by Elizabeth Vos, Disobedient Media: Where is the line between humanitarian aid and exploitation? Cases like the Zoe’s Ark scandal, the Silsby scandal, and others provide a troubling picture of war torn or disaster stricken areas creating situations ripe for abuse by NGO’s and other “charitable” groups that severely lack public or governmental accountability to be able to exploit vulnerable areas without proper oversight. These cases raise the question of transparency in aid work, and suggest that issues in this area have been ongoing in different regions for some time.
To get an idea of how relevant this issue currently is, Russia Today published an article yesterday revealing that more than 100 missing refugee children in Calais may have become victims of sex trafficking. Julian Assange has also questioned the legitimacy of Bono’s “One” foundation, calling it a “special ops match made in heaven.” Elizabeth Lee Beck, a Yale-educated litigator in the DNC Fraud Lawsuit, appeared in a bombshell interview with alternative media website Infowars, where she referenced issues that had come up in her research in regards to the death of Peter Smith, Beranton Whisenant and others. Given these developments, it is especially timely to take a closer look at scandals like Zoe’s Ark and ask why, after over a decade, the issues stemming from such cases have not been fully addressed.
The 2007 Zoe’s Ark scandal was one of the first of a string of NGO related cases of misconduct which resulted in accusations from the President of Chad that the NGO had been intending to sell the children to human trafficking and organ trafficking networks. Despite the members of the charity receiving convictions on charges of child trafficking, and receiving sentences of eight years hard labor, the accused were repatriated to France after the intercession of Nicholas Sarkozy. Sarkozy personally persuaded Idriss Deby to give the offenders Presidential pardons. The group later faced related charges in France.
Charity involvement in child and organ trafficking is a concerning issue; these concerns were repeated in 2010, this time in Haiti with the Laura Silsby child debacle. The accusations mirrored similar comments made by the Prime Minister of Haiti in an interview with CNN where he accused American NGOs of removing children for the express purpose of selling them to pedophilia and organ trafficking rings. Former French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs and founder of Médecins Sans Frontières Bernard Kouchner bridges these cases in some respects, and casts additional light on the concerning lack of transparency that NGO’s enjoy and the corruption that has consistently resulted in these chaotic conditions.
Zoe’s Ark, also known as L’Arche de Zoe and Children Rescue, was registered as an NGO with the French government in 2004 in the wake of the Asian Tsunami. The charity’s leader, Eric Breteau, soon turned the group’s attention towards conflict in Darfur. The 2007 incident that resulted became infamous when it was revealed that members of the organization including its founder had intended to sell the children for thousands of Euros to French families.
The BBC reported that the children recovered from Zoe’s Ark were healthy, specifying that the children were not being treated for any serious illnesses or injuries. According to NBC News, Zoe’s Ark workers had presented the children as ill and injured by applying bandages to non-existant wounds. This suggested that Zoe’s Ark had intentionally faked injuries on the bodies of healthy children, possibly to hide their identity and origin.
Furor was heightened when it emerged that most of the children recovered from Zoe’s Ark originated from areas not involved in the Darfur conflict. The vast majority of those children were between the ages of three and five years old, with several infants. Zoe’s Ark described their motivations as altruistic, despite admitting that they had planned to circumvent African and European adoption laws in order to remove the children. That the charity would take children with living relatives from a location that was not involved in the Darfur conflict, then intentionally create an appearance of injuries in order to further misconstrue the children’s origin, is deeply disturbing and raises concerns regarding the NGO’s intentions.