Investigative Report: "Central African Republic — Scandal in the French Army?"
“Central African Republic — Scandal in the French Army?” is an exclusive investigative report by Pierre Monégier and Alexis Fischer for Envoyé Spécial, France2 TV’s weekly newsmagazine. AIDS-Free World's unofficial English translation follows.
Air date: Thursday, October 1, 2015
YouTube version of video, available outside of France: https://youtu.be/zkYIcrBA77Y?t=1s
*Unofficial French-to-English translation by AIDS-Free World
Voice-over of Narrator: We are thousands of kilometers away from the Central African Republic, but at the heart of our investigation: Phnom Penh in Cambodia. It is here that we met the woman who revealed the scandal: Gallianne Palayret; French citizen; 34 years old. The UN has just identified her as the ‘lanceuse-d’alerte’ (translation note: “one who alerts the system”) and sent her to a post in Cambodia. Her identity remained secret until today. Most of her colleagues are unaware of the role she played.
Even Justice in France has not yet managed to hear from her. She holds all the testimonies of children who claim having been raped by foreign military officers, in particular members of the French Army in the Central African Republic.
Gallianne Palayret: Everything is written in this notebook. This notebook never leaves me. It has confidential information, names of victims inside it. So for me, it is an extremely precious document and one to which I attach utmost importance.
Narrator: Inside it: all the testimonies of violence on which she worked in the Central African Republic during a 3-month mission, which was the most difficult of her career.
Gallianne: [scrolling through photos on her laptop] I kept some pictures, notably of the investigations that I was doing. The police were completely overwhelmed.
Narrator: When she arrived in Bangui in March 2014, the country was in civil war. Violence had already led to one thousand deaths. The UN was worried about a genocide. France intervened.
Hundreds of thousands of people sought refuge at the M’Poko airport under the protection of the French. The Sangaris Operation ensured a bloodbath was avoided.
But among those soldiers that the crowd acclaimed, there were soldiers who are today suspected of child rape. That is what Gallianne discovered during one of her trips to the refugee camp.
Gallianne: During one of these visits, a person working at a local NGO came to see me and told me: "Listen, I heard children talking between themselves. They were subjected to fondling by soldiers who are supposed to protect the displaced persons’ camps.”
Narrator: During the following weeks, she records in her red notebook the testimonies of six boys, aged between 8 and 13 years old.
Gallianne: Sometimes, it is very harrowing when they tell me their stories. I remember a child who explained to me how the soldier forced him to touch him and masturbate him. He said to me: "then he pissed in my mouth." For him, he cannot distinguish; he did not understand what was happening.
It is this kind of testimony, this kind of candor that makes us think that this is a real testimony; it is not just an 8-year-old child who is making up a story. He went through this. We could see it in their eyes, their shaking voices. There are those who could not carry on till the end of the story. That is what makes us think this is true.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of the victims I met, hoping that one day, they can obtain reparations.
Narrator: The incidents were committed between December 2013 and April 2014.
One year and half later, where does the investigation stand?
French Justice has just heard from the children, but it has not yet heard from the accused soldiers. Did the army try to protect its members?
When we land in Bangui, it is in the middle of the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp of "M’Poko.” The airport has almost disappeared under a wave of tin shacks. Inside, there are ten thousand refugees, including many children, on whom war has left its mark.
This city inside the city has its market, local economies, and also its neighbourhood chiefs, such as Freddie.
Reporter Pierre Monégier (Reporter): There is nothing left today?
Freddie: For now, nothing is left.
Narrator: Nothing is left from the main check-point were the rapes took place.
Freddie: It is here that it happened. The French soldiers were there and children used to come here often and talk with them. We could not believe what has happened. We thought that these soldiers came here to protect these people.
Narrator: There are no anti-French sentiments in this camp. Many people, like him, owe their survival to the French intervention.
As for the children who accuse the army, we are going to meet them in Bangui. Last June, the capital of the Central African Republic underwent a slight lull. There are those who went back to the market, to the church, to work, and those who have nowhere to go.
