HRW’s 2002 world report on Algeria

HRW’s 2002 world report on Algeria

US-based rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), says that although Algerian rights violations continued to abate, continue they did.

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Algiers, 17/01/02 – The thrust of the 2002 Algeria report by US-based rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW ), is that although violent rights abuse continued to abate, continue it did.

The regime’s stance on freedom of expression followed no clearly discernible pattern, while the security forces and other alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses disturbingly still basked in impunity.

At best the international community paid lip service to human rights worries in Algeria, at worst it overlooked them.

September 11th gristle to Algerian mill
September 11th lent credence to Algeria’s oft-repeated contention that Islamist terrorism is an international network. Accordingly, « Algeria shared with Washington a list of 350 Algerians abroad with alleged links to Osama bin Laden… according to news reports. »

And at the Bouteflika-Bush meeting on November 5th the emboldened Algerian president reiterated requests for arms. Citing a National Security Official, the HRW report says Algeria had asked « the US ‘to be more forthcoming’ on licensing private arms sales [but] the US was maintaining its ‘go-slow’ approach and had not changed its opposition to selling night-vision equipment, an item Algeria has long sought for counter-insurgency use. »

US comment on rights in Algeria was, on the whole, scant with the exception of the State Department’s « solid chapter » on Algeria in its country reports.

EU countries which receive « 20 percent of their natural gas supplies from Algeria and [purchase] 70 percent of Algeria’s total exports » were more vocal on human rights. They took a « a serious view of disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture » and urged « greater respect for Berber cultural and linguistic rights ».

1500 « residual » deaths
Within Algeria, HRW dryly observed the casualty level due to political violence was down from the mid-1990s, but the more than 1,500 killed « refuted official claims that the violence was ‘residual' ».

Indiscriminate slaughter of civilians continued sporadically with much of the violence attributed to Islamic guerrilla groups, the GIA and GSPC.

In terms of public freedoms « Algeria presented a mixed picture. Massive anti-government demonstrations were sometimes permitted, at other times forbidden or aggressively broken up. »

Press freedom came under threat from a sweeping new defamation provision in the penal code, « yet private newspapers continued to criticise President Abdelaziz Bouteflika daily » and El Watan and El Khabar became the first national dailies to use a private printing press, so loosening indirect state pressure on editorial content.

The year saw « the first mass popular protests since the state of emergency was imposed in 1992 ». Unrest in the predominantly Berber region of Kabylia in April and subsequent months led to the deaths of « over ninety civilians ».

HRW quotes the independent probe ordered by Bouteflika which found the gendarmes’ « self-defense claims could not justify the fatal shooting of fifty civilians and the wounding of another 218 by gunfire between April 22 and 28 ».

Sweeping impunity
No gendarmes accused of abuses were prosecuted, reflecting what HRW terms « sweeping impunity … for the perpetrators of massive human rights violations on all sides of a conflict that has claimed well over 100,000 lives ».

On the issue of enforced disappearances « no headway was made in finding any of the several thousand Algerian civilians said to have been abducted in previous years by armed groups », while reports of torture persisted, albeit on a diminishing scale, as did security-related arrests.

HRW writes that violence against women was dramatised by mobs of men attacking migrant women in the southern city of Hassi Messaoud. The women, accused of « loose morals », were « pulled from their homes, beaten, clubbed, stabbed, and raped ».

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