Algeria: The Committee against Torture of the UN lays bare the mechanism of repression

The Committee against Torture of the UN lays bare the mechanism of repression

Alkarama for Human Rights, May 19, 2008

Alkarama welcomes the observations of the Committee against Torture published on May 16, 2008. They largely reflect its own concerns about the situation of human rights in Algeria.

Independent experts had met in early May to examine the periodic report of the Algerian government, presented eight years after the deadline. Earlier, a meeting with NGOs for the defence of human rights, and to which Alkarama participated, had enabled the NGos to express their concerns.

Despite the efforts of the Algerian delegation and its leader Idriss Jazaïri to present the country as a haven of democracy in which « the Algerian State has used all the legal resources to fight terrorism » and « placed the right to life above any consideration », the Committee’s experts have pointed out serious violations of fundamental principles. Mr. Jazaïri has even lost any restraint, personally attacking independent experts and in particular Mrs Saadia Belmir Moroccan expert, while criticizing the committee members deoicting them as « subjective » and motivated by « prejudice ».

The Committee noted in its observations that the definition of terrorism is too broad and can criminalize conduct not related to terrorism. Just as maintaining a state of emergency is particularly worrying because it, « shows up, among other things, through the delegation of the functions of judicial police to officers of the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) which, according to information received, would be at the origin of many cases of torture…. « 

These DRS agents are, according to the delegation delegation, under the control of the Attorney General. However, this statement has not failed to make persons present in the room smile, particularly those journalists and NGO representatives familiar with the situtation in Algeria. The Committee, for its part, referring to the testimonies received, recommended that « all places of detention, including those governed by the DRS be placed immediately under the control of the prison administration and civil prosecutors. » Despite unsuccessful attempts by the representative of Algeria to deny the existence of secret detention centres, the UN Committee asked the government to « investigate allegations concerning the existence of secret centres managed by the DRS. »

The Committee against Torture reaches similar conclusions as the Human Rights Committee which had also singled out Algeria on this particularly sensitive issue. It is, undoubtedly, a scathing failure of the representative of Algeria, whose all attempts, often clumsy, have actually served to reinforce the UN body in his convictions.

The penal code which was incorporated into the Terrorism Act in September 1992, has also attracted the attention of the CAT as it includes, according to the experts, provisions in contradiction with the principles of the Convention against Torture ratified by Algeria. Such is the case concerning the period of custody, which can reach 12 days (and often beyond) as well as fixing the age of criminal responsibility to 16 years. Similarly, some principles have not been introduced in Algerian legislation: the Committee refers to the right to a lawyer during police custody, or the lack of an explicit prohibition of use of confessions extracted under torture in legal proceedings.

The Committee noted positively the existence of the National Consultative Commission for the promotion and protection of human rights. He advises, however, to strengthen its independence to enable it in particular to play its role of monitoring the implementation of agreements including the one against torture. He also recommends that this body publish and disseminate its annual reports.

The UN body expressed particular concern about certain provisions of the ordinance implementing the « charter for peace and national reconciliation », including those relating to the exemption from prosecution in cases of « crimes such as Torture, rape and enforced disappearance, which are imprescriptible crimes. » It recommends that « The State party should take without delay all necessary measures » to ensure that these crimes, past or recent be « investigated systematically and impartial and that the perpetrators are prosecuted and punished… »

In the specific case of enforced disappearances, the Committee notes the contradictions in the figures given by the State, which vary between 4000 and 7000. He asked that the lists of the missing and the report of the ad hoc instrument on disappearances be made public. The CAT recommends that investigations be initiated by the judicial authorities without the need to wait for complaints by families who should then be informed about the results of those investigations and that those responsible be punished. The UN body also considered that the enforced disappearance constitutes a form of torture for families and it is particularly concerned about the obligation imposed on them to certify the death of their parent to be eligible for compensation. This provision may be « a form of inhuman and degrading treatment by exposing them to a phenomenon of overvictimisation ».

The death under torture of Mounir Hammouche, whose case had been forwarded by Alkarama to the Special Rapporteur on Torture, has attracted the attention of the Committee. The committee called on the Algerian authorities to provide the family with the autopsy report that it has been seeking in vain for over a year. Starting from this case, the Committee made a general recommendation, asking the state to « trigger spontaneously and systematically prompt and impartial investigations into all cases where there are reasonable grounds for believing that an act of torture has been committed, in the event of death of the detainee. « The results should be communicated to families.

The Committee also also unveiled plans for monitoring of its recommendations. It advises the publication, as widely as possible, of the recommendations by the state which is also requested to provide, within one year, information about the necessity of maintaining the state of emergency, the control by civilian authorities of the secret detention centres, the lists of missing persons and violence against women. It invites the Algerian state to ratify the United Nations treaties on human rights to which it is not a party, but above all to accept the visit of the Special Rapporteurs on torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

These observations and recommendations follow those of the Human Rights Committee of 1 November 2007, which were similarly unyielding. Both mark a turning point in the analysis of the United Nations about the situation in Algeria. While during the 90s, the Algerian diplomacy was able to temper the criticism by putting forward the fight against terrorism, this time many experts from the UN committees have clearly established that Algeria state agents committed « Crimes against humanity. »

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