January 1992-January 2007: 15 years of atrocities and impunity in Algeria

Press Release, Algeria-Watch, January 11th 2007

January 1992-January 2007: 15 years of atrocities and impunity in Algeria

Translation from french

Fifteen years ago, a handful of Generals at the heart of power, in “safeguarding democracy”, aborted an historic opportunity by cancelling the first relatively free elections in independent Algeria. The elections that were about to mark the ushering into power of the Salvation Islamic Front (FIS), were ended by the Generals’ actions with the fervent support from its civilian clients and more discreetly that of France. It was, in all but name a coup d’Etat mirroring in its objectives of preserving the ruling elite’s privileges, those of Pinochet in Chile in 1973 and Videla in Argentina in 1976. But where the Algerian Generals differed from their predecessors in South America and elsewhere: they knew to remain in the shadows, over the years, fabricating the façade of a pseudo-democracy while unleashing a clandestine state terror campaign of horrendous violence against the population inspired by the methods of disinformation and manipulation learned from their masters, the French military theorists of the “modern warfare”, and the specialists in the Soviet KGB.

This atrocious masquerade had three main characteristics:
– a terrifying “killing machine” – performing routine acts of torture, extra-judicial executions, run by the army’s secret service (the DRS), as well as its “special forces”. In one decade they were responsible for the deaths of 200 000 people, the disappearances of 20 000 others, tens of thousands of torture victims, and a million and half displaced people;
– a machinery of disinformation – on a scale that draws few parallels throughout the 20th century –ascribing most of the violence to “Islamist hordes”, in order to mask the fact that, partially after 1992 and fully since 1996, armed groups acting “in the name of Islam” were manipulated and controlled by the DRS;
– the complicity of the “international community” – primarily the political elite in France and a broad swathe of the French media who, whether guided by blindness or self-interest, have uncritically relayed the gross deceptions manufactured by the Algerian administration.

Fifteen years after the coup d’Etat of January 11th 1992, Algeria-Watch, a non-governmental organisation created in 1997 to fight against the human rights violations in Algeria and the government’s propaganda machine, can only draw a disturbing picture from this dark period.

Conditions in Algeria have noticeably changed, albeit superficially. With the constant hammer blows of massacres, disappearances and kidnappings, gruesome torture, and the displacement of populations, the Algerian regime succeeded in breaking civil society, subduing any real possibility of an open and coordinated political opposition. This monopoly of power has allowed the Algerian regime to issue in February 2006 a self-imposed “amnesty” for its own crimes, with the announcement of a phoney national “reconciliation”, primarily aimed at validating the lies of the “dirty war” and prohibiting the victims of state terror access to truth and justice: criminals, “Islamists”, and military torturers, profiting from impunity, can now devote themselves quietly to their lucrative “business interests”.

But behind the “transition” to a “civil” government with its “democratic » façade, managed by a marionette president, intended to dupe an international community indifferent to the suffering of Algerian citizens, the orchestrators of the “Red decade” today still remain the sole masters of Algeria: they are Major General Mohammed “Tewfik” Médiène, the immovable chief of the DRS since September 1990, and his long-serving sidekick, Major General “Smaïn” Lamari. Their iron grip on both the country and its wealth, has allowed them to systematically milk the country for the benefit of their children and their clients.

Under their Mafia-like supervision, any forms of free political expression have been banished, with practically no oppositional political party worthy of the name currently existing: most have been co-opted by the system, the others prohibited, infiltrated or marginalized. So-called “freedom of expression” is meaningless: the audiovisual media, overflowing with state sanctioned political waffle, remains under the strictest supervision of the authorities; and the “independent” newspaper industry is fearful of publishing anything unauthorized under the watchful eye of the shadowy godfathers and the DRS. The freedom of assembly is a far off dream: only government officials and those who are considered malleable by the authorities are allowed to meet. Since 1992, the draconian State of Emergency and “anti-terrorist” legislation, still in use, provides a so-called legal framework to these restrictions despite being unconstitutional. But the smothering of both individual and collective freedoms, is also pursued through other means borrowing from the chilling traditions of the Mafiosi: clientelism, corruption, threats, assassinations…

