Algeria-Watch: Extrajudicial Killings
Algeria-Watch, April 1999, Translation from german
The repression in Algeria is characterized by three elements that are often very closely connected with each other: the disappeared, torture and extrajudicial killings. People are arrested and kidnapped. They “disappear” and are turned over to security forces. In such a situation, torture is applied systemically and this leads to fatalities, and accordingly, the “disappeared” are executed. Furthermore, security forces or paramilitary groups conduct collective punishment missions that result in the deaths of many “suspects.” Since the Algerian State does not initiate any serious investigations into these matters, it remains the duty of the families and their attorneys to make inquiries and prove the liability of the security forces.
The term ‘extrajudicial killing’ signifies a type of killing that takes place outside of the legal framework (for example, the enforcement of the death penalty does not constitute an extrajudicial killing) and is conducted by state authorities or by non-state authorities with the endorsement or knowledge of the State.
In Algeria, political murders are conducted continually at the hands of the Algerian secret service (for example, Krim Belkacem under the authority of Boumedienne and Ali Mecili under Chadli Bendjedid). During the demonstrations in Kabylie in 1980, in Constantine in 1986 and most notably, during the insurrections throughout the entire country in October 1988, demonstrators were shot dead by security forces. Furthermore, it was often reported that on these occasions, men in civilian cars without license plates targeted and shot the demonstrators. Investigations were never initiated in order to clarify the circumstances of these murders.
The phenomenon of extrajudicial killings assumed alarming roportions after the disruption of the election in January 1992 and most notably, from the years 1993-1996. Under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, thousands of people were murdered by security forces dressed in uniform or in civilian clothing, by militias and by death squads. Exact figures are not known and no investigations have been initiated to clarify the circumstances of these fatalities. Even the case of the massacre of Serkadji in January 1995, was never seriously investigated by the government. On the contrary, the evidence was destroyed and the corpses were buried secretly.
The families of those murdered by security forces, if they are even notified of their relatives’ deaths, are surprised that their relatives are presented as “terrorists” by the media or by the authorities or that it is alleged that they were killed by “terrorists.” Often families have to subscribe to the official version of events in order to have the corpses of their relatives handed over to them. But usually it is maintained that the victims were killed on the run or during military confrontations. Furthermore, the fear exists that a large number of people, who are considered to have disappeared, were murdered or died under conditions of torture. Testimonials of such cases exist but according to officials, such people are not declared to be dead, nor are their bodies handed over to their families. Often they are buried in anonymous graves with the identifier “X-Algérien. » A policeman whose brother “disappeared” told Amnesty International that many people were killed after their arrests. This fear is confirmed implicitly through the statements of the Algerian Interior Minister, when he contended that the “majority of the so-called disappeared were killed in confrontations with security forces.” (1)
The topic of extrajudicial killings is still taboo in Algeria today. In contrast to the drama of the “disappeared,” which has received a certain amount of national and international attention in the last few months, the families of those murdered by security forces are on their own and isolated. Many relatives appeal to the ONDH (Observatoire National des Droits de l’Homme), which however, – like in the case of the « disappeared » – performs the function of covering up, and accordingly, disavowing the attacks. In its annual report of 1996, ONDH mentioned that it only received 25 complaints. The fatalities are presented by security forces as the result of crossfire during armed confrontations between security forces and terrorists or as a result of the victim, for example, not stopping at a roadblock or for the improper use of a weapon. (2) In the aforementioned report, ONDH conceded that militias were responsible for killings, but there was no mention of the responsibility of the security forces. The only case that was mentioned in the report was denied by the institution (see the case of Rachid Medjahed). Neither the magnitude of the phenomenon of the extrajudicial killing, nor its standing as an execution, a campaign of revenge or a deterrent is discussed in the ONDH reports.
In dealing with extrajudicial killings, it is necessary to differentiate between the different types of attacks, as well as to describe the motive of the perpetrators with regard to their acts. Here we will present documentation based on our existing cases, which however because of the current state of the information cannot replace a systematic investigation nor an analysis of this form of repression in Algeria.
Those Responsible for the Extrajudicial Killings
Those responsible for extrajudicial killings are all security forces: the police, constabulary, army, special forces, paratroopers, communal guards, but also militias that wear either civilian clothing or uniforms. Individual executions have been reported, as well as collective murders, in which subsequently the corpses are left laying on site or immediately disappear. Houses are stormed and all of the residents are murdered. In these cases, the presumption is that the actions are deliberate, that maybe even an order was given to handle the situation accordingly.
