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Algeria: HRW Report
Algeria: HRW Report
Date distributed (ymd): 990415
Document reposted by APIC
Region: North Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
This posting contains a press release from Human Rights Watch
on human rights and Algeria's presidential election, as well
as brief excerpts from the just-published HRW background paper
on the subject. Six of the seven presidential candidates
withdrew on the eve of today's election.
For additional background and news, see
Human Rights and Algeria's Presidential Elections
For further information, contact: In New York, Hanny Megally
(Arabic, English): 212 216-1230 In Brussels, Jean-Paul
Marthoz(French, English): 3 22 736-7838 In Washington, Eric
Goldstein (French, English): April 10-11, 301 891-1299; After
April 11, 202 612-4321
Human Rights Watch,
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor,
New York, NY
TEL: 1-212-290-4700, FAX: 1-212-736-1300
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web Site Address: http://www.hrw.org
Human Rights and Algeria's Presidential Elections
A HRW Background Paper, April 1999
(Washington, DC, April 9, 1999) -- Human Rights Watch issued
a call today for human rights issues to occupy a central role
in Algeria's presidential elections and in the post-election
period. In a briefing paper released today, Human Rights Watch
condemned the fact that no foreign election monitors have been
authorized to observe the elections and that foreign
journalists are either denied visas or restricted in their
movements while in the country. The backgrounder also surveys
the political violence that has claimed an estimated 77,000
lives since 1992, as well as the abductions and
"disappearances" of thousands of Algerians, and government
policies toward access to information that have dramatically
limited independent monitoring of human rights conditions.
Although the numbers of Algerians reported killed declined in
1999 compared with previous years, it remains at an appalling
level. Armed groups calling themselves Islamist, active
especially in the rural Mitidja region south of Algiers,
continue to target civilians for slaughter and abduct young
women and girls. Some of those abducted in the past have been
subject to sexual slavery.
Press accounts of the discovery of mass graves over recent
months—said to contain scores of victims—have heightened the
anguish of families of abducted persons. According to victim
advocacy groups, the government has provided little or no
information about its efforts to unearth and identify the
bodies found. No investigation is known to have been carried
out into circumstances of their death. The failure to inform
the public about these gruesome discoveries illustrates the
government's policy of restricting access to information on
all aspects of the internal security situation.
A grassroots campaign of families of the "disappeared"
(persons believed to be in the unacknowledged custody of
government forces) has put the issue of the missing relatives
on the domestic and international agenda. The movement has
documented over 3,000 such cases, the vast majority of whom
have been missing for at least three years. The Interior
Ministry last year responded to the pressure by opening
offices to handle complaints, but according to advocates for
the "disappeared," authorities have resisted providing
concrete information about the missing persons.
Access by foreign press and non-governmental organizations.
Lack of access to Algeria continues to hamper independent
monitoring of human rights conditions. Along with the
rejection of foreign election monitors, the government
continues to issue press visas selectively, denying entry to
some key members of the media who follow the country closely.
Those who do receive visas find their ability to collect
information impeded by the armed escorts assigned to them,
ostensibly for their safety. Since 1997, the government has
barred major international human rights organizations from
entering the country to assess conditions, and has ignored
visit requests from the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on
Torture and Extrajudicial Executions. Visits to detainees by
the International Committee of the Red Cross were suspended in
1992, although a resumption of such visits is now under
As the elections approach, Human Rights Watch recommended that
the present and incoming government of Algeria:
- Conduct credible and transparent investigations into
massacres and other arbitrary killings, and lift restrictions
on investigations into these events by independent parties.
- Respect the public's right to be informed about the
traumatic events affecting public welfare and safety.
- Release immediately and unconditionally all persons
arbitrarily detained, and ensure compliance by the security
forces with international standards for the prevention of
- Communicate to all military, intelligence and security
forces, as well as judicial authorities that torture and the
use of excessive force will not be tolerated, and that
officials who order or condone such actions will be prosecuted
and, if convicted, punished in accordance with the gravity of
- Reverse current policy by lifting all restrictions on access
to the country by foreign journalists and nongovernmental
organizations and allow in the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on
Torture and Extrajudicial Executions, both of whom have
- Ensure that appropriate medical care, including
psychological counseling, is provided to rape survivors.
Human Rights Watch also again urges all armed groups to halt
deliberate attacks on civilians; to end indiscriminate attacks
imperiling civilians; to unconditionally release all civilians
in their custody; and to cease all gender-based abuses,
especially the abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of women
Brief Excerpts from Report
(Full report available at
Arabic version also available on-line)
The present elections were called last September by incumbent
President Liamine Zeroual, who announced he would step down
before the end of his term. The first round of voting is
scheduled for April 15. In the event that none of the
candidates receives a majority of the votes cast, the two top
vote-getters will face off in a second round two weeks later.
