No Impunity For Those Who Are Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity
Conclusions of the UN’s Human Rights Committee
Algeria-Watch, 8 November 2007 (french)
The UN’s Human Rights Committee conducted the examination of Algeria’s third periodic report on the 23rd and 24th of October 2007 in the presence of an important Algerian delegation chaired by Idriss Jasaïri, permanent Algerian representative to the UN.
Nearly sixteen years after the military coup, and after more than sixteen years of arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, arbitrary imprisonment, disappearances, systematic torture, rape, summary executions and massacres, an expert from the UN’s Human Rights Committee, Sir Nigel Rodley, remarked at the time of the session that these serious violations of human rights were “crimes against humanity”. He is of the opinion that the thousands of kidnappings, deaths and massacres “did not happen by chance nor by accident”. He believes there is a “systematic practice” in place.
Faced with this statement, the head of the Algerian delegation, Idris Jasaïri, took offence, remarking that it was the first time that these words were employed in this context and that one could not, according to Jasaïri, believe Sir Rodley’s opinion. He recalled that even the Soarès Commission which came to Algeria in 1998 under the auspices of the UN to learn more about the human rights situation “never embarked upon this path”. We remember, indeed, that after the incessant calls by the defenders of human rights for a committee of investigations of the massacres which had lasted more than two years (between 1996-1998) with hundreds of victims per month, the Algerian government had agreed with the UN Secretary General at the time, Kofi Annan, to receive a delegation in which the members had been accepted by the Algerian government. This fact finding mission took place on the 22nd of July through the 4th of August 1998 following a programme established by Algerian authorities. The final recommendations of the panel, which were not binding, had been considered by the assembly of informed observers, by the organisations in defence of national and international human rights, as an expression in de facto support of the government. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs at that time, Ahmed Attaf, “The report is in accord with that which had been concluded between us and UN.” (1)
Even so, the Human Rights Committee had, at the same time, examined the second periodic report on Algeria and expressed in their final observations their concerns in regards to the “widespread massacres”. The committee recommended that the Algerian government “guarantee that appropriate investigations would take place by an independent commission in order to identify the guilty and bring them to justice” and that “in all cases of massacres, an independent investigation would take place on the actions of the security forces and all of their echelons, from the smallest to greatest, and that penal punishments and disciplinary action would be levied, accordingly”. (2)
However, the delegation mandated by Kofi Annan ignored these recommendations. Ali Yahia Abdennour, then president of LADDH (Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights), quite rightly qualified the results of the mission as a “free pass for the future”.(3) These remarks were, unfortunately, prophetic. Despite the virulent critiques expressed in opposition of the panel’s conclusions, the demand for investigations of the massacres and other serious crimes, such as forced disappearances, have been watered down, little by little being consigned to oblivion. There are more than 100,000 deaths for which justice has never been carried out, and this with the acquiescence of the international community and certain NGOs.
The Algerian government’s strategy appears to have succeeded. Moreover, Idriss Jazaïri has made himself the spokesperson for this grave denial of truth and justice. In a long exposé at the beginning of the meeting examining the report, he explained that Algeria carried on in spite of “the curse of the modern times”, terrorism, a “combat precursor”, being unaided, and “collecting nothing but a lack of understanding and suspicion” on the part of other countries. Later, during the debate, he added that “those who manipulated religion also manipulated the values of human rights like a shield under which to protect themselves from the state.” “The NGOs were susceptible to the siren song of the terrorists” and this worked until the attacks of 11 September 2001, when finally the international community understood what was really happening.
This familiar discourse, accompanied by detailed exposés by the members of the Algerian delegation, did not convince the experts of the Committee: they clearly and strongly denounced the grave violations committed during the “years of blood” and those that continue today. The question is of arbitrary detentions, torture, and forced disappearances, these forms of state controlled repression that have not disappeared since the advent of the “civil concord”. The Committee was not deceived and blamed the government, recommending that it become familiar with the secret detention centres which, for the most part are controlled by DRS, to visit them regularly, to bring into conformity with the principles of international law the treatment of those who are awaiting trial, to investigate the allegations of torture, and to index the detainees in a national registry, open to the families and lawyers, etc.
As for past crimes, the Committee demands that the question of forced disappearances with indemnity, which, shockingly, is awarded only when the families attest that their missing relative is deceased, not be avoided. It recommends open investigations making it possible to know the circumstances of the disappearance, the release of the prisoner in the event of incarceration or the disclosure of the place and cause of eventual death, as well as the restoration of the body to the family. The Committee believes that it is essential to establish responsibility for these forced disappearances, to pursue and condemn the guilty.
Independent investigations must also take place in order to shed light on the massacres and those responsible for serious crimes, whether they are agents of the state or armed militia, in order that they be pursued and condemned.
The experts of the Committee are particularly interested in certain provisions of the “Ordinance for enforcement of the Charter for peace and national reconciliation”, which violate the most fundamental of the consecrated rights: the right to justice and freedom of expression. In writing in the law (article 45) that “no legal prosecution can be made, as an individual or as a group, in opposition of elements of force by the defence and security” and therefore, that “any denunciation or complaint must be declared inadmissible by the qualified legal authority”, the right to a recourse is hindered.
As for measures which are aimed at the commutation or remission of a sentence, or suppression of a prosecution, which are anticipated by certain provisions of the Ordinance, the Committee advocates that these not be applied to serious crimes such as massacres, torture, rape or “disappearance”, of which the authors are members of the security forces or of armed groups.
Finally article 46, which forbids any form of denunciation of the State and it’s agents for crimes committed during the “years of blood” (defined under official terminology as the “national tragedy”) with the penalty of imprisonment for three to five years, should, according to the Committee, simply be abrogated, because it is an attack on the freedom of expression.
As for the Algerian delegation, it displayed all of its power and skill in order to demonstrate that Algeria is a country with rights and democracy. One question of substance the committee posed was, if Algeria is a country with rights and democracy, why must it maintain the state of emergency?
1. See the full article by Algeria-Watch 20 September 1998, http://www.algeria-