Hundreds of suspects are executed at the police commissariats. A former policewoman, who worked in one of the most famous torture centers, reported that every night at 23:00, people were executed there, “People that had not done anything. They were denounced by people who had something against them. The people would simply say: ‘He is a terrorist.’ And the man would be executed.” (3)
Attacks by militias (communal guards and self-defense committees) are increasingly being reported, in which suspects are killed under the pretense of the fight against terrorism. (4) Extrajudicial killings here too must be spoken of since the militias are under the control of the State and are armed by the State. Members of the communal guards were supposedly arrested in March 1997 because they slit the throats of 17 women and one child in the region of Boufarik. (5) Amnesty reported that a militia openly admitted to representatives of the organization that they do not capture “terrorists” but instead kill them. One stated: “They can kill me, but if they kill one of my relatives, I will kill their whole family.” (6)
Moreover, eyewitnesses report of unknown groups that kill people in the name of Islam but should instead be designated as death squads.
Residents of the city of Berrouaghia reported in June 1994 that members of the security forces carried out subversive operations in March 1994, in which they, e.g., in the name of an armed Islamic movement imposed a curfew of 21:00 in order to conduct subsequently unchallenged security sweeps. They then carried off dozens of men who were murdered a few days later and found mutilated in various locations throughout the city. This occurred in multiple cities. (7)
Armed Islamic groups are to be held responsible for a series of individual and collective murders. But these crimes are not described as extrajudicial killings, unless the groups are associated with the State. In the case of the GIA (Groupes Islamiques Armés), which has been held responsible for numerous murders, attacks and massacres, it must be more thoroughly investigated whether the members of these groups are supported by the secret service and whether as a result, their acts can be imputed to the State.
In the cases of numerous extrajudicial killings, the families first learn that their relatives were „terrorists“ and that they were killed in armed confrontations with security forces through the media.
The severely physically disabled Ahmed Allache, who can only inch along on two crutches, was shot dead with two other young men at the garbage dump of Oued Smar on May 4, 1993 by the gendarmes of the brigade of Baraki (Algiers) after being held in secret detention in the constabulary of Bab Ezzouar for two months. All three were presented in the press as “terrorists” who had barricaded themselves in that location and were killed in a gun battle with the gendarmes. (8)
It is not rare that officially, those executed by the security forces were murdered by « terrorists. »
A policeman shot dead Mourad Saadadou, a 16-year-old student, in front of many eyewitnesses on April 26, 1994. The policeman had chased him through Meftah. The next day the papers reported that he had been the victim of a terrorist attack.
Victims of Extrajudicial Killings
Persecution By Opponents of the FIS
In the beginning, the repression that has spread throughout the entire country since 1992 affected most notably, the Islamic movement. In the initial one to two years, the persecution targeted the inner circle of the FIS: the communal administrative positions, which had been occupied by FIS representatives since the 1990 election, and all organizations and associations closely connected to the FIS were disbanded and many of their members were persecuted systemically. The leadership of the FIS, which the members and sympathizers of the party still held together, was being shut down, and the proponents of armed conflict increasingly gained in importance and in approval, most notably, among young men. The State moreover deployed a special unit as of April 1993, consisting of 15,000 men trained to fight the insurgency. This unit was called “Ninja” by the general population and it used immense force. The GIA (Groupe islamique armé, which was later mistaken for the plural since many groups operated under this mnemonic) appeared in the „majority Islamist neighborhoods“ and attracted increasingly more young men, who were exposed to systematic attacks by special forces. Consequently, the political conflict shifted to a military level.
After the disruption of the election in 1992 and the ban of the FIS, the party cadre, party members and many sympathizers were persecuted. The security forces were in possession of lists of members, since they had stormed the party quarters and shut them down. Approximately 30,000 people passed though the concentration camps in the south, some for a few weeks, others for many years, without ever being brought to trial. The men were often persecuted anew once released from the camps: some disappeared, like the journalist Djamaleddine Fahassi, who in 1992 was detained for six weeks in a camp and was kidnapped three years later. His fate has never been known. From others it is known that some were killed, like Athmane H., who in 1992 spent nine months in the camp of Ain-Salah. On October 1993, he was against arrested, and the next morning, his bullet-ridden corpse lay on the street. (9).
Many suspects were acquitted in a court after several months of detention. Nevertheless, they were later kidnapped or killed by security forces. It appears that some security forces perceive themselves as simultaneous judge and executioner since they execute those acquitted after their release from detention.
On November 6, 1993, police forces approached Ouled Moussa (Boumerdes) with seven trucks and four jeeps and arrested two brothers, Tahar and Menouar Rebai. The police executed them on the village square. Both had spent one year in prison in El-Harrach before they were acquitted in court. (10)
After the State decided on the option of „total war,“ after 1993 and most notably, in the following years, State repression took on a new dimension. It became arbitrary, and in the so-called “hot quarters,” residents experienced increasingly collective punishment measures. The population needed to be punished because it was not well disposed to the State and tended to support the Islamic movement. Army and special forces conducted security sweeps during curfew hours, wrenched dozens of men from their sleep and shot them dead on the street.
