Algerian Junta Grant Themselves Amnesty

Algerian Junta Grant Themselves Amnesty

Algeria-Watch, March 3, 2006 (Translation from german)

After months of anticipation, on February 28, 2006, it was finally enacted: the law implementing the “Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation.” Three decrees implement some of the Charter’s provisions in detail. The amnesty for those responsible for severe crimes is now law.

Three fundamental aspects of the law include:

1. As contained in the second chapter, members and supporters of armed groups are granted an exemption from punishment, as long as they did not commit collective massacres or rape and did not use explosives in public places. They have to present themselves to authorities within the next six months. Those who have already been prosecuted and who are in prison will be released. Those who committed the aforementioned crimes will have their sentences mitigated if they present themselves to authorities within the designated time period.

2. The question of the disappeared will finally be clarified by recognizing them – as outlined in chapter four – as “victims of the national tragedy.” The disappeared will hold the same status as “victims of terrorism,” and their family members are entitled to compensation. Nevertheless family members must certify the death of their disappeared through a court judgment. The families are not entitled to learn the truth of the fate of their disappeared. And by recognizing them as “victims of the national tragedy,” the law denies government responsibility for the disappearances.

3. The law’s most important new provision is contained in chapter six. Article 45 provides that: “No legal proceedings may be initiated against an individual or a collective entity, belonging to any component whatsoever of the defense and security forces of the Republic, for actions conducted for the purpose of protecting persons and property, safeguarding the nation or preserving the institutions of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria. The competent judicial authorities are to summarily dismiss all accusations or complaints.”

But impunity for the security forces and for those in state-armed militias is not enough; Article 46 further provides for the punishment of those who “weaken the state” either verbally or in writing, “damage the respectability of civil servants, who have served in a dignified manner,” or “tarnish Algeria’s international image.” These offenses are subject to jail sentences of three to five years and fines between 250,000 and 500,000 Dinar.

Impunity for convicted and presumed members of armed groups is nothing new as a similar provision was contained in the Civil Harmony Law of 1999. Several thousand prisoners were released under that law. When the media highlights the release of 2,000 prisoners as an extraordinary measure of reconciliation, it obscures the most important aspect of the new law, namely the blanket amnesty for security forces.

Given the power structures in Algeria, there can be no doubt that the military leadership dictated its own impunity. The adoption of such a law was probably a condition for Bouteflika’s reelection in April 2004. The laws are designed to be a last word on the crimes committed over the past 15 years. Once and for all, the government’s version of the events will become official, namely that Islamist terrorism was responsible for the deaths of 200,000 people. Massacres, murders, rapes, disappearances, systematic torture and displacements were committed exclusively by armed Islamist groups. Given the abundance of witnesses and evidence on the army’s responsibility, and in particular, the military security service, for massive human rights violations, the claims for truth and justice should be prosecuted.

The amnesty laws violate international law that is binding on Algeria since it became a signatory to the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” in 1989. In particular, Article 2(3) provides that:

“Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes:

(a) To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity;

(b) To ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy;

(c) To ensure that the competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted.

The Algerian Constitution makes clear in Article 132, that “those treaties ratified by the President of the Republic supercede national law.” As a result, an amnesty not only violates international law, but is also unconstitutional. The developments in Argentina have confirmed the illegality of such amnesty laws, since Argentina’s amnesty law had to be repealed 20 years after its adoption.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, and the onset of the international war against terrorism provided cover to the Algerian junta and they can get away with granting themselves amnesty. But reconciliation cannot be based on lies, the current law and state repression. The demand of hundreds of thousands of mothers, children, and siblings for the truth as to the deaths and disappearances of their relatives and their wish to hold those responsible accountable continue to be the most important prerequisites for genuine and prolonged peace in the country.