Father Angel (speaking to a child. Voice-over, via Interpreter): So Fomac, what’s wrong with you? Did you eat?
Narrator: Those are the ones that Father Angel helps to get their life back again, in his orphanage.
Father Angel: (Voice-over, via Interpreter): Look, you are wearing your t-shirt on the wrong way.
Father Angel (into camera): These children are not accompanied, they are often separated. They are children who are not subject to any kind of parental control. We receive them here, and we take care of them.
Narrator: All of them have been through civil war and violence by armed groups. But one of them hides a more intimate wound. We are not going to identify him, and we are not going to interrogate him. He is 9 years old. It is UNICEF that entrusted him to Father Angel. He is one of the children who was interviewed by Gallianne Palayret. At first, he refused to tell his story.
Father Angel: The child, at the beginning, admitted that there was some fellatio, sodomization… but stated that he was not a victim. He said that he used to go there and that because they loved him, because he is young, the Sangaris (and those who practice there) would give him stuff to eat, biscuits, sweets, etc. So I asked him and said, ‘Look, I am a priest by training, I don't like lies, you must tell the truth and nothing but the truth.’ At that moment, the child started saying that he is a victim, and it was done as part of an exchange. From the questions we asked him, ‘did they do this or that to you? What did they give you at the end?’ The child said, ‘they gave me a reward, a (food) ration.’
Narrator: Military rations in exchange for sexual acts.
This testimony is not isolated. This teenager of 15 years, mentioned in [Gallianne’s] report, was presented as a witness. He remembers one of the soldiers in particular.
Teenage Boy (Voice-over, via Interpreter): He told us that he came from Guyana. He often said that he was like a black American, because he is from Guyana. He used to send us buy him "chik" because he used to smoke a lot.
One day, a girl — a prostitute — alerted us. She told us that one of the soldiers was being sucked by a child from the camp. We went with the older brother of the child, and when we arrived, we found them in that position. Once he saw us, he put his eyes down, and zipped back up his pants.
Narrator: During our encounters with the other children, we hear the same words, the same stories.
Child 1 (Voice-over, via Interpreter): They used to offer us food rations, and in return they wanted to kiss us. From behind or on the mouth.
Child 2 (Voice-over, via Interpreter): In the camp, I went to see the French with a friend. They proposed to offer us a box of rations if we sucked them. I refused, but my friend did not refuse.
Narrator: This type of violence is a taboo in the Central African Republic. The mother of another child told us that when her son confided in her, her initial reaction was to slap him.
Woman (Voice-over, via Interpreter): My son explained to me that the French took him and made him suck on their "bangala" (penis) in return for biscuits. Today, when he plays with the other children, sometimes they call him gay, wife of the French, etc.; And this makes me sad. [Crying] It hurts me so badly, I don't know what to do anymore.
Narrator: These testimonies are written down in the confidential report of the UN, written by Gallianne Palayret. Taken from the narratives of the children, her investigation has also brought to light precise details about the dates, places, and nicknames or first names of soldiers -- the alleged perpetrators — as well as their particular physical characteristics: piercings, tattoos, tooth bridges — enough to identify 3 or 4 of the French soldiers. But the alleged perpetrators have long since left the Central African Republic, because every 4 months, the Sangaris force is renewed. Today, new troops take over from this mountain infantry. The latter were in Bangui when the scandal hit. Last spring, some excerpts from the confidential report were published in a British newspaper. The army found itself faced with accusations.
Soldier 1: Day to day, nothing has changed for us; we do our work. This is not part of our mandate here.
Narrator: The army accepted to open the doors to its Sangaris to us, on one condition: that we do not discuss the issue with its soldiers who were not in the area when the incidents took place.
SCENE: French troops patrol the streets near the M’Poko internally displaced persons camp
But it happens nonetheless. On one of their first patrols, in Bangui, they are reminded of the scandal that smears their uniform.
[Crowd chanting]: Pedophiles! Oh, pedophiles! Buggers! Child rapists!
Narrator: The troops endure these insults without saying a word, and carry out their foot patrol in the markets of the capital.