On April 4, 1994, during a security sweep by the army and the police in Larba, Tewfik Ziani (21 years), Rabah Bellal (25), Nourreddine El Ouafi, Mohamed Berkane (23), Mohamed Yahia (24), Sidali Othmane (16), Abdelkader Zerfat and Mohamed Bakir (26) were abducted from their apartments. They were tortured in a bestial manner and executed. The corpses were thrown in the ditch on the outskirts of the city. After a few days, their bodies were handed over to their families, and they were told that their sons were killed as terrorists in an armed confrontation with security forces. (11)
The population in some neighborhoods and regions experience increasing harassment: on the one hand, the armed groups exert tremendous pressure on the population in that they, e.g., enforce a particular code of conduct, extort traders and murder actual or presumed civil servants. On the other hand, the military punishes anyone accused of providing support to these groups. Punishment is carried out through means of arrest, torture, bombing of homes or execution.
Conflicts took place with gendarmes and the military, which had discovered some terrorists. The terrorists had barricaded themselves in a house in a village. The army attacked and bombed the whole village with helicopters and rockets. They destroyed many homes, including mine, and killed more than 50 people. I was not there on that particular day and as I came home with my children, I was prevented from entering the village by a military roadblock. (Malika, 6 children, Lahghia near Lakhdaria, east of Algiers). (12)
It is very difficult for many to withdraw from the pressure of both sides and the only possibility to escape the danger may be to leave one’s home. Many cannot do this and have to align themselves with one side or the other in the hope of finding protection.
I do not like having to leave my job, but now it is impossible to work. One evening, three people approached me and introduced themselves as Mudjahidin (Fighters). One of them was injured and they wanted me to treat him. But when the army saw the men in front of my house, they blew my house up, killed me and threw my family out like dogs. I had nothing to do with their war. I am neither on the one side nor the other side. That is why I left. Because this war has nothing to do with me. (Pharmacist, Father, 40 years old). (13)
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the security forces increasingly shifted to carrying out undercover operations. In 1994-1996, numerous attacks and murders took place that targeted all population groups: whether men or women, boys or the elderly, police or Imams, the choice of victim was unfathomable and the perpetrators of the murders did not reveal their identities. However, the clues have amassed such that they point to secret service operations. Many spectacular murders, e.g., some journalists or political personalities, were attributed to the Islamists. But it cannot be ruled out that for reasons of political power, some disagreeable persons within the regime were disposed of. UNESCO wrote in their most recent report to the media: “The Algerian authorities have not arrested a single murderer that killed 57 journalists between 1993 and 1996. In addition, they have not proven the guilt of any of the perpetrators in court. The conclusions of the investigation were never made public. The only proceedings as to the murders of the journalists, that the public was granted, took place in the absence of the suspects.” (14)
We have seen not only that individual murders were likely conducted by agents of the secret service, but also that death squads or paramilitary units carried out operations that constitute collective executions, such as the aforementioned massacre at Berrouaghia demonstrates. The method of State terror has the definitive goal of discrediting the Islamists among the general population. (15) In the following example, it was claimed officially that the act was perpetrated by “terrorists;” residents of the neighborhoods are however certain that the military is responsible for the bloodbath.
„The street was full of corpses, (…) it was a horrible sight, only young men were on the ground, in puddles of blood, they were like dogs, dead, on the street. They were killed because they had been drafted, they were stationed in the barracks in the southern part of the country and they wanted to go home because of a festival, not in order to desert the army, as the army alleged. They asked for permission, which was denied, because they came from this area. The same evening, the army came and killed them.” (16)
Residents from neighborhoods that are under the influence of the armed groups report that although the security forces received intelligence information, they did not find the sought-after leader during the security sweeps because he had already been informed of the upcoming sweeps by officials. This complicity with armed groups assumed many different forms: e.g., in Bab El-Oued (the central part of Algiers), an armed group established its quarters under the central commissioner’s office throughout the year of 1993. Members of the group had an understanding with the police that they would only conduct their activities in other neighborhoods! (17)
The Privatization of Violence
As of 1994, it became increasingly apparent that the „fight against terrorism“ had to use additional measures in order to defeat the armed opposition. While the army is primarily charged with the protection of crude oil and natural gas regions, the other security forces, despite the establishment of a special forces unit, are overextended in terms of their responsibilities. The demands of some politicians to arm civilians were granted in 1994. The population were organized into militias and thereby drawn more directly in the war. (18)
In order to militarize civilians, who are often extremely unwilling to handle weapons, attacks by Islamists were simulated. In the meantime, many reports have described the methods employed in some villages to force residents to participate actively in the “fight against terrorism.”
A member of the special forces – James – who fled reported the following to The Observer:
James explained that the generals have their own way of conducting an operation, described by the British in Malaysia and the Americans in Vietnam as a „program of strategic villages.“ He said: “My uncle lived in the region of Jijel, which is heavily forested, and had offered protection to the terrorists in the past. The army, under an order of the local commander, General Boughaba, came into his village and said that everyone should take a weapon and protect themselves against the terrorists. The problem was that when they did this, they aligned themselves with the regime, which they did not want to do, thereby possibly becoming a target for the terrorists.”
