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Algeria: Human Rights Present and Past
Algeria: Human Rights Present and Past
Date distributed (ymd): 010507
Document reposted by APIC
Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information
service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa
Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American
Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for
Africa at http://www.africapolicy.org
Region: North Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
This posting contains several recent documents concerning the
struggle for human rights in Algeria, from Algerian and
international sources. They concern both the recent violence
in Kabylia and human rights abuses associated with counterinsurgency
both by the Algerian government in recent years and by
the French government in its effort to suppress Algerian
indendependence in the 1950s.
The first document is a review of events in April from Algeria
Interface, a site with a wide range of news and commentary on
Algeria in English and French. The second is an open letter from
Human Rights Watch to Algerian President Bouteflika concerning the
investigation of the most recent violence. The third is a open
sign-on letter to President Bouteflika, from the site of the World
Algerian Action Coalition, following new revelations of systematic
human rights abuses in the book The Dirty War by former Algerian
army officer, Habib Souaidia. And the fourth is a call to France
from Amnesty International of full investigations of French
responsibility for war crimes in the 1950s, based on the new book
by General Aussaresses.
In addition to Algeria Interface (http://www.algeria-interface.com)
and World Algerian Action Coalition (http://www.waac.org), much
additional documentation and links to current news, action, and
analysis, in French, English and Arabic, can be found at:
http://www.algeria-watch.org and http://www.algeria-watch.de
For a recent dossier of background articles in Le Monde, including
reviews of the two books mentioned, see:
Algeria Interface (
Monthly Review: April
[This article is copyright by Algeria Interface and is re-posted
under conditions posted on the web site of Algeria Interface]
Algiers, May 4, 2001 - It was only ten days after bloody rioting
broke out in Kabylia that President Bouteflika eventually got
around to reacting officially. During that time, Interior
Minister, Nouredine Yazid Zerhouni, handled the situation. A
dismal job he did, too.
The authorities he spoke to in Kabylia were basically central
government offshoots with little understanding of and less
influence in the region. And he fanned the flames of resentment
when he described Guermah Massinissa, whose death in police
custody in the hamlet of Beni Douala sparked the violence, as a
26-year old. He was in fact a high-school student in his teens.
The scant respect Zerhouni and the administration have shown for
the loss of life in Kabylia has caused outrage and was typical of
the kind of grievance the young rioters harbour against the
As the print press has widely pointed out, although the trouble
took place in the Berber heartland of Kabylia, demands for the
recognition of the Berber cultural identity and language were not
Unrest has long smouldered nationwide as standards of living have
plummeted, the future has grown bleaker, and official contempt
for ordinary people has fuelled an acute sense of injustice.
The seeds of revolt were sown. Violence flared in Kabylia, but it
could have been anywhere so widespread is resentment - one reason
why the state of emergency declared in February 1992 is still in
So by the time President Bouteflika got around to giving his
expeditious TV address on April 30, the unrest had spiralled as
had anger and expectations.
Queries over inquiry
He pledged an inquiry into the security forces' handling of the
Kabylia riots in a move designed to cock a snook at the leader of
the Berber-based Socialist Forces Front (FFS), Hocine Ait Ahmed,
who called for an international investigation.
Many Algerians felt Bouteflika was just stalling. They know only
too well how inquests work in Algeria. The promised commission of
inquiry can only widen the gap between the regime and society at
Altogether Bouteflika came up with little substance. He betrayed
an indecision that reflects that of the regime as a whole,
overwhelmed as it is by the sheer scale and complexity of the
country's crisis and too taken up by vested interests and
infighting for action.
Bouteflika has just come to the end of his second year in power.
To mark it he had been expected to announce major political
measures. In a lengthy address to state cadres he took scathing
stock of the situation in the country, denouncing injustice and
abuse of power.
Disputes over reform
He also announced a three-year $7.2 billion economic growth
package, taken as a sign that he is preparing to stand for a
second term. Beyond that, nothing far-reaching measures were
He warned that the legislative reform package his administration
has drafted will go through, especially the contentious bill to
deregulate the hydrocarbon sector. He stressed that he was afraid
of no-one, a thinly veiled allusion to opposition within the
state's military and civilian apparatus.
Labour confederation UGTA, which took action against the
hydrocarbon draft bill and threatened to call an unlimited
general strike, retracted its threat after the oil workers'
federation was outvoted.
Yet the federation's stance on the planned legislation is widely
shared both in the energy sector and government. Opponents
contend that within ten years the company will be trussed and
bound for takeover by oil majors. The liberalisation of energy
resources, they claim, will rob Algeria of its sovereignty
Energy Minister Chakib Khellil argues that his bill will not
privatise Sonatrach, while one reform-minded former minister
quipped: "Even De Gaulle did not manage to annex Sahara from the
rest of Algeria."
Army strong men beleaguered Although the issue also divided the
military high command, other questions concentrated minds of the
men who pull many of the strings behind the regime.
