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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

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

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

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 ( and World Algerian Action Coalition (, much additional documentation and links to current news, action, and analysis, in French, English and Arabic, can be found at: and

For a recent dossier of background articles in Le Monde, including reviews of the two books mentioned, see:,5987,3212-5214--,00.html

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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 regime.

Nationwide resentment

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 prime factors.

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 place.

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 large.

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 forthcoming.

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 harmony.

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 government.

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

Your Excellency:

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 standards.

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 response.


Hanny Megally
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch

World Algerian Action Coalition (


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 Street, London WC1X 8DJ,+44-71-413-5500 ,+44-71-956-1157. Email: Web: You may repost this message onto other sources provided the main text is not altered in any way and both the header crediting Amnesty International and this footer remain intact.]

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 said today.

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.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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