„My uncle said that he would think about it, but he ultimately refused the order. For two weeks, the village was sealed off from the rest of the area by the army. No food or vehicles were allowed to enter and documents were confiscated. The pressure continued. The army urged the people to make a decision. My uncle and others attempted to resist the pressure.
“Then one night, 14 people were massacred. The next morning, everyone made a decision. Either they took the weapons or they fled to the city. My uncle fled to the city.” Who murdered the 14 people? “The army. They did it to scare the people and pull them over to their side. Now General Boughaba has been transferred to Algiers in order to do the same work.” (19)
The crimes committed by militias were disclosed in April 1998. For a short time period, the population was able to break through the censorship and the Algerian media could report on the crimes of two mayors, who were contemporaneous representatives of the “Presidential Party” in the region of Relizane. They spearheaded militias that terrorized the residents, organized manhunts for Islamists and murdered dozens of people. Two mass graves were made public, in which people had been buried alive. The heads of the militias are still free and were not suspended from their duties. They merely received a pending proceeding, which is still pending. (20)
Methods and Motives of Extrajudicial Killings
As we have already mentioned, numerous extrajudicial killings have the features of executions. It is highly probable that the majority of people who were suspected of belonging to armed groups were executed. During armed confrontations between armed groups and security forces, no one was taken prisoner and even suspects were often not taken into custody. An employee of the Algerian state confirmed to FIDH that the 18,000 “captured terrorists” (of 30,000 imprisoned) belonged to the “second or third periphery of terrorism.” (21). Even some people who surrendered themselves and fall under the protection of the Rahma law were eliminated by security forces. In addition, at the end of 1993, the Algerian State wanted to present itself as a model in terms of human rights and eradicated the death penalty. Since then “death row candidates” are executed extrajudicially.
Individual Executions by the Opposition
Individual executions take place, e.g., of FIS representatives, or as we already mentioned, of suspects that were acquitted in the name of justice. Such cases involve particular persons, who are targeted and executed solely for their political leanings.
Fouad Bouchelaghem, a Physics lecturer at the University of Blida, was abducted from his home during the night of June 3, 1994, by members of the security forces. He “disappeared” and was last seen in bad shape on July 20, 1994, as he was brought out of the torture center at Chateauneuf. His family continued looking for him and on September 8, they found a report at the morgue, which stated that his corpse had been delivered on July 21 and that he had been buried on August 15. The Algerian authorities claimed that the victim lost his life during an attempt to flee. However, a series of police reports exist that contradict themselves as to the dates and the circumstances of his death. The question presents itself whether Fouad Bouchelaghem was not instead executed. (22)
The following example is not only significant because it involves an extrajudicial execution, but also because it demonstrates the cold-bloodedness and the cynicism that pervade the public agencies and the Algerian media: in connection with the January 28, 1997, murder of the leader of the Algerian union UGTA, Abdelhak Benhamouda, an apartment was stormed on February 12 and eight people were killed, including two women and two children. In the media it was reported that a „terrorist group“ had been killed, which had been responsible for the planning and execution of the murder of the union leader.
Rachid Medjahed, a former district council and member of the FIS, who had already served a three-year prison sentence, was arrested on February 15, 1997, with his wife and held in secret detention. On February 23, 1997, he appeared on Algerian television and confessed to being responsible for the planning and execution of the murder of the union leader. His wife notified his attorney, who determined that in the police report of February 26 that confirmed the arrest of Mrs. Medjahed, the death of her husband, Rachid, is also noted. The parents lodged a complaint on April 2 and the next day, they received a summons from the gendarmerie. The father went to the hospital where he identified the corpse of his son. The corpse contained gunshot wounds to his thighs, abdomen, back and throat. No official explanation was provided except that Rachid Medjahed suffered gunshot wounds during his detention. Fellow prisoners reported that he was not injured during his detention. They believed that he was executed extrajudicially. (23)
Collective Executions as Retaliatory or Deterrent Measures
Collective executions took place on a daily basis in 1994-1996. Arbitrary executions occurred, e.g., during security sweeps, as described above in the case of Berrouaghia. This case apparently involved a planned undercover operation designed to attribute blame for the mass murders to the Islamist movement. In other cases, security forces (often in collaboration with police, gendarmerie and army forces) act very openly, appearing in large numbers with military vehicles and heavily armed, and storm apartments and houses. Many eyewitnesses describe shootings during the curfew period and overnight public displays of corpses in order to make an example of the victims. Families often are forbidden from recovering the bodies of their relatives and burying them.
On the night of June 3, 1994, during the curfew, army units closed in on the neighborhood of Cherarba (Algiers), searched apartments and took young men into custody. It was approximately 50 people. Shortly thereafter, residents heard gunshots. The next morning, 41 corpses lay along the streets of Cherarba: nine were identified at the morgue and the others were registered under « X-algérien. » (24)
The following example demonstrates the brutality that security forces use against a population that is suspected of providing protection to armed fighters. The methods employed resemble those of the French colonial army, which would punish the entire population for an operation undertaken by the liberation army. The massacres of the 1990s, as well as the bombings of villages, the use of Napalm and the burning of forests still need to be investigated in order to determine the extent of destruction.