The winner is expected to take office shortly after the
contest is decided.
The Constitution grants broad authority to the president,
including the power to choose and to dismiss the prime
minister (Art. 5). While the National Popular Assembly, the
lower house of parliament, can force the prime minister's
resignation (Art. 81), the president can dissolve that body
and call new legislative elections (Art. 129).
Political violence, sporadic before 1992, became endemic after
Algeria's rulers interrupted parliamentary elections that year
to prevent a victory by the Islamic Salvation Front (Front
Islamique du Salut, FIS). Some 77,000 persons were killed
between 1992 and 1998, according to estimates cited by the
U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights
Practices. In January 1998, the Algerian government, which
rarely discloses aggregate casualty figures, stated that
26,536 civilians and security force members had been killed
through the end of 1997. It did not provide a toll for members
of armed groups, and has not, to our knowledge, provided any
global figures since that time.
There is overwhelming evidence that armed groups that call
themselves Islamist, especially the Armed Islamic Group
(Groupe Islamique Arme, GIA), have killed thousands of
individuals. Often the victims are chosen at random or for
reasons that remain unknown. In many cases the victims'
possessions are systematically plundered. There is evidence
that some victims were targeted because they or their
relatives allegedly refused to contribute money or provisions
to armed groups, were suspected of informing on them, or
merely because they were related to members of targeted
groups, such as members of the security forces or armed
self-defense organizations, or civil servants.
Armed groups killed whole families, often abducting young
women to be held in sexual slavery in guerrilla camps. In
other instances, women have been singled out and killed for
refusing to adhere to a dress code or for working as
hairdressers or in other professions deemed "un-Islamic."
Although massacres in which hundreds died captured
international attention during the second half of 1997, most
civilian casualties--both then and more recently--occurred in
smaller incidents, such as bomb explosions in markets and
other public places, raids on families living in villages and
farms, and assaults on cars and buses traveling Algerian
In 1999, much of the violence has been concentrated in the
Mitidja region south of the capital and in a few other pockets
of the country.
According to Cheriffa Kheddar, president of Our Algeria, a
Blida-based advocacy group for victims of terrorism. the
kidnaping of women by armed groups is systematic during their
raids in rural areas. "In some cases girls as young as twelve
or thirteen years old are abducted. If the girl makes any
problems, they just slash her throat on the spot," she said.
Kheddar gives a 'rough estimate' of some 10,000 persons
abducted by armed groups since the start of the conflict.
These abductions should be distinguished from
'disappearances,' the term commonly used to refer to cases in
which government forces are believed to have taken the person
into custody but do not acknowledge it.
The questions surrounding the large-scale massacres of 1997
and January 1998 have received no conclusive answers. No
independent Algerian body has conducted a thorough inquiry and
the government has allowed no international human rights
organization or U.N. human rights rapporteur to investigate.
An Algerian newspaper editor explained anonymously why
journalists visiting massacre sites are unable to mount the
kind of extensive investigation that would be required:
If you want to find out what's happening in Bentalha, you must
send a journalist for a month and that's not technically
possible. It's an area that's controlled by the militias and
the army. You cannot access information. ... A journalist
would have to go in anonymously. It's nearly impossible.
A grassroots, predominantly female movement of relatives of
the "disappeared" has managed to place the fate of their loved
ones on the national agenda. The term "disappearances" is
distinguished from the abductions referred to above, in that
evidence exists that points to the involvement of the Algerian
security forces in the "disappearance."
The activists launched the National Association for the
Families of the Disappeared in 1998, and have collected
documentation on more than 3,000 cases. Some human rights
lawyers claimed the actual number of "disappearances" is much
higher. Those speaking for the government did not contest the
3,000-plus figure, but denied security-force involvement in
more than a small fraction of cases, discounting strong
evidence to the contrary.
Beginning in 1998, coverage by Algeria's private newspapers of
"disappearances" increased markedly. ... The U.N.
Secretary-General's information-gathering mission to Algeria
in July-August 1998 devoted conspicuous attention to the
Three weeks after the U.N. panel departed, the Ministry of
Interior announced that it would open bureaus in every
province of the country to handle complaints about missing
persons. It was the first time that the government had
acknowledged, albeit indirectly, that the problem of
"disappearances" was wide-scale and implicated authorities in
Half a year later, human rights advocates uniformly express
disappointment with the results.
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary
objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States
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information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and