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Crisis in the Central African Republic; Troops headed for Central African Republic; France Sex Laws; Imagine a World

Aired December 4, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

"We cannot look away," that is what the United Nations is saying, as the bloodletting in the Central African Republic threatens to spiral out of control. Just today another 12 people were killed and 30 were injured, including children.

About 400,000 people are affected by the fighting, many fleeing for their lives. That is 10 percent of the whole population. France is stepping in with an armed force to try to reestablish security, which will be voted and approved by the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.

The CAR is one of the world's least developed nations, although it has great mineral wealth; it's been rolling from crisis to crisis ever since winning independence from France back in 1960. So it is bad, but it's gotten much worse since March, when a Muslim rebellion called Seleka overthrew the president and descended the country into brutality and banditry, targeting the Christian majority.

And now vigilante Christian groups are targeting Muslim groups there as well.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): This is now a vicious religious conflict and many in the West are alarmed, also in the region that a failed state could again become a haven for Al Qaeda affiliated terrorists. The U.N. human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, compares the Central African Republic with Syria as one of the country's most urgently in need of international intervention.

NAVI PILLAY, U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: In addition to Syria, with the scale and viciousness of the abuses being perpetrated by elements on both sides, almost defies belief. The situation in the Central African Republic is deteriorating rapidly. And the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.


AMANPOUR: Well, we're going to get a status report on exactly what the U.N.'s going to do about this when we talk to the deputy secretary- general in a moment.

But first, trying to report and record these situations and these crises right there in the CAR is incredibly difficult and dangerous for journalists. But our own Nima Elbagir has just got to there and is joining me live from Bossangoa, where tens of thousands are seeking refuge.

Nima, what can you tell me that you've seen on your way from the capital up there?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, even just on the road, Christiane, either side of that road, for about three hours before we got to Bossangoa, all we were seeing was mile after mile of burnt and abandoned villages. And those villages are fleeing here to Bossangoa. But Bossangoa is a pretty flimsy refuge, because the Seleka militiamen are in command of Bossangoa. And the African force, the fomak (ph) that's supposed to be holding them at bay, it doesn't yet have that needed mandate to protect civilians.

So even just having spent a few hours here, you do get this sense of such a tense, tense standoff, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nima, there is going to be a Security Council resolution; everybody expects it to be approved. They will beef up the role of the African force and obviously with the French in the lead.

Do people have trust? Are they waiting for a force to get there?

ELBAGIR: Well, many people are out in the bush. You know, we spoke about these tens of thousands displaced; about 35,000 are here. Further, over 100,000, nobody really has very solid numbers, are hiding somewhere out there.

As I said, Medecins sans Frontieres, which is the only aid organization that's going out there, they say that whatever they try and get to people, most of them flee. But when they finally see someone who's trying to help, they clap, they sing, they chant. And I think that's the expectation, that when finally, if they can bring themselves to believe that after all these months help might be on its way, people here are just going to be absolutely ecstatic.

But it's not just a matter of getting the resolution. It's then getting those French troops up here and getting them out into those really difficult-to-reach areas.

AMANPOUR: Now you describe burnt-out huts and a wasteland there. You've covered a lot of these issues and stories in Africa.

What is this reminding you of now? What have you seen to compare with this?

ELBAGIR: I have to say, I'm from Sudan and I covered Darfur for years. And this just felt so chillingly reminiscent, going up, seeing that completely abandoned countryside and then even here in Bossangoa, in the camp, again, it sounds very similar. The men can't leave the camp because they're scared of the Seleka militias. So it's the women who are going out to collect the firewood; they're the ones who are at the most risk in this situation because the men simply can't afford to go out and be targeted and leave their families without a father. All of that for me just -- it just -- it gives me goose bumps. It sounds so much like what we saw in Darfur, except here, if that resolution goes through, then there might be a chance for the people waiting to find out that the world maybe could be coming to save them.

AMANPOUR: Well, indeed. And of course we all remembered what happened when it was way too late before forces got to Darfur.

Nima, thank you very much indeed.