The massacre of Bougara took place on April 21, 1997. A few days prior, 14 paratroopers were killed in an ambush by Islamist fighters in the region of Bougara. The next day, several hours before the massacre, unknown civilians appeared in the village and cordoned off the town. Security forces that were stationed in the region withdrew to their barracks. The massacre began with loud explosions of explosive devices in order to force open the barricaded doors of the houses. A paratrooper unit proceeded to slit the throats of the residents, regardless of whether they were women, children or elderly people. The soldiers stationed a few hundred meters away could hear the lamentations and the screams of the victims, but no one intervened. The commander of the sector had issued an order not to get involved. The exact number of victims is not known. At least 135 corpses were recovered and buried, though some people are still missing. (25)
Extrajudicial Enforcement of the Death Penalty
A further motive for the collective executions arises from the intention to eliminate prisoners and most notably, those sentenced to death. As already mentioned, at the end of 1993, the Algerian government officially abolished executions under the death penalty. Nevertheless, many sentenced to death were eliminated by other means. The most notorious example is the massacre of Serkadji from February 21-23, 1995, in which, according to officials, as a result of an insurrection and a jailbreak attempt, 109 people (including four prison guards) lost their lives. In comparison with other massacres that took place in prisons, this incident was relatively well documented despite efforts by the State and the Observatory for Human Rights to dispose of the evidence and the witnesses. We will summarize this incident, since various reports have publicized the event. (26)
In the weeks before the massacre, unusual transfers of prisoners to Serkadji took place, which was all the more unusual because of those transferred, many had been sentenced to death. The prison in Serkadji was not allowed to accommodate a group of death row inmates or at the most, only for eight days. The majority of the transferred men were killed during the massacre (approximately 40 men). Inside the prison, transfers also took place. During the night of February 21, masked and armed men forced the death row inmates, along with 1,000 other prisoners, from their cells into the courtyard. The masked men soon disappeared. During the incident, the prisoners had opened the cell of Abdelkader Hachani (the last leader of the FIS prior to its ban), who formed a crisis group with six other prisoners and negotiated with the prison leadership. In the meantime, five dead had been tallied, four prison guards and one prisoner, whereby it is still unclear how the prison guards were killed. The negotiations were difficult and did not rule out the possibility of an attack on the prisoners. The crisis group therefore decided that the prisoners should return to their cells, though the prison leadership was informed of the decision only after a large portion of the prisoners were already back in their cells. Then the military attacks began. The participants in the crisis group were separated from the others and held in isolation for three days while the others were massacred. During the first phase, targeted persons were murdered. Then a several hour shoot-out followed in which approximately 15 men were killed and dozens were injured.
ubsequently, the military executed the men in particular halls. In the last phase, a roll call took place and the men called forth were taken off to the side and executed. The survivors were forced into the courtyard, where they were tortured for a day and a night. The dead were buried in secret and the families were often not informed of the gravesite until a few days later. The survivors were placed under heavy pressure and some were forced to present the official version of the bloodbath. The crime did not take place unnoticed since the prison sits in the middle of a residential area and the residents were alarmed by the gunshots and the screams. The exact number of the victims is still not known today.
Other massacres in prisons had taken place, among them the massacre in Berrouaghia in November 1994, in which an unknown number of prisoners (some speak of 400) were massacred. Still today, almost nothing is known of the incident. One prisoner, B.A., who served his sentence in the prison of Berrouaghia, reported on the incident after his release from prison in the beginning of 1998. A small group of prisoners were detected during a failed flight attempt and as a result, all of the inmates were supposed to be punished.
On November 13, 1994, an attempt to flee was foiled. The prison leadership ordered the prisoners from the two-story building with 85 cells and from Quartier Nr. 10 (isolation cells for those sentenced to death) outside. Retaliatory measures were feared and a group of prisoners were designated as mediators between the head of the gendarmerie from Medea, the prefects from Medea, the state prosecutor and the prisoners. They demanded guarantees that nothing would happen to them. The state prosecutor was willing to provide the guarantee, but the head of the gendarmerie refused to make such a promise. Elite troops were already in position but the matter was postponed to the next day. The shoot-out began the morning of November 14. Grenades were thrown into cells, gasoline was poured and fires were set. Those that did not die and were able to crawl out were shot. The state prosecutor sought to stop the massacre, but the head of the gendarmerie was determined to proceed with it. They drove away the next day, after having a prisoner blast a hold in the wall of Hall A and throwing more grenades and setting more fires. Dozens died. Those that could flee were stripped of their clothes and beaten. After the massacre, approximately 500 prisoners spent two months in one Hall that was intended for 180 people, without water to bathe, without shoes, in underwear or in prison uniforms.” (27)
The elimination of „uncomfortable“ people was carried out in another way, namely, through “negligence,” as the following report documents. This crime was covered up and first made public by the Algerian media, as disagreements between various factions of the military leadership lead to its unveiling. To date, no investigation into the circumstances of the fatalities has been initiated. The report was written by a prisoner while we present our summary of it here.
