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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years