On his troubled visit to Paris, retired General Khaled Nezzar
said he had no idea what Bouteflika's talk of "a national harmony
policy" meant. At the same time he praised the civil harmony
policy which he said was the work of General Smain Lamari,
thereby revealing the links between powerful military men and
civilian politicians opposed to bringing the banned FIS back onto
the political stage - the aim behind Bouteflika's loosely
formulated national harmony.
The possible early retirement of intelligence chief, General
Mediene, raised by French-language daily, El Watan, would clear
the way for Major General Smain Lamari and the return of civil
It would also ease the strain on the army where the case filed
against Khaled Nezzar in Paris for crimes of torture chilled the
clutch of generals who have been de facto rulers since they
cancelled parliamentary elections in January 1992 and overthrew
The generals are faceless men. So the photograph of Smain Lamari,
published on the MAOL website - bane of the authorities - and now
being handed surreptitiously around in Algiers, has cast a little
light on the shadows.
Constitution bent Bouteflika is monitoring questions relating to
international criminal justice through his close aide Mohamed
Bedjaoui, an international lawyer. At home, meanwhile, he showed
scant regard for the constitution by outflanking an old enemy,
Bachir Boumaza, to push him from the presidency of the Council of
the Nation, the upper chamber of Parliament.
He replaced him with a longstanding henchman, Mohamed Cherif
Messaadia, former FLN strongman and embodiment of single-party
orthodoxy. He has become constitutional number two.
Bachir Boumaza took his case before the Constitutional Council,
the highest court in the land. As if Bouteflika cared. Amid the
daily turmoil and bloodshed, the Algerian administration has made
no bones about treading roughshod over the country's
institutions. It was not the first time; it won't be the last.
Human Rights Watch (
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10118-3299 USA
Letter to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
May 4, 2001
His Excellency Abdelaziz Bouteflika
President of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria
In your address to the nation on April 30, you announced that you
intend to establish an independent national commission of inquiry
to investigate the causes of recent violence in the Kabylie region.
You said that the commission would be charged with determining all
the facts "in complete freedom and total transparency."
Such an initiative is badly needed, in our view, and we commend you
for taking it. At the same time, we note the great skepticism of
many Algerians that such a commission will serve to uncover the
truth or to address the crisis underlying these disturbances. As
you know, the reports of the commissions on the assassination of
President Boudiaf in 1992 and the massacre in Serkadji prison in
1995 were widely criticized for failing to identify all those
responsible for these killings, while the findings of the
commission looking into allegations of fraud in the 1997 nationwide
municipal elections were never made public.
The credibility of your government as you confront this crisis thus
depends heavily on the steps you take to ensure that this
commission is empowered to discover the facts, make them public,
and identify those persons, including government officials,
responsible for criminal wrongdoing. The work of the commission
should include meetings at which the public is invited to testify
concerning allegations of wrongdoing.
According to news reports, law professor Mohand Issad will head the
commission. Your remarks of April 30 left uncertain the composition
of the commission, beyond stating that it would include
"representatives of civil society." We urge you to ensure that
persons appointed to the special commission enjoy, without
exception, unchallenged reputations for independence, competence,
integrity, and impartiality. Their number must also include persons
who have proven familiarity with and expertise in human rights law
as well as Algerian law, and with international law enforcement
The special commission must be given the resources and authority,
including subpoena powers, necessary to carry out an impartial and
effective investigation. It is crucial that the government set up
the commission promptly so that it can begin its investigation
immediately. We urge you to define more concretely the scope of
this investigation, to ensure that the commission makes violations
of human rights by security forces, as well as violations of law by
rioters, among its very top priorities.
The commission's mandate must therefore include the circumstances
surrounding the death in custody of secondary-school student
Massinissah Guermah on April 18, and the use of lethal force by the
security forces in confronting and putting down the demonstrations
and riots that followed. International law enforcement standards
are clear that lethal force should only be used when strictly
unavoidable in order to protect life. We strongly recommend that
the commission's terms of reference include the U.N. Basic
Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement
Officials as well as the United Nations Principles on the Effective
Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary, and Summary
Executions. Those principles specify that independent
investigations into suspicious deaths should include opportunities
for the public to testify and autopsies by physicians with forensic
expertise, and that the findings of the commission be made public.
In your April 30 remarks, you stated that the commission's
activities "will have no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the
judicial investigations which prosecution offices may decide to
carry out." What is essential is that the special commission and
the office of the prosecutor, between them, exercise the
responsibility of the government to identify publicly and bring to
justice those persons responsible for serious violations of law,
including violations of international human rights treaty law to
which Algeria is party, and referring them to judicial proceedings
that meet international fair trial standards.
We understand that the National Assembly has recently adopted a
resolution to set up its own commission of inquiry into the same
events. We recommend in addition that the government grant access
to Algerian as well as international human rights organizations
wishing to conduct investigations into these incidents. Such a step
will greatly enhance the credibility of the national commission.