Soldier 2: Like everybody else, we are totally moved by these statements. But you know, this is not our mission. Our mission is to guarantee security. We do not respond to provocations.
Narrator: When we go further from the M’Poko camp, the welcome becomes warm again.
Soldier 3: We are trying to stabilize security for you here, this is our job.
Citizen 1: It is true that your presence is important to us.
Citizen 2: You are welcome here, and we wish you luck.
[friendly conversation continues]
Narrator: Some cheers, some insults, but no fire exchanged during our stay. A relative return to calm reigns in Bangui, mostly thanks to the French soldiers. Three of them have lost their lives. The Sangaris Operation used to be the model for peacekeeping operations.
Colonel (France): It is one of the biggest operations, but not the biggest, and it is an operation that is shrinking.
Narrator: The Colonel took over command 6 months after the incidents took place.
Colonel (France): Most of us felt the same feelings of astonishment, disbelief, sadness, and obviously we feel badly that such allegations could be verified.
Listen, nothing is inconceivable; we are a sampling of French society. So I do not understand why incidents that we see taking place in French society, in all of its areas, would be inconceivable among us. When these allegations were made known, one year ago now, (French) Justice was informed and when Justice is in charge, it does its work, and we do ours.
Narrator: The UN report was finalized in mid-July 2014. It reached the office of Anders Kompass, a high-ranking official of the organization, who transferred it immediately to the French.
In this confidential document [displayed on camera], the representative of the French Mission in Geneva recognizes having received it on July 30, 2014.
[Voice-over reads correspondence]: “Thank you for the information that you brought to the attention of our government. Given the gravity of the alleged facts, it has been immediately decided to bring the case before Justice.”
Narrator: In total discretion, the army launched a command investigation classified as Secret: Defense, and the Paris Public Prosecutor started a preliminary investigation, which stayed at this level until the case hit the press. In other words: almost one year, without opening a judicial information, without assigning an investigating judge, and without listening to the alleged victims.
In order to investigate military officers in France, the Prosecutor relies on other military officers: the “Prévôts” (“Gendarmerie prévôtale,” the military judicial police based in CAR), such as Lt. Colonel [surname], an officer of the judicial police posted with the Sangaris.
Today, in Bangui, he welcomes all the newcomers.
Lt. Colonel (France): Good morning, I am Lt. Colonel [surname], and you are welcome here. My mission is awareness-raising, to warn you about the dangers and risks that you could encounter during your work. We are at your disposal 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. When you have a concern of a judicial nature, we help you to solve it, knowing that...
Narrator: In general, he acts as the advocate of the soldiers.
Lt. Colonel (France): Our main mission is to protect the forces. To give to the command — to the general command of the forces in Sangaris — the freedom of action which they need.
Do not hesitate to come to see us if you want to take some gifts back home; we can remind you of the regulations, in terms of sanitary and customs regulations.
Narrator: Fifteen minutes of briefing, mainly on theft risks, road accidents, and nothing on the case [of child sex abuse].
Reporter: No specific reminder of the sex scandals?
Lt. Colonel (France): No, that does not seem useful to me. Otherwise, I would have to go through the whole penal code.
My colleagues who worked under former mandates are presumed innocent. They [the new soldiers] all read the newspapers. It does not seem necessary to consider them guilty for things when we do not know if they took place or not.
Narrator: Twice a week, the Prévôtales [Police] leave their base and cross Bangui in order to go meet with their Central African Republic counterparts. The two police forces have the same structure, the same procedures. The Central African Republic officers were trained in France. They even inherited their French colleagues’ old motorbikes.
But the comparison ends there.
The war has totally dismantled the Central African Republic police force. Those who did not leave their posts ended up with hundreds of cases to manage. The Analysis and Investigations section managed by Lieutenant Kossi is overwhelmed.
[Exchange of pleasantries]
Narrator: Officially, the French and Central African Republic police forces work hand in hand. This is the case for the incident that today preoccupies the Lt. Colonel.
