Algeria – Human Rights Post September 11


On the occasion of the signature of the Association Agreement
between Algeria and the EU


Algeria – Human Rights Post September 11

« Since September 11, dictatorships have never had it so good. » The Tunisian opposition leader Moncef Marzouki pronounced this brutal phrase upon arrival in Paris to his exile this December 8th (Le Monde, 11 December 2001), following years of persecution in Tunisia. Evoking the effusive compliments paid by the French President to Mr. Ben Ali during his whistle-stop visit of the three Maghreb countries, Mr. Marzouki added: « It’s high time that Mr. Chirac and all Western leaders understood that what frightens them the most [about the region] – immigration and terrorism – is the direct consequence of dictatorship and corruption ».

Mr. Marzouki speaks from direct experience in his own country, but his observations obviously apply more widely. His remarks are particularly pertinent, as on December 19th the European Union will initial an « Association Agreement » with Algeria. Tunisia was the first state of the Maghreb to sign such an economic and political agreement with Brussels on 12 April 1995: This Agreement has since served as a principal political cover for General Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, enabling him, with impunity, to make Tunisia « a honey-coated dictatorship » (according to Tunisian journalist Taoufik Ben Brik).

As citizens of both the North and South shores of the Mediterranean, we do not accept this hypocritical state of affairs. We strongly object to the attempt to misuse another « Association Agreement », this time to give carte blanche to the Generals, who for the past ten years have plunged Algeria into a whirlpool of horror without end, enabling them to continue pocketing billions in clandestine commissions on foreign trade each year.

It is clear that these considerations were never taken into account by the Brussels negotiators. Throughout the years of preparatory discussions with the Algerians, the EU negotiators preferred « to act as if… ». As if the successive Algerian governments created by violence or through rigged elections were real democratic governments. As if, except for s few « excesses », the fight against the armed Islamic groups had been carried out with the weapons of law. As if the Algerian economy were a « normal » economy that could respond to the measures of this « Association Agreement », ostensibly designed to facilitate Algeria’s integration into the world economy.

But no one doubts that the Brussels technocrats, like the governments of the Union in whose name they negotiate, know perfectly well the reality of Algeria. They know that their « official » counterparts are mere stagehands in the sham production « Potemkin Algeria », a presentable facade constantly controlled by the Generals of the « black cabinet ». They know that the state of emergency, renewed illegally each year since 1992, allows society to be controlled of by a set of decrees denying basic freedoms, while at the same time the government appears incapable of reacting to a catastrophic flood in its capital. They know that violence which, for ten years, has resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, more than 10,000 disappeared, millions of casualties, orphans and of refugees (and more than 500,000 exiles), undoubtedly owes as much to the actions of the armed Islamic groups as to the « dirty war » carried out by the DRS (ex-Sécurité Militaire) and the « special forces » of the army. The standard for « the maintenance of law and order » is generalized torture and the machine-gunning of demonstrators, still being carried out in Kabylia this year. They know that for the last three years the « Deciders » bear a great deal of the responsibility for tens of assassinations and the most horrific bloody killings that are carried out each month in a general atmosphere of indifference, either by their « death squads » or by armed bands controlled or manipulated by them. They also know that, thanks to President Bouteflika’s « policy of civil harmony », thousands of « repentant » criminals who left the cover of the maquis were never subject to legal proceedings and that a number of them were integrated into the « security services », from which many had originally come (double agents, « Islamists of the army »).

Finally, they know that the Algerian economy is a disaster beyond belief. More than half of young people are without employment, families are piled up in shantytowns or miserable housing (where people have to sleep in shifts), and for most people water is only available for a few hours per week. Most consumer goods are imported, industries producing for the local market are in ruins, and « privatisation » of public companies is a sinister joke. Corruption, from top to bottom of society, remains the last, albeit perverted, cement of an informal economy in which the overwhelming majority precariously survive, while a miniscule minority grows scandalously rich.

And yet, Brussels negotiates with their proxies and wishes to « associate » with the Algerian Generals. There are two reasons for this, which are both cynical and brutal. Firstly there is a « strategic » reason: Algeria is an essential supplier to several countries in the European Union of natural gas and oil (the only economic sector which functions in Algeria, representing 97 % of export earnings, a source of commissions which nourish the « Deciders » in Algeria and also are an undoubted source of substantial « kickbacks » to the benefit of certain of their correspondents in Europe for many years). Secondly, there is an « ideological » reason: confronted with the « green peril » of the Islamists, supporting manifestly corrupt and bloodthirsty generals is seen as the lesser of two evils (« He may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch », Nixon Doctrine as applied to the Chilean dictator Pinochet).