And as Nima reminded us and as we've been saying, new French forces and African forces should be getting there within the next week. They will be backing up the French, those African fighters who are already there.

And I did speak earlier to Jan Eliasson, the U.N. deputy secretary- general. He's a former Swedish foreign minister and he's an experienced hand in U.N. humanitarian interventions in Africa and the Balkans.

I asked him about the enormous state in trying to establish security and what would be the impact if the Central African Republic does fully implode.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Eliasson, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: What do you think is going to be the outcome of French forces going to join African Union forces in the CAR?

ELIASSON: I think it will have a positive impact on the very critical security situation that we have in Central African Republic. There are already 450 French troops there. And within the next 5-6 days, there will be another 800.

So altogether 1,250. And in the meantime, we will also try to help the African countries contributing to their operation to increase their presence within hopefully the next 2-3 weeks.

And we hope this will have a stabilizing effect.

AMANPOUR: And how will you have that stabilizing effect? People have said the first thing that has to happen is the capital, Bangui, must be secured; roads in and out of the capital need to be secured.

Are you confident that that can take place under these current circumstances?

ELIASSON: You can never be fully confident under these very insecure circumstances. But we already have reports that some of the elements that are causing trouble are moving out of Bangui. So I think with securing Bangui, is probably doable. Then the question is where in the country will we have the dangerous parts and how do we get there.

And that's the next chapter, so to speak.

AMANPOUR: Well, exactly. And to that point, we're told that some 400,000 residents of that country are threatened by the current violence and instability, the chaos there, and it's developed into a sectarian war between Muslims and Christians.

Did it start like that? And how worried are you about what even U.N. officials are saying a potential genocide?

ELIASSON: Well, the secretary-general and I and our colleagues are extremely worried and we sounded the alarm to the Security Council last week in a more dramatic way than I can recall in recent times. We wanted really to send not an early warning but I would say a late warning, a call for action very soon to stabilize the situation before it evolves into mass atrocities, which could be a risk.

We have reports of sexual violence, of child soldier recruitment, also of problems, huge problems of food and shelter and security for the civilian population.

So we are -- we are encouraged by the speed with which the Security Council has worked. They will probably have a resolution ready by Thursday morning, tomorrow morning. And then we will see the increase on the ground within the next 5-6 days of the French forces and similarly from the Africans.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you the bigger picture then. Obviously, since its independence from France in 1960, there have been coups and countercoups and many, many leaders, and a constant cycle of humanitarian disaster there?

We've seen what happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for years, this terrible, terrible war and millions of people affected there. And now an attempt to try to end that.

My question to you is, how does one end these cycles of violence? Is it even possible under today's conditions?

ELIASSON: Well, we have to work in the short-term perspective and the medium- and long-term perspective. In the short term now, we have to stabilize the situation, stop this very dangerous trend of Muslims versus Christians, which brings in an emotional quality to the conflict and could very much spread into something very dangerous, and that's why we have a remarkably strong signal to the council.

Then of course you have the -- the problem in some states, where you have very weak institutions, you have a huge country; you have very weak infrastructure. You have mineral resources which is an attractive target for even crime, criminal elements.

We have a very bad mix in Central African Republic.

AMANPOUR: And just to be clear, what do you think the prospects are of finalizing this peace deal between the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo and the M23 guerillas, who've been defeated militarily but the full peace agreement hasn't been signed yet?

ELIASSON: Well ,that is another area where we have, I would say, pretty positive developments. Since we set up the strategic framework for the Congo with the involvement of neighboring states. We have also a diplomatic path that we follow and the M23 and Kinshasa deal we hope will be closed very soon.

AMANPOUR: We've seen terrible, terrible slaughter in that part of Africa over the last 20 years, whether it was the Rwanda genocide of '94, again, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, now this.

Give me a sense of how important it is that France is stepping up to the plate, first in Mali, now in CAR. It really is shouldering quite a heavy security burden.

ELIASSON: I commend them for this action in both Mali and Central African Republic. Secretary-general and I are rather, I would say, disappointed that we so often use the term "never again." The very fact that we repeat "never again," I think, is a sign that it's about time that we act on serious human rights violations early on.

