Algerian Authorities persist in the Denial of Crimes and in Injustice
Algeria-Watch, 28 April 2008
For the third time in six months the human rights situation in Algeria is being examined by a committee of the United Nations. After the visit of the Human Rights Committee in October and the Human Rights Council in mid April, in May the Committee Against Torture will continue the UN’s assessment of Algeria’s progress.
Algeria presented its periodic report to the Committee Against Torture in 2006, though it ought to have done so in 1998, as the previous report was submitted in 1996. The years of delay between reports aided authorities in putting forth a sanitised version of events: Algeria, facing by itself terrorism of the most murderous sort, which it was eventually able to control with calls for dialogue and peace; the “security option” always being the last resort, and the state supporting political solutions at all times. With the arrival of Abdelaziz Bouteflika as president in 1999, the politics of civil dialogue and reconciliation should have permitted the country to rise up and initiate economic development that benefited all Algerians, making it possible for Algeria to rejoin the international dialogue. Algeria today would then face the same challenges with terrorism as Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. And, as far as human rights is concerned, Algeria would participate not only in the most important conventions, but would actively engage in education, the promotion of values, and in sanctions in the case of violations. At this point however, it would be necessary to acknowledge the travesty of recent history in Algeria, and that the reality of torture cannot be hidden. Indeed, victims and their families today continue to testify.
Massive and systematic torture reappeared with the brutal repression following the country’s first multi-party elections in December 1991 and has not disappeared since. The military mandate at the root of this action imposed on the country a state of emergency, still in force, and a series of laws and decrees, placing under its control the entire political and economic life of the country. It was during this time that the structures of repression, controlled by the military, above all by the DRS (Département du renseignement et de la sécurité or “The Department of Information and Security”; Algeria’s military intelligence service) were put in place. All other security services (police, gendarmerie, and paramilitary) are under their control. These services divide up the country between themselves and spread terror. Since the break-up of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in March 1992, tens of thousands of people, either members or suspected sympathizers of the FIS, have been arrested, tortured, executed, or kidnapped and “disappeared.”
The DRS centres, in particular the six Territorial Centres for Research and Investigation (CTRI, Centres territoriaux de recherché et d’investigation) and the Principal Operations Centre (CPO, Centre principal des operations), called “Antar”, located in Ben Aknoun, Algiers, as well as several police stations and gendarmerie brigades constitute the elements of a veritable “death machine”.
It was not until the end of 1995, once the popular rebellion was crushed , that a sham democracy was formed, without, however, the decision makers relinquishing their hold on the political and economic apparatus. None of the elections nor any of the referendums have since taken place without fraud, and parties capable of forming an opposition have been either forced into compliance, undermined from within, or simply prevented from forming. The organizations defending human rights and victims of State violence or “terrorism” have either been controlled, suppressed, or blocked in their action (particularly the associations of the family members of those who have disappeared).
Even though the intensity of State violence has diminished since 2000, it continues at both an individual and collective level. During the revolts which shook Algeria in 2001-2002, torture had once again an alarming recrudescence, and more than 120 people were killed in Kabylie. Since then, social demonstrations (for housing, jobs, etc), which have multiplied throughout the country, especially since 2005, have been systematically repressed with violence (as were the demonstrations in T’kout and Ghardaïa in 2004). Suspects, with or without reason, who were alleged to support terrorism (as in Ain-Taghrout or El-Aouana in the wilaya in Jijel in 2006) were regularly victims of arbitrary arrest, secret detention, and torture. Finally, collective sanctions of prisoners have also been noted, as was the case at El-Harrach prison in 2008.
Certain leaders of the repressive apparatus responsible for the human rights violations of the past 16 years have now retired and one of the most notable leaders, General Smaïa Lamari, second in command of DRS and head of the Counter-espionage Management Unit (DCE, Direction du contre-espionnage) died in August, 2007. However, the principal organiser of State terror, General Mohamed Médiène, continues to be head of the DRS, a position he has held since September 1990. The commanding officers at the head of the CTRI during the 1990s (M’henna Djebbar and Bachir Tartag), authors of the worst offences, have been promoted to commanding posts that are less incriminating.
Through recent testimonies of people who were detained in secret, often for weeks and in some cases months, it is clear that the system of repression put in place by the DRS in 1992 is still in effect today. This torture is systematic and the “confessions” extracted serve as proof of guilt. The judges who hear the cases do not order medical examinations and are generally content with a sworn statement of the questioning transmitted by those who did the torturing. These centres are not under any obvious control by the legal system. At the court level, for affairs considered delicate, the question of whether or not they rise to the level of terrorism is the sole jurisdiction of the DRS. Mr. Abdelmadjid Sellini, former magistrate and President of the bar, instructed judges in March 2008 that they should only “reopen the preliminary investigations of the security services”.
If DRS continues to play a key role in the life of the Algerian public, then the importance of other security services can only increase. Their strength continues to augment: 75,000 new police officers are scheduled to be trained by 2010, placing the total number of officers throughout the country at 200,000 (40,000 for Algiers) while the number of gendarmes will surpass 120,000 by 2010.
In spite of all this, the Algerian government continues to deny torture and arbitrary detention as well as other human rights violations (extra judiciary executions and kidnappings). When the country is called to respond to allegations of the atrocities committed by its security forces, it claims that it is acting on individual, isolated cases and, above all, that these extreme actions are sanctioned. In reality, victims’ complaints are almost never taken into account. Even worse, in February 2006 the government promulgated an ordinance calling for the application of the “Charter for Peace and Reconciliation” which declared that “no legal action could be engaged, either individual or collective, against the defence or security forces” for crimes committed before the ordinance’s adoption and that “any false accusation or complaint should be declared inadmissible by the competent judiciary authority” (article 45).
Following the periodic reports of the Algerian government, the UN Committee Against Torture prepared a catalogue of pertinent questions concerning the independence of justice, the adherence of detention centres to the law, the legal action in the case of torture, the action of groups in legitimate defence, the control of security forces, etc. The recommendations after the assessment of the Algerian authorities’ responses should accurately reflect the degree to which the Committee of Human Rights is concerned. As one of the experts affirmed in October 2007, violations committed by the State are “crimes against humanity”.