Lt. Colonel (France): We had envisaged launching a joint operation at the exit of the camp, for the traffic of combat rations. The General thinks this has negative effects.
Narrator: These food rations, we noticed, are easily found in the market in Bangui. 3 Euros for the box, although they are the property of the French army; reselling them is prohibited. Inside the box, we find two full meals, soup, biscuits, and tea. Enough to feed one family in the Central African Republic. These are the same food rations that were used as exchange currency to obtain sexual favors from children.
To remove them from the market, the Prévôts [Police] rely on Lieutenant Kossi, but not a word is uttered about the other investigation, the one concerning alleged rapes perpetrated by the French.
Lt. Colonel (France): How do you work on this file? Do you have enough evidence today?
Lieutenant Kossi (CAR): Ok, that is the secret to solving the investigation: evidence, clues. We are going to consider everything: we will do investigations… and submit everything to the Prosecutor of the [Central African] Republic.
Narrator: He won’t say more in front of his French counterparts. The Prévôts [Police] investigated without ever advising their Central African Republic counterparts.
Did they try to carry out their investigation in complete discretion? Impossible to know.
Lieutenant Kossi, in any event, heard about the case eleven months later on the radio.
Lieutenant Kossi (CAR): You see that checkpoint? It is the check-point where the French soldiers used to be, in factions, and behind it is the IDP camp, so this proximity made it…
Reporter: Did you come back here to investigate?
Lieutenant Kossi (CAR): Yes, we came back here, we met some people here, we took some testimonies, so yes — we did some investigations here.
Reporter: Was it complicated?
Lieutenant Kossi (CAR): Hmmm…Complicated, in the sense that it took some time. We heard about the facts almost one year later, and the alleged perpetrators are no longer in Bangui.
One more thing: lots of the victims have left the IDP camp and are no longer here. This is what makes this investigation complicated.
Narrator: So far, we have suspects who are beyond reach, and almost one year of delay for the Central African Republic investigators. The French have closed their preliminary investigation without interrogating the children.
But the case is not limited to the six boys mentioned in the UN report. All in all, 11 children claim that they were the victims of sexual abuse by soldiers.
All of them have been entrusted to NGOs, or to host families. Of those children, three were girls. We have met one of the girls.
Girl (Voice-over, via Interpreter): There were some white people who took children.
Man: (Voice-over, via Interpreter): Which white people?
Girl (Voice-over, via Interpreter): The French. They kissed them and forced them to suck on them.
Man: (Voice-over, via Interpreter): How did you know that?
Girl (Voice-over, via Interpreter): Because they did that to me as well. They said that they would give us biscuits.
Man (Voice-over, via Interpreter): Did they give you biscuits?
[Girl begins crying]
Man (Voice-over, via Interpreter): It is ok, it is not your fault, you understand? You know it is not your fault.
Narrator: Initiated and left aside by France, the Prosecutor of Bangui ended up opening his own investigation.
Prosecutor Ghislain Gresenguet (CAR): Given the cooperation agreements that we have, courteousness implies that we should have been informed of this investigation, which was led by the French Prévôté [Police].
Narrator: Now, his anger is less against the French army and Justice, but rather against the UN agencies.
Prosecutor: I have to admit that it is with a broken heart that I am talking, because it means admitting, at this level, that organizations whose missions are to defend the rights of children and who were aware of such acts, wanted to let others take over. It’s alright, I understand: there is competition. Except, there is a need to bring it to justice.
I was searching to see how we could accuse them for not denouncing a crime. This is what the law stipulates. We must be able to say it loud, that all these NGOs are, by their behaviour, complicit.
Narrator: For the Prosecutor of Bangui, the UN and UNICEF failed in their protection mission when they did not advise authorities.
What really happened? Gallianne Palayret has a completely different version. She says she acted immediately to put an end to these abuses.
Gallianne: I convened a meeting very quickly--after having heard the first testimonies of children--with the Sangaris authorities. I asked them, while waiting for facts to be verified, to at least put more patrols in those different areas, to keep their eyes open and to better control the soldiers who work in these places to make sure that at least if the facts turned out to be true, at least they would not keep happening.