For ten years, the rentier Generals of Algiers have known perfectly well how to play on this cynicism to obtain the political and economic support they wanted from the international community, the European Union and France to fight their war against the Algerian people. A key to this arrangement is France, which on a world level still sets the tone for the debate on this « dossier » (for everything happens as if, in the eyes of Western democratic States, Algeria remains, forty years after its independence, a matter of French « internal affairs »). And after the tragic events of September 11, the « Deciders » pressed their advantage, as General-major Mohamed Touati, adviser of the President’s Office, often considered as the « brains » of the « black cabinet » underlined in this frank language: « What I would like in these circumstances, is that it [Algeria] can the correct the false impression, held by international opinion, hitherto deceived by sources linked to international terrorism and by the terrorism that has hit Algeria, in particular on reality of what is really going on in the country » (El Watan, 27 September 2001). Remarks echoed by those of a « senior » Algerian official: « The international context is in our favour, our requests, in particular as regards equipment to fight terrorists, are now accepted and understood » (Le Quotidien d’Oran, 9 December 2001).

It is in this context that the « Association Agreement » between the European Union and Algeria is scheduled for signature on December 19th. We have difficulty understanding how the « Association Agreement » can be signed when the « reinforcement of the democracy and the respect of human rights » is one of the essential engagements of the famous « Barcelona Declaration » adopted at the euro-Mediterranean conference of November 1995, signed by Algeria as well as by the Member States of the European Union. We strongly object that in the name of the fight against terrorism, the « Association Agreement » will serve as cover for the violation of civil liberties by the states who sign the Agreement. Our concerns are made all the more real by the recent illegal expulsions of Algerian citizens residing in Europe to Algeria.

As citizens of the two shores of the Mediterranean, we share the same conviction, that the legitimate fight against the criminals responsible for September 11 can in no way justify the support for the autocrats, who through their actions, contribute to the creation of such criminals. We know that the Agreement of December 19th cannot become effective until ratified by the European Parliament and the legislatures of the Member States and Algeria. We fully expect that the current fraudulently elected Algerian Parliament will rubber-stamp the Agreement negotiated on behalf of the Generals. In contrast, we urge members of the European Parliament not to ratify this economic agreement without requiring that it respect the « Barcelona Declaration ». And, in the immediate future, to initiate efforts to satisfy these fundamental requirements: that the Algerian government lifts the state of emergency and assures civil society’s right of free association and expression; that it accepts a mission by the special UN rapporteurs on torture and forced disappearances; that an impartial international board of inquiry visit Algeria to establish who is responsible for the human rights violations (from wherever and by whoever they originate); and finally, that an ad hoc international penal court be established, which will judge those responsible, be they Islamist terrorists or agents of State terrorism.

Among the first signatories of this text:
Algeria: Omar Benderra, consultant; Sofiane Chouiter, lawyer; Ghazi Hidouci, economist; Mahmoud Khelili, lawyer; Salima Mellah, journalist; Salah-Eddine Sidhoum, surgeon; Brahim Taouti, lawyer; Tassadit Yacine, anthropologist.

Germany: Werner Ruf, political scientist; Peter Strutynski Belgium: Jeanne Kervyn, sociologist. Spain: Gem Martín Muñoz, sociologist.

France: Patrick Baudouin, lawyer; honorary president of the IFHR; François Burgat, political scientist, CNRS; Helene Flautre, Member of the European Parliament; François Gèze, editor; Gustave Massiah, economist; Veronique Nahoum-Bunch, anthropologist; Bernard Ravenel, teacher; Pierre Vidal-Naquet, historian; Gilbert Wasserman, Review Movements.

Italy: Anna Bozzo, historian; Ferdinando Imposimato, lawyer.

United Kingdom: William Byrd, economist.

Switzerland: Marie-Claire Caloz-Tschopp, teacher and researcher.

Complete list and signatures : L’Algérie après le 11 septembre : et les droits de l’homme ?