Fake translation added to French president’s UN speech about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

A TikTok video shared thousands of times claims to show President Emmanuel Macron apologising to France’s former African colonies and pledging reparations during a UN speech in New York in April 2023. But the claim is false: AFP Fact Check traced the footage of the address to a speech from last September and found that the original English translation was replaced with a fake voiceover. Macron did not discuss Africa but talked about the Russian-Ukrainian invasion.

A TikTok account named “African Lives” shared the video of Macron delivering a speech in French with a purported translation into English.

“The president of France apologizing to the African continent for forgiveness of wrong did to them during colonisation (sic),” reads the caption of the post published on May 19, 2023.

The clip, which lasts close to three minutes, starts with a commentator calling on users to pay attention to Macron’s message.

Then another male narrator begins to talk as if he were translating the president’s speech.

“Dear distinguished delegates, I stand before you today (on) April 30, 2023, as the president of the French Republic to express my deepest apologies to the African nations and people who were affected by France’s colonial past,” says the English-language narrator.

“We recognise the harm and damage caused by our actions and we are committed to making amends for the wrongs committed during that period,” continues the voiceover before listing some of the affected African countries.

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A screenshot of the false TikTok video, taken on July 6, 2023

A longer version of the same video made its way onto Facebook (see here and here) along with the false English translation.

Manipulated video

Among the Google search results for the keywords “Macron speech” was the original clip of his address posted on the United Nations’ official YouTube channel (archived here).

According to the caption, the 30-minute video was filmed at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York in September 2022.

The footage matches the clip circulating on social media. At 0’23”, we see the same three individuals seated behind Macron as well as the podium with the UN emblem.

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A screenshot comparing the original video of Macron’s speech, left, to the fabricated clip

The excerpt currently making the rounds online starts 19 seconds into the footage.

Unlike the manipulated video with the male narrator, the original version features a female English-language translator.

And contrary to the claim, Macron starts his speech by saying: “It is an honour for me to speak before this Assembly on behalf of France. At this point in time, I am thinking of those who have fought in my country and everywhere in the world for France to be free.”

Macron then goes on to criticise Russia for invading Ukraine, describing it as an “act of aggression, invasion and annexation”.

The French presidential palace also uploaded Macron’s speech with a written translation to the official Élysée website (archived here).

No apology

African countries have been demanding official apologies and reparations for colonial-era wrongs from European powers.

France has pledged to return African artifacts and art looted during colonial times but there has never been a formal apology (archived here).

Earlier this year, Macron said he would not “ask forgiveness” from Algeria for French colonisation but hoped to continue working towards reconciliation (archived report).

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