Serious human rights violations are the first signs of something that could turn into mass atrocities. And now this time we are acting late, I must admit, but hopefully not too late.

AMANPOUR: Jan Eliasson, thank you very much for joining me.

ELIASSON: Thank you for inviting me.


AMANPOUR: And among those most at risk in the CAR at any time, as usual, they are the women and the children. Human trafficking and sexual abuse are rampant; a reported 35 percent of women there have experienced domestic violence. At a big demonstration last week in the capital, Bangui, they wore their message on the steps of the Parliament, "Stop Violence against Women," and "I Am Not a Thing," they read.

And back in France, which was once their former colonial capital, Parliament there, too, is wrestling with the related and controversial issue, should the world's oldest profession be put out of business or just out of sight? That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

It's been a momentous day in France where lawmakers are tackling a proposed bill that would make paying for sex a criminal offense.

Right now prostitution is legal in the country. The controversial measure will see clients fined up to nearly 4,000 euros if they're caught repeatedly with a prostitute. Supporters say this will protect women from traffickers and pimps.

But opponents warn that it will only drive sex workers into the shadows, putting them even more at risk.

The measure has passed the national assembly but now needs the approval of the French Senate and indeed French President Francois Hollande before it becomes law.

France is taking its inspiration from Sweden, where a similar law, punishing clients, was passed in 1999 and apparently it has cut street prostitution in half.

But still the idea is being met in France with mixed reviews. And for more on this, I'm joined from Paris by Natalie Nougayrede. She is the editor of "Le Monde" newspaper, which is a publication, an influential paper there, that's come out against this bill.

Natalie, thank you and welcome back to this program. Good to see you.

NATALIE NOUGAYREDE, EDITOR, "LE MONDE": Thank you for having me, Christiane. It's a pleasure.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you just to outline the basis of your opposition to this law.

NOUGAYREDE: Well, I have to be very clear on this. "Le Monde" actually favors part of the content of this law. To sum it up, we have come out in support for the part that says prostitutes, women who want to get out of prostitution, have to be helped, and human trafficking has to be fought, severely fought.

The problem we have with part of the law is the part that criminalizes clients that says that it is forbidden to buy sexual services and that there is a fine if somebody is indeed buying of the services of the prostitute.


AMANPOUR: OK, well, let me press you on this a little bit, because for years, people have said it's the women themselves, it's the prostitutes or those who've been forced into prostitution, who've always had to pay the penalty. That is where the illegality and the burden has been.

Now Maude Olivier (ph), who's the Socialist parliamentarian who's been drafting this bill, says that this will move the penalty and the burden from the woman onto the client.

Why do you oppose that? What -- be clear about that.

NOUGAYREDE: Well, what we feel strongly about is that if you criminalize the client, basically you're saying that any paid sex is wrong, is completely wrong. And that actually cancels any notion that a person, a woman or a man, may want to actually, on his own or his or her own free will, carry out this activity of prostitution.

We have a problem with the notion that legislation gets into basically private lives and determines whether having sex with somebody, where money is involved, is legal or not. It's a really controversial issue here in France. And I can tell you that at "Le Monde" we had long, deep discussions about this.

We decided that we wanted to make this precise stand, that having legislation determine whether sex, paid sex, is legal is -- basically this belongs to the private sphere --


AMANPOUR: I hear what you're saying, because there are some women who say, hang on a second. We are sex workers. We are paying our taxes. And we actually shouldn't be penalized and our work shouldn't be taken away from us. We should actually have more protections and a way to make our work safer. Some women are saying that.

Others, though, are saying, for instance, in Sweden, where this law took effect, a similar law about 10 years or more ago, in 1999, it has cut down street prostitution by about a half.

So people are saying that that's a success.

Are you concerned that it doesn't distinguish between willing, taxpaying, law-abiding sex workers and those who are victims of organized crime and violence and a whole different kind of sex work?

