their arms. None of these were real.

According to the Washington Post, Souleymane Ibrahim Adam, the Sudanese also found guilty, testified in court he had deceived the French aid workers by telling them that some of the children were actually refugees. However, one member of the L’Arche de Zoé admitted in court that several mothers traveled to the group’s headquarters in eastern Chad demanding their children back.

Cowboy ethics
Part of the reason for the harsh sentence was that Eric Bretau, the founder of L’Arche de Zoé, had never shown any remorse, said the prosecutor Philippe Houssine. "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," Houssine was quoted in The Independent.

To some, this may be a story of humanitarianism gone awry. Even his own government portrayed Bretau and his minions as wacky True Believers bent on carrying out their good deeds at any cost. The actions of the six aid workers most likely say a lot more about the rest of us than we care to admit. How many people don’t wish they were more cavalier or possessed more of that cowboy spirit that gives them license to disregard customs, damn the law and whoever impedes getting things done?

The more self-assured of us point out that history is on the side of those swimming against the current; they’ll proudly invoke the names of Einstein or Voltaire or Ghandi. But there’s something to be said for the moral wallflowers; those content to stand on the sidelines, respect the way some things are, move at a snail’s pace. Not every mission is a harbinger for the end of the world. Not every issue is do or die. Not every skinny African kid is a refugee. This middle path may be dull and not obtain the flashy triumphs, but it does allow us the chance to look before we leap.

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