Interface Interviews rights activist Ali Yahia Abdenour
Algeria Interface, January 15, 2003
Algiers, 15/01/2003 – Ali Yahia Abdenour presides the independent human rights watchdog, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH). He delivers a damning indictment of the authorities’ reluctance to investigate forced disappearances and hold officials to account.
Has there been any progress towards settling the issue of Algeria’s 4,000 to 7,000 missing people?
Before I answer your question it is necessary to underline that the government and the Islamist guerrillas are both responsible for disappearances…But in the civil war between the government and the Islamist guerillas the people are held to ransom, they are both the stakes and means of war. The government represses those sections of the population that are sympathetic to the Islamist cause either by fear or choice. Its tactic is to terrorize people…The strategy is to deliberately make people suffer to prevent them forming the water in which terrorist fish swim. It has been a cruel, pitiless and fiercely repressive approach. Abductions and forced disappearances have been Machiavelically ordered and covered by the highest echelons of the state. We are no nearer to solving the problem of forced disappearances. The LADDH and victims’ relatives associations put the numbers of disappeared anywhere 7,200 et 18,000.
Le Monde has quoted an « authorized military source » as saying there are no more detainees held in secret anywhere under state control. Do you accept this claim?
…Are the missing dead or alive? That is the question. The government knows what has become of them. Are they alive, held in secret camps and brainwashed? If they are alive they should be charged in court. If they are dead families should be informed. The missing can be declared dead only if their bodies are found, and the relatives want their loved ones’ bodies back and murderers to be tried.
The same source in Le Monde says 3,030 are buried anonymously.
So what? Interior Minister Zerhouni has said that 2,600 to 2,700 missing cases have been elucidated out of 4,600 complaints…But the president of the official human rights body, CNPPDH, told El Khabar that there was proof that some persons were being held secretly. »
The CNPPDH’s president is Farouk Ksentini, who says that a general amnesty would wipe the slate clean. Do you agree?
Amnesty is possible only after truth and justice have been established. However it’s been disguised, state violence is criminal. The commandeers of forced disappearances will only ever be judged once there has been a change of regime…The political and legal conditions for judging them are not there because those responsible are at the top echelons of the state…The newly emerging international criminal justice system will make it possible to try murderers outside their countries…The Algerian government has clearly distinguished between the terrorism of Islamist guerrillas and the state terrorism. Yet all are victims of a tragedy that has affected the entire nation and all the relatives of the victims should be treated equally.
Last November there was an abduction in the region of Mostaganem in November. Does impunity still rule ok?
Impunity is everywhere in Algeria. On November 13 the brothers Mohamed and Kamel Boudahri were abducted from their homes by seven armed civilians. Mohamed was brought home late very much the worse for wear after being tortured by men who said that Kamel had run away and joined guerrillas in the region of Melizane.
How do you assess the rights situation in Kabylia?
Kabylia has always been the government’s favorite target. It’s not the first time unrest has broken out there. The LADDH has counted 117 deaths since April 2001, 1,000 injured and 100 permanently handicapped. The government has total responsibility. The Aarouchs grassroots protest groups must beware of government agents and political interests manipulating them.
What is the outlook for the LADDH and when is it holding its congress?
The LADDH has four priorities for 2003, the most immediate of which will be an unprecedented campaign for the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of opinion. Next is the lifting of the state of emergency and the issue of the missing will be on the agenda at the national conference we will shortly be holding in Algiers. We will also look at the situation in the prisons. The LADDH’s Congress will be held some time in 2003.
Interviewed by Abdelkader Moulay