Algeria is expected to ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearance
Alkarama for Human Rights, 24 March 2009
While Morocco has announced its intention to ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearance before the end of 2009, no such move has been announced by the Algerian authorities. Yet the country has every reason to avail itself of such an instrument if the authorities really wish to permanently resolve the difficult issue of enforced disappearances.
Algeria did in fact sign the Convention on 6 February 2007, but there has been no announcement that it would be ratified. Yet this heavy bone of contention between a State whose officers are guilty of serious crimes against human rights and a traumatised population is far from resolved. The State’s response to demands for truth and justice has thus far been a general amnesty for security forces, and prosecution of those who refuse to submit to its diktat.
Between 1992 and 1998 between 7,000 and 20,000 people were victims of enforced disappearances after their arrest or abduction by state agents. All police and military elements, as well as militias, took part in a brutal repression in the name of the « struggle against terrorism. » Hundreds of thousands of people were arrested, held in secret, tortured, or summarily executed. The fate of many of them remains unknown.
Faced with the persistence of families of disappeared and human rights defenders, the Algerian State was forced to recognize the phenomenon of enforced disappearances whose existence it had officially denied until 1999. It has, however, stated through the President of the National Consultative Commission for the protection and promotion of Human Rights (CNCPPDH), Farouk Ksentini, that « the State was responsible for this crime, but not guilty.”
Official recognition of this crime is a big step forward. The Algerian authorities acknowledged that more than 7,000 people disappeared, before revising the figure down to 6,146 disappeared. On 6 March 2009, at a conference on Algeria in Geneva, two representatives of the CNCPPDH stated publicly that 8,023 cases of enforced disappearance had been officially identified so far (1).
If the state accepts the existence of enforced disappearances in Algeria, it is clear, however, that it has no desire to work towards the establishment of circumstances and responsibilities, and even less to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and convicted. On the contrary, the senior leaders of the Algerian tragedy have retained their posts, and were in some cases promoted to higher positions by President Bouteflika during his ascent to power in 1999. Since then, the State has enacted an amnesty for those crimes while granting compensation to some families of the disappeared.
The latter are considered in the official terminology as victims of the « national tragedy », a meaningless category that encompasses the victims of the state, the militias and members of armed groups. The authorities actively encourage this mystification, sometimes going so far as to give membership cards of the National Organization of Victims of Terrorism (ONVT) to families of missing.
If the Algerian state is genuinely interested in resolving this painful issue, it should ratify the Convention without delay and take the necessary steps to introduce and criminalize enforced disappearances into the national legal framework.
(1) Le Monde, 11 March 2009