After 65 years, France finally honours its colonial soldiers

After years of broken, or half-kept, promises, France is to give full military pensions to all surviving colonial soldiers who fought for French freedom during the Second World War.

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that there would be an immediate end to discrimination in military pension payments to French veterans who are now citizens of other countries. The decision will boost tenfold the payments to around 30,000 Second World War veterans from former French colonies in Africa.

In a speech at the Elysée Palace to senior African military officers, Mr Sarkozy said that he wanted to "bear witness to our undying gratitude to the veterans from your countries, who will now receive the same pensions as their French brothers in arms".

He did not explain why it had taken 50 years for the French state to express its "undying gratitude". When French colonies achieved independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, French military pensions to their veterans were frozen. By 2006, a French veteran was receiving €690 a month. An African or North African veteran was still receiving the 1960s level pension of €61 a month.

Years of complaints, and legal rulings against the French state came to nothing until the appearance in 2006 of the film Indigènes about five North African soldiers who took part in the liberation of France from the Nazis in 1944. After seeing the film, the then President, Jacques Chirac, promised that he would "do something".

Pensions to thousands of French colonial veterans with a "combatant's card" were raised to the French level in 2007. About 30,000 other veterans, with other types of military pension, remained frozen at the early 1960s level.

The French state's constitutional watchdog, the Constitutional Council, ruled in May that this infringed the republic's commitment to égalité – unless veterans of French nationality living abroad also had their pensions reduced. More than half of the French "liberation" army of 1943-44, which fought in Italy and France, was of African origin. There were 134,000 Algerians, 73,000 Moroccans, 26,000 Tunisians and 92,000 men from colonies in sub-Saharan Africa.

This multiracial army was first thrown into battle in Italy in 1943. The same troops landed with US forces in the south of France on 15 August 1944, while the main German occupying force was engaged in Normandy.

Mr Sarkozy made the announcement to coincide with the presence of thousands of African soldiers from former French colonies in today's 14 July military parade on the Champs Elysées.

But, as one controversy ended, another opened. Civil rights and African political opposition groups protested against the presence of African armies which have taken part in coups or the repression of democratic movements.

The contingents marching down the Champs Elysées – to commemorate a half century of independence – will include soldiers from 13 of the 14 former French colonies in Africa. Elois Anguimate, a philosophy professor and a Central African republic opposition leader, said: "I know what the 14 July represents [the start of the French revolution] and I don't understand why this date is being used to honour armies which symbolise oppression... The soldiers will march then they will go back home and carry on their depradations against the people."

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights has asked for the names of all the senior African politicians and army officers who have accompanied their soldiers to Paris. Its president, Patrick Baudoin, said he feared that many of the French state's guests had been involved in torture or war crimes. "We have run into a brick wall," he said. "The French authorities don't want any embarrassment for guests who may also be torturers."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral