Algeria: 200,000 Dead and 500 000 Arrests Later…

Algeria: 200,000 Dead and 500 000 Arrests Later…

Algeria-Watch, April 2005, Translation from german

One year after the re-election of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, many commentators have sought to present a balance of the casualties. This has often been difficult, since though the level (extent) of violence has been decreasing, the living conditions among the Algerian population have deteriorated noticeably: an increase in the of state enterprises, a reduction in employment, an erosion in subsidies, an inflation of the prices of basic commodities, an extreme need for housing and deficient health care continue to shape the daily life of millions of people. Strikes, work stoppages and riots take place on a daily basis, which do not bring about any change and are continually suppressed with increasingly brutal methods. The young protesters are usually given sentences of several months in prison (See the aforementioned examples in the Observatory of Human Rights), which are not proportional to the size of the protest. The current regime has been successful in eliminating any organized opposition: the political parties have to conform to the dictates of the “government machine” or they are marginalized; the unions are increasingly silenced and often are not officially recognized; journalists are increasingly browbeaten with the threat of criminal charges and prison sentences and in the meantime have succumbed to self-censorship; human rights activists are thrown into prison, their gatherings are prohibited when they do not toe the line; and the judiciary continues to be a repressive instrument that enforces the will of those in power.

Promises result in a fait accompli

After the crushing of the representative opposition, Bouteflika inspired hope in peace and reconciliation. He appeared to want to meet the needs of all groups within Algerian society and presented him as an adversary to the generals.

But soon it became clear that hardly anyone can represent their own interests better than Bouteflika: In 1999, did he not designate the number of those killed at 100,000 and those disappeared at 10,000 and insinuate in ambiguous terms that the military leadership had to be held responsible for the tragedy only then to clear the latter of all allegations? Did he not offer the “lost” sons of Algeria, the armed Islamists, the opportunity for immunity or a reduction in punishment, while at the same time forbidding former FIS followers from participating in any political activity? Did he not promise that the land belongs to Algerians and that it would not be sold off to outside interests, while at the same time establishing the legal grounds for making the most important resource, crude oil, available to foreign corporations? (See Bernhard Schmid: Algeria, the selling off has begun). Did he not promise an overhaul of the judiciary, an adherence to human rights, guaranteeing freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, while at the same time allowing for the persecution of every critical voice? Did he not cause the dismissal of the “intolerable” commander-in-chief Mohamed Lamari, in order to appoint one of the most well-known rebels, Abdelmalek Guenaïzia, to the position of deputy to the Minister of Defence, a position that he had reserved for himself? Did he not propose reconciliation through a general amnesty, while at the same time legalizing impunity?

The Deal

The regime is enjoying growing recognition on the world stage. France and the United States are competing for supremacy over a country whose geopolitical significance continues to grow. Algeria is not only arousing interest because of its crude oil and natural gas, but also because it offers an important economic market, is bound up in US and NATO military plans, is intended to serve as a buffer to migration into Europe and to become an important member of the French-speaking world (See “Investigation into the unique Ben Laden of the Sahara). These interests account for the benevolent approach towards a regime, which continues to declare a state of emergency and to engage in severe human rights violations. As long as the Algerian government conforms to the dictates of the superpowers, which encroach deeply upon the sovereignty of the state, the official Algerian version of events since the coup of January 1992 will be accepted. Crimes will be attributed exclusively to the Islamists, who will be designated solely as terrorists.

Since the disavowal of history is met with little resistance on the Algerian side, some “truths” can be made public: while during the 1990s, no or entirely false victim counts were cited – the only victim count that was officially cited during the 1990s was approximately 26,000 dead, while NGOs and journalists were already estimating over 100,000 dead -, today dizzying figures are being disclosed: Farouk Ksentini, the chairperson of the official human rights organization, first stated that 300,000 – 500,000 people had been taken into custody by security forces in the fight against terrorism (See the explanation from Algeria-Watch: the army and intelligence leadership are responsible and culpable). And Bouteflika spoke of no more than 200,000 dead, a figure that independent human rights organizations hardly ventured to mention. But no one asks who killed these people. If the families of the disappeared did not continue to fight for the acknowledgement of state responsibility for the kidnappings and for the disappearances of their family members, their family members would also be counted as victims of terrorism. Government representatives attempt to downplay these crimes committed by the state and to attribute the crimes to individual security forces. There is no more talk of the massacres, the extrajudicial killings and the systemic torture ordered by the military leadership. Rather the whole population is drawn into a disavowal of the crimes: peace and reconciliation are exchanged for impunity. The unspoken deal is as follows: on the one hand, the crimes of armed groups and the support of “terrorism” are not mentioned; on the other hand, the military and auxiliary forces should not be prosecuted. What is understood under the “Support of Terrorism” is made clear in the Algerian Anti-Terror Law. Bouteflika insinuated that an acceptance of the FIS as a political party, possibly under another name, is out of the question. The price for not being persecuted is the abandonment of any political activity and of support for former members of the FIS.

Reconciliation cannot come out of fear

The massive repression and terror that was carried out by armed squads, military entities and militias, lead to the depopulation of numerous villages and quarter that were suspected of supporting terrorism. It is now officially stated that the families that fled have returned to their villages, though no one can verify this. The fear of persecution will not recede, as long as the militias still exist and the army continues to conduct security operations. Massacres continue to take place in regions that have been declared peaceful (at the beginning of April, a massacre took place at a fake roadblock in Larbaa, approximately 50 kilometres from Algiers, in which 20 people were killed). Thousands of suspects have been sitting in custody for years. Hundreds of thousands are being monitored by repressive forces because they were taken into custody in the past, they are known as former FIS members, they have returned from abroad or were deported, etc… In such an atmosphere of fear and mistrust of a regime, in which the military continues to hold power, a demand for truth and justice can hardly be raised. As long as the three most important military officials are not removed from their positions, and accordingly, their functions, there can be no talk of a true regime change. These three men are Major General Larbi Belkheir, Advisor to the President, Major General Mohamed Medienne, head of military intelligence, and Major General Smain Lamari, head of the counter intelligence corps. Under the given circumstances, a reconciliation can only be realized if implemented from the top, regardless of whether it is legitimated through a referendum or not. As a result, international organizations also warn against a general amnesty, since this would only legalize impunity for crimes against humanity. (See: Amnesty law risks legalizing impunity for crimes against humanity).