On June 24, 1997, 66 prisoners were summoned from the prison of Tizi-Ouzou to be transferred to another prison. The prisoners did not know where they were being lead or why. Most striking was that the majority of the prisoners had almost finished serving their sentences
In the early morning, they were placed in two container trucks and handcuffed to each other. After a 2½-hour drive, they reached the prison of El-Harrach (Algiers). There they spent the rest of the day in a hall, and the next day, the odyssey continued along with more prisoners from this prison, who were horded in a bus. The trip began at 8:00 in the morning and the convoy stopped after two or three hours. They learned through a conversation taking place outside that the bus had a flat tire. The temperature began to rise in the trucks and the first prisoners began to have difficulty breathing.
hey began to beat against the walls, but were only reprimanded in response. Finally, the trip continued and the plenty of air was again available. The convoy stopped again before Chlef, this time for hours. The heat became increasingly unbearable and some prisoners lost consciousness. The prison guards and the gendarmerie laughed and reprimanded them as those in the truck struggled for air and pleaded with the guards. After a while, no one had the strength to scream. The trip finally continued and shortly thereafter, they reached the prison. The doors were opened and the prisoners finally were allowed to exit the truck. Some were unconscious, others had injured their wrists. They were welcomed with reprimands and beatings. The second truck was still closed, the prison guards being unable to open the doors. As they finally opened the doors, no one left the truck. The director ordered buckets of water to be brought and thrown into the truck. By and by the corpses were removed from the truck with 27 of the 33 occupants being dead…Two months later, the prisoners learned of the fate of those that survived. They revealed that every air opening in the LKW had been sealed and that the prison guards had refused to open the doors. So that they would not be able to communicate with others, the survivors were kept in isolation for two months. The dead were buried in the cemetery in Mostaganem. (28)
Killings While In Custody Through Torture or Executions
Many who were arrested or taken into custody die as a result of torture or are executed. Often those targeted belong to the spectrum of Islamists, though there are numerous witness testimonials that the victims cannot be traced to any political activity. The reasons for the arrests vary: a blind act of revenge, denunciation, personal motives of the security forces, but most notably, punishment is doled out under the protection of impunity.
Kamel Nachef, a father of three children, who lived in the Rue Babilas in Tizi Ouzou, was arrested on February 2, 1998 at 3:00am in front of his pregnant wife. He was taken to the commissariat in Tizi Ouzou where he was placed in Garde-à-vue custody, along with his brother Saïd and 50 other people, who had been arrested on the same day and had lived in Cité Le Cadi, Cité Mokkadem, Cité des 2000 housing, Aïn Hallaïf. On February 8, four policemen visited his other brother, Rabah Nachef, and brought him to the commissariat without an explanation. At the commissariat, a police officer, Hasane Bissai, informed him of the death of his brother, Kamel, after showing him a cell in which there were streaks of blood on the floor, gunshot holes in the walls and in which electrical wires, clubs and roof beams were laying around on the ground. At the morgue, Rabah Nachef proceeded to identify his brother’s corpse, which had streaks of bloods and two bullet wounds, one at the top of his right shoulder and the other on the left side of the abdomen. The family lodged a complaint and two Algerian political parties publicized memoranda on the matter. The killing was not on account of any political activity. (29)
Security forces apparently exercise revenge on individuals while in secret detention and torture them. This often results in fatalities. It is not unusual for relatives not to be informed of the death of the victim or for the death to be presented in the context of armed confrontations. Sometimes the family does not receive the body at all or receives it in a sealed casket that cannot be opened or is informed that the body will first be handed over when they concede and sign for the fact that the victim was a “terrorist.” The Algerian newspapers often adopt the official version of the event and are not willing to print the explanations from the families. This is significant, because as a result of the libel, the whole family is labeled as “terrorist,” which means that the family is not entitled to compensation in contrast to families who are recognized as victims of terrorism.
In October 1997, an armed group set fire to a factory in Sidi Bel Abbès. A group of “Ninjas” from the city of Sig (Wilaya of Oran) then stormed the village of Telgah, where they attacked dozens of families with extraordinary brutality. They took 59 people into custody, whom they carried off to the basement of the local government office. Eight people were allegedly killed during the interrogations: Hadj Guendouz, Djilali Sissani, Youcef Sayah, Yahia Akkal, Mustapha Mokran, Bendjemaa Oueld Mohamed and Ferhat Djilali. A witness told the FIDH that the bodies were hidden in garbage bags and deposited at the hospital. From there, local authorities ordered them buried in a mass grave in the Telagh cemetery. Some of the survivors were taken into custody on October 22, 1997, in Hall 19 of the Sidi Bel Abbès prison. (30)
An investigation was not conducted, nor were the members of the special unit punished.
