for the first time, children testify on the stand

for the first time, children testify on the stand

Nine minors were able to speak during the appeal trial of the attack of July 14, 2016, in Nice. A first in a terrorist case, but difficult testimonies for justice to handle.

Paris courthouse, May 14. In the “major trials” room, the president gives the floor to Kenza, youthful face and cuddly toy pressed against his side. The 11-year-old girl appears on the giant screens from Nice, far from the two accused present in the box. “We were on the Promenade des Anglais, I wanted some candy…” Kenza says, her eyes glued to the sheet where she wrote down her text, this dramatic July 14, 2016. She and her mother are in line at the candy stand. Suddenly, the terrorist's truck speeds towards them. Everything happens very quickly. Her mother pins her to the ground, a dull noise invades her ears. They pass between the wheels of the heavy goods vehicle, which continues its deadly course.

When the little girl gets up without having been physically touched, a foul smell circulates in the air. “Mom kneaded me like plasticine to see if I was not injured,” she explains to the court in a thin voice. Around her, “torn up” bodies lie on the asphalt. Before being shot dead by the police, the driver killed 86 people, including 14 minors. Never has an attack affected so many children and adolescents. Eight years later, some of them wanted to come themselves and testify by videoconference, a first in a terrorist trial. Their parents, worried, gave in to their children's determination.

In 2017, only adults were heard by the court in the Mohammed Merah case, who killed seven people including three children in a Jewish school in Toulouse. In 2022, during the first instance trial of the accomplices of the author of the Nice attack, the president refused to call the minors to the stand. “Assize trials were not designed for children, this can expose them more,” believes psychologist Carole Damiani, who supports victims in their legal journey. The special assize court, which rules on terrorist cases, does not provide for closed doors, which is supposed to protect those under 18 years of age.

Children well prepared before the trial

Upon learning that two of the eight accused of the Nice attack, sentenced to eighteen years of criminal imprisonment, were appealing, certain young people insisted on making their voices heard. Nine of them were, this time, able to give their story, supported by the Une Voie des Enfants association, created by Kenza's mother after the attack. “We brandished the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which ensures the right to freedom of expression,” explains Me Marie-Pierre Lazard, their lawyer. “They were well prepared and are more relaxed than some parents,” she assures.

Accompaniment by psychologists, prior visit to the broadcasting room in Nice, explanations on how a trial works… Kenza verbalized her memories, some of which she had never shared. On screen, she details the nightmares and anxiety attacks that attack her with each fire siren, the diapers she had to wear until last year… “I saw lots of child psychiatrists, psychologists and art therapists,” she said, a little stammering, before repeating: “I just wanted candy… Thank you for listening to me, it was important to say it in my own words. » Then the curly-haired preteen slips a pacifier into her mouth. A heavy silence invades the courtroom.

Risk of exploitation

“That victims can express themselves more is a good thing. But we must be careful not to exploit the suffering of children. How do you make sure they're really ready to talk? » worries Carole Damiani. The subject is debated. On the one hand, the absence of the words of minors, victims as well as adults, can raise questions. On the other hand, their presence in the criminal court pushes justice to its limits. Because these young people are far from being civil parties like the others. “It may seem indelicate for a defense lawyer to call into question the words of a child,” explains Guillaume Leroy, doctoral student in criminal law and secretary general of the Cercle Droit & Liberté, who is surprised to see no indication in criminal doctrine and invites us to redefine the place of testimony of those under 18 in criminal matters.

Mathias does not ask himself all these questions. Emerging unharmed after the truck passed, the boy, now 15 years old, saw a friend lying on the ground near him, dead. He needed to relive in front of the jury this scene which came back to him in the form of a flash. And to shout to the two impassive accused his cry of revenge for the tragedy: “You did not destroy us. »

Nice attack: 86 dead, including 14 minors

14 minors died on July 14, 2016 in Nice. Never in France has an attack affected so many young people.

Similar Posts