At an economic level, due to the dramatic rise in oil and gas prices, Algeria passed from a heavily-indebted basket case to the coveted pinup of the American, European, Russian and Chinese multinational suitors, not only for its hydrocarbons, but also for the great investment opportunities of her 70 billion dollars of cash reserves. And because of its “long experiment” in the antiterrorist struggle since 9/11, it has become a willing ally in the US administration’s “Global War on Terror”. Since 2001, Algiers has witnessed the unceasing dance of a succession of political leaders and military chiefs representing all Western powers, led by France and the United States, arriving to woo the Mafia-type power in the hope of securing mouth-watering contracts.

Yet in the meantime, with the exception of oil and gas sectors, the Algerian economy is in a state of advanced decomposition. The near complete failure of its privatization programme of public services, spanning nearly ten years, is a compelling evidence of the regime’s economic incompetence. The increasing despair of a population plunged into a nightmare spiral of misery is in the face of the scandalous enrichment of a small minority through clientelism and corruption (bound inseparably to the organized violence of the Red decade.)

What can one do when a family has only one monthly wage of 15 000 dinars (€150 /£100) whereas a kilogramme of meat costs 500 dinars? When children do not go to school because their parents are unable to afford the transport or necessary equipment? When patients die in hospitals for lack of basic services or medicines, or because more and more doctors are fleeing the country? When the age of marriage is over 30 because of the lack of affordable housing? When three generations are crammed into a decayed apartment of two or three rooms without hope of a better life? When the only dreams which enthuses both young and older citizens are of escape, through drugs, by boat (to Europe), or suicide?

For the last fifteen years, a whole generation of Algerians has only experienced this despair. It explains from the beginning of 2000, the incredible intensification of violent riots in the urban peripheries and rural districts, and has become the only form of protest left to the powerless. In confronting this threat the regime not only restricts itself to violent police and judicial repression. It also deploys terrorist groups like the GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat), clandestinely controlled by the DRS whose blind attacks strike almost predictably the main centres where the social unrest and riots occur (the “terrorist” violence that is also used in gangland killings in the internal power struggles as was the case in December 2006 with the attack against the American firm BRC, nearby Algiers).

Lastly, confronted by a society that disgusts them, the DRS Chiefs are still prepared to operate the “killing machine” they themselves constructed during the 90s. Although working at low capacity, “suspects” still disappear for months in the secret DRS centres where they suffer atrocious forms of torture. And once they reappear, they stagnate in prison waiting for a trial at the whim of the men in the shadows.

In spite of this desperate situation, glimmers of hope still remain. The spirit of resistance has not been extinguished, even if its public forms of protest have been banished to the margins. This speaks volumes for the courage of a people whose last three generations were subjected to continuous state oppression. How otherwise can we understand the strikes called almost daily by workers and civil servants, who refuse to sink deeper into precariousness and misery? How otherwise can we interpret the gatherings of mothers, fathers and wives of the disappeared, who refuse to conceal the truth regarding the fate of their relatives in exchange for hush-money of a few thousands dinars?

Similar experiences in other countries, like Argentina, have demonstrated that through the obstinate courage of the mothers, and then the children of the disappeared, those responsible have finally been “caught up” by the people’s justice three decades after the military junta’s putsch. It is this conviction which fuels the struggle of today’s Algerian resisters, and sustains the solidarity of Algeria-Watch: as time passes so the impunity of the guilty diminishes when confronted with the howls of pain, and the demands for life and respect of dignity. The movement of resistance that today is perceived as anatomized, timid and suicidal, one day will erupt and sweep away the regime, its kleptocracy, its killing machine and its unjust justice.