The Massacres and the Question: „Who Is Doing the Killing?“
Massacres have taken place since the beginning of the war. However, the years of 1997 and 1998 are characterized by massacres, resulting in several hundred deaths, and most notably, by the outrage that the deaths triggered abroad, placing the Algerian government in an uncomfortable situation. We mentioned a few massacres above, in which it is known or assumed that security forces or paramilitary units were responsible for them. The massacre in Rais at the end of August 1997 with approximately 400 victims, in Bentalha during the night of September 23, 1997, with approximately 200 victims, and the one in the province of Relizane on December 31, 1997, with approximately 400 victims, just to name some of the biggest and most spectacular, have raised a multitude of questions. These questions were officially taboo, and the media, selected “victims” and most notably, Algerian and French intellectuals and politicians coordinated themselves in order to promote the official version. Thanks to the courage and desperation of the survivors however, more information as to the incidents is available. What they survived is horrific and illuminates the State’s responsibility for their suffering. Nevertheless, many questions continue to exist as to the circumstances of the crime that justify the need for an investigation.
We rely on the eyewitness testimonies and the research of a few journalists to reconstruct the various phases of the massacre. A lot of evidence points to the fact that the massacre was carried out with the knowledge, the complicity and possibility, the participation of state officials. It is certain that security forces were at the location of the incident and did not attempt to prevent the massacre. Here we would like to emphasize a few points that pertain most notably to the massacres in the suburbs of Algiers (Bentalha, Rais, Sidi Moussa, etc.). (31)
- The massacres took place in an urban area, which was neither remote nor inaccessible.
- People, who had pled for months for weapons for self-protection because massacres were being carried out in neighboring towns, did not receive them. This raises the question of when the civilians were armed by the State.
- The militias and communal guards were withdrawn on the evening of the massacre.
- The victims were not allowed to leave the neighborhood during the massacre.
- The military was present, was able to observe everything and did not intervene; the police, communal guards and militias from other neighborhoods were prevented from intervening.
- Tanks and ambulances were stationed at the site of the massacre, a helicopter circled above the neighborhood during the bloodbath.
- For many survivors, the attackers were not Islamists. They reported that the attackers were confident that they could act without interruption and unhurriedly.
- The attackers massacred the victims for over five hours and withdrew after having performed their “work,” without ever being prosecuted. State officials at times announce that terrorists who participated in the massacres were killed. But not a single attacker was taken into custody and brought before a court.
- Apparently, the neighborhood was made impassable by the mines that the “terrorists” had laid. Moreover, residents wonder about the lack of intervention on the part of the military, particularly as the attackers were able to flee unhindered, security forces were able to enter the neighborhood without a problem after the massacre, etc…
- The dead were buried in great haste and the count was decreased. Outsiders were refused entry to Bentalha. Only authorized people were allowed to speak to the media.
No investigation was initiated, although the survivors demanded one.
Furthermore, the survivors reported of attackers with false beards. Others appeared to be under the influence of drugs. Though an attacker was killed here and there, their bodies or at least, their heads were removed by the attackers. Some witnesses report that the perpetrators had lists and that it was striking that whole families were slaughtered. The prehistory of the massacre is very significant and the fact that for a long time, groups in this region were active and could move around freely, even though security forces were stationed nearby. No satisfying explanations has yet to be provided for the lack of intervention by the army.
The Difficulty of Clarifying Cases of Extrajudicial Killings
In many cases, the efforts of families, attorneys or human rights organizations in seeking clarification on the circumstances of the “disappearance” or extrajudicial killing of a victim encounter major difficulties. They turn to the police, the gendarmerie and the courts and come up empty. They then attempt to conduct their own research and sometimes seek to engage international organizations. We have several examples that clearly demonstrate how various State officials covered up the incident, when they did not deny all recriminations and punish the families for their attempts at an explanation. The following example shows the labyrinth encountered when international pressure demands an explanation.
During the night of July 21, 1994, 16 men were abducted from their homes in Ras-el-Oued and were gathered in front of the gendarmerie. Then they were brought to a nearby barrack and they “disappeared.” The next day, their families assembled themselves in front of the deputy prefect’s seat, whom they asked to bring clothes and toiletries for the abducted. A few days later, rumors spread that 15 corpses were seen lined up on the street in the direction of D’halâ, 25 kilometers from Ras-el-Oued. The families could not identify the corpses and continued to search for their relatives. The authorities sent them and told them that the “disappeared” had joined armed groups. Even ONDH confirmed that no arrests occurred. After two families, who had relatives abroad, were put in contact with international officials, ONDH responded in September 1995 that on July 22, 1994, 15 corpses with gunshot wounds were found, but that only two were identified as residents of the region. After their pictures and fingerprints were taken, they were buried. The 15 families then appealed to the court and the security forces in order to look over the documents (photos and fingerprints) and to determine whether their relatives were involved. In May 1996, ONDH informed Amnesty International that one of the 16 disappeared was found under the corpses. Up to that point though the family had not been informed of his death. In April 1996, the Algerian government responded to an inquiry from the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances that two of the disappeared were among the 15 corpses. In the beginning of 1997, the government admitted that besides these two, an additional person was identified as one of the disappeared. For these three people, birth certificates were issued though their deaths were not registered. The fate of the 16 people has still not been clarified, their families were not informed of their deaths and were not summoned to identify the corpses. No investigation has ever been initiated in order to follow up on the circumstances of the deaths. (32)
Hundreds of reports from eyewitnesses, family members, human rights organizations, the police and army members exist that confirm the extrajudicial killings. The fight against “terrorism” has provoked and authorized the use of repressive tactics, which not only seek to persecute people who are members of armed groups or suspects, but also to terrorize the entire population. In an atmosphere of fear, security forces and paramilitary groups can act freely and enjoy absolute impunity. No entity functions properly at the state level: the politicians, the judiciary, the administration and the media act in concert and are subject to heavy control.