Reporter: What was their reaction?
Gallianne: I had a very positive reaction from the persons with whom I spoke, who immediately took that very seriously, and assured me that they would immediately notify Paris.
Reporter: They told you that they were going to notify Paris?
Reporter: When was that approximately?
Gallianne: During the month of May.
Narrator: However, French Justice confirms only having heard of these accusations two months later, through the transfer of the report.
Did the Army delay in taking the case seriously?
We contacted the Ministry of Defence by phone and email, and so far, they have not answered our questions on this issue.
In Paris, only the investigators of the Prévôtale (Police) opened the door for us. They have not yet interrogated Gallianne Palayret, whose immunity as a UN employee was lifted last July, nor the French soldiers accused by the children.
Colonel Olivier Kim: We are not going to check on somebody if we are not sure that the things compiled against him or in his favor were well-verified. I would not want to check on you if I don't have reliable evidence for such checking.
Reporter: Do you not have that evidence?
Colonel Kim: Not yet.
Narrator: Officially, the French Justice says it has done all it could do. In Bangui, one of the alleged victims is still with Father Angel. The young boy will soon leave the residence and go to a village further away from the capital.
Father Angel: Today, the child has a shelter, he has a dormitory, a bed, he is protected, he eats, we take care of his health, I think this is the main thing. If there are other processes to be done, either judicial or others, it is not up to me to do it.
Narrator: The Central African Republic still has thousands upon thousands of displaced children – who still depend on foreign soldiers, especially the French, for their security.
Post-segment interview with investigative reporter Pierre Monégier in the Envoyé Spécial television studio
Guilaine Chenu (“Envoyé Spécial” co-anchor): Pierre, you produced your investigation last June in the Central African Republic. Then, in the last few days in Cambodia, you obtained the first exclusive testimony of this young French woman. So since then, is there any news about the investigation?
Reporter: Yes, in fact, we are currently at the stage of cross-checking, because the Prévôts, the specialized Police, went to the Central African Republic in July, and stayed there for 3 weeks for investigations. They had been joined by a French investigating judge — one of the judges in charge of the investigation.
Together, for the first time, they listened to the children, and most of those children did not revoke their testimonies. On the contrary, some of them went further; I mean, some who used to say they were just witnesses in the UN report now say they are victims. These interviews have been video-recorded. This is important, because now they are being analyzed and the investigators will try to cross-check the testimonies of those children, to check if there are any evident inconsistencies in their narratives, and this is something that would either remove the suspicions inflicted upon the French soldiers or reinforce them.
Françoise Joly (“Envoyé Spécial” co-anchor): Pierre, in your report, you say that some French soldiers have been identified as alleged perpetrators of those acts. Have there been any actions taken against them?
Reporter Pierre Monégier discusses his findings
Reporter: No, no immediate actions so far, that is what the Ministry of Defense confirmed to me earlier by telephone. Why? Because the soldiers are citizens like other people. There is no exceptional justice for the army: of course, they, too, benefit from the presumption of innocence. That being said, later they will be interrogated by French Justice, and this could be either under the status of witnesses or the status of police custody. Of course, it depends on the evidence that the judges would have compiled by then.
Co-anchor: Then you have this young French woman who could also be interrogated.
Reporter: Yes, in fact, Gallianne Palayret received an email, a summons from the judge when I was in Cambodia with her. A judge will listen to her and will be particularly interested in her statements, which she shared with us in this documentary. She says she alerted the members of Sangaris, the French army in place in the Central African Republic, in May 2014. If that is true, why was the case brought before French Justice only 2 months later?
Co-anchor: What does the Ministry of Defense say regarding that?
Reporter: The Ministry of Defense, which I contacted earlier, was firm and categorical. This information, this encounter [between Gallianne and 3 French soldiers in May], if it was true — they do not say it is not true — this information did not reach them, did not go up the chain. So if there was any failure in passing information of this type, it is down the chain that we should check.
Co-anchor: Thank you.