In that regard we note that Human Rights Watch has not yet received
a response to our request, first made in a December 2000 letter to
your excellency, to visit the country. We would welcome such an
invitation, and look forward to your government's positive
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch
World Algerian Action Coalition (http://www.waac.org)
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE ALGERIAN REPUBLIC*
April 25, 2001
The cycle of intimidation, brutality, and mass murder of Algerian
civilians, which has endured already for ten years, must be brought
to an end and the perpetrators brought to justice.
Habib Souaidia's book, The Dirty War, provides the world with
serious and substantial first-hand evidence of the Algerian army's
direct involvement in and responsibility for at least some of the
horrendous crimes committed against innocent Algerian citizens,
among whom were defenseless babies, children, pregnant women, teens
and elderly people. Mr. Souaidia, himself a former lieutenant in
the Algerian army's Special Forces, describes at great length the
routine torture, abduction and random killing carried out by army
officers, and details the times, dates, places of atrocities and
the names of perpetrators from the lowest to the highest ranking
officers in the military hierarchy.
This evidence constitutes a credible basis for demanding that the
Algerian armed forces be held to account for their actions during
the past ten years of conflict. At present neither the state
Executive, nor the Legislative body, nor the compromised national
press, can legitimately pronounce on the veracity of the
allegations made against the army. For these reasons, it is
incumbent that an independent inquiry be launched to investigate
the crimes so meticulously documented in Souaidia's book.
In the interests of truth and justice, we the undersigned, Algerian
citizens, and friends and supporters of Algeria concerned for the
safety and well-being of the Algerian people, call for the
immediate convocation of an independent and credible commission of
inquiry to investigate the massacres and to pronounce on the
serious allegations made against the Algerian army.
Mr. President, as the Republic's highest Magistrate, you have the
authority and the obligation to ensure that respect for the rule of
law governs the conduct of all Algerian citizens, especially those
citizens entrusted with the power and responsibility of
guaranteeing peace, order and security for all. The importance of
an independent commission of inquiry cannot be overstated. It is
vital to the future of Algeria and its people. Algerians throughout
the world, as well as the entire international community, must be
assured that crimes are not committed with impunity in Algeria.
They must be assured that justice for and in the name of the
Algerian people will prevail.
France Must Now Face Up to Its Judicial Obligations to Algeria
Amnesty International (New York)
May 3, 2001
[For further information, contact Amnesty International, 1 Easton
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London - In a book entitled Services Speciaux: Algerie 1995-1957", published
today, a former French Government was directly implicated in the
torture and summary executions of Algerians during the Algerian
war. The allegation was made by General Paul Aussaresses, a
high-ranking French military officer in the Algerian war, and
coordinator of the intelligence services during the Battle of
Algiers in 1957.
Although Amnesty International cannot know whether today's claims
by General Aussaresses, directly implicating the French Government
in crimes against humanity, are well founded, they are clearly
extremely serious and require full and prompt investigation.
If France is able to bring to trial war criminals from the Vichy
period it must also be possible for France to live up to its legal
obligations in relation to the Algerian war, Amnesty International
In the book, General Aussaresses not only justifies the use of
torture and summary executions, in which he personally took part,
and describes in detail the way in which these systematically took
place, but also claims that the French Government - notably through
the then Justice Minister, FranHois Mitterrand, later the President
of the Republic - was regularly informed about, and tolerated, the
use of torture, summary executions and forced displacements of
populations. The general alleges that the office of FranHois
Mitterrand was kept personally informed by an investigating judge
who acted as his emissary in Algeria.
On 24 November 2000, when a number of military officers, including
Generals Aussaresses and Jacques Massu, publicly admitted their
involvement in torture and extrajudicial executions, Amnesty
International called on the French authorities to bring to trial
those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The
organization stated that it was not enough to recognize that such
crimes had taken place; the real question was the continuing
impunity of those responsible.
"Legal proceedings in France against a number of war criminals
-including Barbie, Papon and Touvier - in connection with crimes
committed under the Vichy regime during the Second World War - had
shown that there is no limit on the time within which crimes
against humanity could be tried," Amnesty International added.
However, despite the fact that the French Government had welcomed
the arrest of General Pinochet in England, the French authorities
have, since that time, continued to resist such moves, or even to
set up a commission of inquiry into the use of torture. On 14
December President Jacques Chirac rejected calls for a formal
apology for the use of torture by French soldiers during the war.
The allegations contained in the book increase the urgency of the
need for France to face up to its legal obligations, not only under
the Geneva Conventions but also under Article 212-1 of its own
Penal Code, where crimes against humanity are defined, inter alia,
as the massive and systematic practice of summary execution and
torture for political, philosophical, racial or social purposes and
are recognized as imprescriptible.
"Given these new and serious claims and revelations by General
Aussaresses, there can be no possible justification for the
authorities to continue to fail to seek a judicial resolution,
Amnesty International added.
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