In many cases, the arrests and the „disappearances“ result in torture and extrajudicial executions. Security forces at times engage in collective killings for purposes of revenge or as punitive measures. In addition, paramilitary group killed many people while presenting themselves as Islamists. The Algerian State has to ask itself whether massacres that are being attributed to armed Islamist groups are being conducted from within its circles and why the army, stationed a few meters from the site of the crime, did not intervene. Information on the existence of death squads and “false” Islamist groups is accumulating and the State ultimately has significant responsibility for the brutality of the militias, since the State armed and backed them.
It is time for steps to be taken to reactivate political life instead of continuing to prioritize the military option. Only with a reintroduction of the democratic process will State institutions and the judiciary be able to perform their functions and will the State concede that it engaged in severe human rights violations. Then one of the demands of the victims, their relatives and the human rights organizations will be fulfilled.
1.El Watan, January 16, 1999, see on the topic of “the disappeared:” algeria-watch, Infomappe 7, January 1999.
2.ONDH, Rapport Annuel 1996, appeared at the end of 1997, p. 49.
3.Complete testimony in: The Independent, October 30, 1997, German translation in: algeria-watch, Infomappe 3, January 1998.
4.See algeria-watch, Infomappe 5, July 1998, particularly the dossier on the topic of “militias,” where cases of assaults are handled, pp. 22-26.
5.FIDH, La levee du voile: l’Algérie de l’extrajudiciaire et de la manipulation, June 1997, p. 23.
6.Amnesty International, Algerien, Angst und Schweigen: Eine Menschenrechtskrise im Verborgenen, 1996.
7.Livre Blanc de la Répression en Algérie (1991-1994), Volume I, p. 80f.
8.Id., p. 66.
9.Ali Bouazid, A la recherche des “desparus,” Le Monde Diplomatique, March 1996.
10.Livre Blanc, Vol. I, p. 94f.
11.Id., p. 70.
12.FIDH: Rapport alternatif au rapport initial présenté par l’Algérie au Comité sur l’élimination de la discrimination á l’égard des femmes, February 1999.
13.Luis Martinez, L’environment de la violence: “djihad” dans la banlieue d’Alger, in: Hrg.: Rémy Leveau, L’Algérie dans la guerre, Paris, 1995, p. 56.
14.El Watan, May 3, 1999.
15.See many reports on subversive operations from security forces that have fled in: algeria-watch, Infomappe 2 (October 1997), Infomappe 3 (January 1998) and Infomappe 4 (April 1998).
16.Luis Martinez, p. 52.
17.Id., p. 59.
18.The militias consist of communal guards and self-defense groups, approximately 200,000 people. More in algeria-watch, Infomappe 5 (July 1998).
19.John Sweeney, Massaker als Teil der Counterinsurgency-Strategie, The Observer, 18. January 1998. The complete article is available in German in: algeria-watch, Infomappe 4, April 1998.
20.algeria-watch, Infomappe 5.
21.FIDH, La Levée du voile, p. 20f.
22.Compare AI, Algerien: Angst und Schweigen, 1996.
23.Compare reports from AI, FIDH, etc…
24.Livre Blanc, Vol. I, p. 65.
25.Compare homepage of Hijra International: http://home.worldcom.ch/~hijra.
26.The official version can be read in: ONDH, Rapport d’enquête de la commission “non gouvernementale” sur les évènements de Serkadji, May 1995. Other reports are: Rapport préliminaire sur le carnage de Serkadji de la commission des avocats, des familles et des victimes et de la LADDH, July 1995; Enquête préliminaire du Comité algérien libres de la dignité humaine et des droits de l’Homme, August 1995; Amnesty International, Algeria: Killings in the Serkadji Prison, February 1996.
27.Summary of the testimony told to LADDH (Ligue Algérienne de Défense des Droits de l’Homme) in the beginning of 1998.
28.Documented testimony from LADDH can be read in its entirety in French on the homepage of algeria-watch: http://www.algeria-watch.de.
29.FIDH: Rapport alternatif, July 1998.
31.See page 22: Bentalha, Autopsie eines Massakers.
32.32 Amnesty International, Algerien, Angst und Schweigen; and testimony of family members.