NOUGAYREDE: You know, it's 100 percent sure that we, as any person with any notion of humanistic values, will come out strongly against any -- against human trafficking and we know that a large proportion of women who are out there on the streets are exploited and victims of these criminal gangs or pimps.

What we feel is that it's important to sort of focus on the actual women or person who is prostituting himself or herself. Where is his decision? Where is his freedom? We know that this is very, very difficult to decide and define. But you cannot say that any person who does carry out that activity is never, ever -- has never, ever made a free decision to carry out that activity.

AMANPOUR: All right.

NOUGAYREDE: Also, taking prostitutes off the street does not guarantee that they are actually in any less vulnerable. If prostitutes go underground, they are in a major way exposed to more criminal circles or systems.

AMANPOUR: Right. Let me ask you this, then, it's kind of strange, because you said it's divided and it's very controversial in France.

The fact is, according to a poll that I read, only 22 percent of the French people -- that's a real minority -- actually approve of this bill.

So -- and France is known for its libertarianism, its sensuality. Why has this been tackled in France, of all places, of all times right now?

NOUGAYREDE: Actually, this goes back to some of the promises that President Francois Hollande had made during his election campaign.

But indeed the issue had sort of vanished. We had other very controversial issues being discussed in France. You may remember the whole controversy around gay marriage a couple of months ago, a few months ago.

This issue was brought back up to the surface by one of the members of Francois Hollande's government, who is a woman and who comes out very strongly with abolitionist positions, saying that prostitution as a whole must be abolished in France because it is overall it is slavery. And so there's been a very, very active discussion in France with a lot of divisions among intellectuals within political parties. And what happened today was basically the law was passed by the national assembly. It has to go through the Senate, as you said. And it was passed by a fairly large majority. But after weeks and weeks of controversy.

AMANPOUR: Just very briefly, one word answer, do you think it'll get through the Senate before reaching the president's desk? Will it pass?

NOUGAYREDE: I think it will pass, yes. I think this shows that France is undergoing a lot of discussion about its social model and what values France wants to promote in its society. And this shows that --

AMANPOUR: All right.

NOUGAYREDE: -- in a context of economic crisis, a lot of other issues are coming up to the surface.

AMANPOUR: That's really interesting insight there.

Natalie Nougayrede, editor of "Le Monde," thank you very much indeed for joining me.


AMANPOUR: And as we've discussed, in the meantime as art imitates life, life imitating art all over the place, this very issue was the topic of a recent episode of "Borgen." That is the hit Danish television political drama that's must viewing in much of Europe. Politicians wrestle with how best to tackle prostitution as it's been done in real life by neighboring Sweden, as we mentioned.

And just as in France, the politicians there fail to take into account the views of those on the front lines who are the sex workers themselves. Now after a break, the French movie star who cast a glamorous spotlight on prostitution and is now speaking out for women in the shadows, Catherine Deneuve, un " Belle de Jour."




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, among those urging the French Parliament to reconsider its crackdown on prostitution is an incandescent movie star who portrayed France's most iconic call girl.

Imagine a world where "Belle du Jour" still has skin in the game. Catherine Deneuve, just turned 70, she's still glamorous and gorgeous, a living, breathing testament to French femininity. She is also an outspoken critic, signing a petition along with 60 other French celebrities, that accuses the French government of endangering sex workers by driving them further underground.

If art imitates life, then La Belle Deneuve has walked in those same spiked stilettos.

In "Belle de Jour," director Luis Bunuel's 1967 classic, she played a discontented middle class housewife who traded in her fantasies and stripped out of her Yves St. Laurent wardrobe for her day job in an upscale Paris brothel. Back then, she was a fresh-faced starlet, just turned 23. And yet she resolutely tangled with her famous director, a master of surrealism, and imbued her character with a dignity that transcended titillation, creating a flesh-and-blood woman, searching for fulfillment, both in and out of the boudoir.

"Belle de Jour," rereleased by the director, Martin Scorsese, back in 1995, has been named one of the 100 best films of world cinema by Britain's "Empire" magazine.

And the woman who was its life-force continues to demand her close-up for a cause.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.