Algeria: A Call for Action to end a Human Rights Crisis


Algeria: A Call for Action to end a Human Rights Crisis

ALGERIA ALERT, 15 October 1997

Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights Watch and Reporters sans frontières join together to appeal to the international community to act now to address the deteriorating human rights situation in Algeria, and are calling on members of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to convene a Special Session on the human rights situation in Algeria. As the UN body with primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights, we look to the Commission on Human Rights to provide leadership in seeking solutions to this human rights tragedy.

The last year has seen the longest, most intense spell of violence since the beginning of the conflict in Algeria five years ago. Violence which has taken a new and terrifying turn with the massacre of civilians.

Thousands of people – women and children, the poor and elderly — have been massacred with unspeakable brutality. Some of those lucky enough to have escaped having their throats cut or being burned alive in their homes have reached nearby security forces posts and called for help. In vain.

Their cries have not been heard in their country, or beyond their national borders. Up to 80,000 people have been killed behind a virtual wall of silence on the part of the international community.

Recent statements of the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF and the UNHCR condemning the massacres of civilians and other human rights abuses in Algeria go some way towards breaking through the barriers of silence surrounding the crisis. But words are not enough.

The international community has for too long turned a blind eye to the plight of the victims in Algeria, in spite of the warnings sounded by human rights organizations. The UN Commission on Human Rights has so far not scrutinized the situation. It is time to take concrete action to end this spiral of violence and to ensure the protection of the civilian population.

The need to investigate and reveal the truth is the first step to finding solutions to this human rights tragedy. For this reason, we are calling for the establishment of an international investigation to ascertain the facts, examine allegations of responsibility and to make recommendations in respect of the massacres and other abuses by all sides in Algeria. Such an investigation has to be provided with broad powers, adequate staff and resources. It should collect evidence, statements, including testimony from victims, witnesses and responsible officials, to discover the truth.

Since the outbreak of the current conflict in 1992, extrajudicial executions, deliberate and arbitrary killings, torture, rape, « disappearances » and hostage-taking have become routine. The large-scale massacres of civilians over the past year have taken place against a background of increasingly widespread human rights abuses by security forces, state-armed militias and armed Islamist groups, which have increasingly targeted and terrorized civilians. Disregard for human rights has become the rule rather than the exception. This is despite the fact that Algeria has ratified important international and regional human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Time after time, the Algerian Government has simply failed to investigate these abuses by its own forces and by armed opposition groups, and to bring those responsible to justice. This failure has exacerbated the breakdown of law and order and left civilians feeling ever more alone and unprotected.

The complex reality of violence and counter-violence has become increasingly confused with the clampdown on information and investigations. Information defined by the authorities as « security-related » is censored and manipulated. International human rights organizations and foreign media have often been refused entry to the country. Human rights workers and journalists who have been let into the country have been subject to surveillance and restrictions. Those who have continued to work in the country have faced death threats and killings. All of these actions have contributed to building a wall of silence around the human rights crisis in Algeria

We echo the call of the Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU)

for enhanced cooperation and coordination between the UN and African institutions, and urge Member States of the OAU to support an initiative of this kind.

In the context of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Agreement with Algeria, which contains provisions for the respect of human rights, we urge Member States of the European Union to work for the special session of the Commission on Human Rights and the investigation to become a reality.

In the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 1993, UN Member States reaffirmed that the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community. We call on them now to honour their pledge.

The Algerian Government routinely accuses anyone criticizing their human rights record of deliberately lying, interfering in Algeria’s internal affairs, and political bias. Human rights protection is not just an internal affair or an issue of national sovereignty. Algeria is not above international scrutiny. At a time when its citizens are being slaughtered en masse week after week, the government of Algeria should welcome – not oppose – international attention aimed at helping to protect live.

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