Algeria: Long Delays Tainting Terrorism Trials
|Publisher||Human Rights Watch|
|Publication Date||18 June 2012|
|Cite as||Human Rights Watch, Algeria: Long Delays Tainting Terrorism Trials, 18 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe198462.html [accessed 16 March 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Syrian government forces have used sexual violence to torture men, women, and boys detained during the current conflict. Witnesses and victims also told Human Rights Watch that soldiers and pro-government armed militias have sexually abused women and girls as young as 12 during home raids and military sweeps of residential areas.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 10 former detainees, including two women, who described being sexually abused or witnessing sexual abuse in detention, including rape, penetration with objects, sexual groping, prolonged forced nudity, and electroshock and beatings to genitalia.Many of the former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were imprisoned because of their political activism, including for attending protests. In other cases, the reason for the detention was unclear but detainees suffered the same abusive tactics.
"Syrian security forces have used sexual violence to humiliate and degrade detainees with complete impunity," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The assaults are not limited to detention facilities – government forces and pro-government shabiha militia members have also sexually assaulted women and girls during home raids and residential sweeps."
Human Rights Watch documented over 20 specific incidents of sexual assault, five of which involved more than one victim, that took place between March 2011 and March 2012 across Syria, including in Daraa, Homs, Idlib, Damascus, and Latakia governorates. The majority of cases were from Homs governorate. Interviewees described a range of sexual abuse by Syrian security forces, the army, and pro-government armed militias referred to locally as shabiha.
Human Rights Watch interviewed eight Syrian victims of sexual violence, including four women, and more than twenty-five other people with a knowledge of sexual abuse – former detainees, defectors from the Syrian security forces and the army, first responders and assistance providers, women's rights activists, and family members.
The full extent of sexual violence in and outside of detention facilities remains unknown, Human Rights Watch said. The stigma in Syria surrounding sexual violence makes victims reluctant to report abuse. Survivors also may face dangers when they make crimes public, and researchers have had limited access to the country to document abuses. In many cases interviewees told Human Rights Watch that victims did not want their families or others in the community to know about the assault because of fear or shame. In one case, a female rape victim who was willing to be interviewed was not permitted by her husband to speak to Human Rights Watch.
Even when they may wish to seek help, Syrian survivors of sexual assault have limited access to medical or psychological treatment and other services in Syria. Survivors who have fled to neighboring countries also face obstacles in seeking treatment, including limited service options and inability to access services that are available because of social taboos surrounding sexual abuse, families restricting their movement, and the fear of being subjected to so-called "honor" crimes.
It is critical that survivors of sexual assault have access to emergency medical services, legal assistance, and social support to address injuries caused by the assault; prevent pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections; and to collect evidence to support prosecution of perpetrators, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch called on the Syrian government, countries hosting Syrian refugees, and donors to ensure that survivors have information about relevant health and psychosocial services, including that they should be accessed on an urgent basis, as well as facilitate victims' access to them through safe and confidential mechanisms.
Human Rights Watch does not have evidence that high-ranking officers commanded their troops to commit sexual violence during home searches, ground operations, or in detention. However, information received by Human Rights Watch, including from army and security force defectors, indicates that no action has been taken to investigate or punish government forces and shabiha who commit acts of sexual violence or to prevent them from committing such acts in the future.
Many of the reported assaults were in circumstances in which commanding officers knew or should have known the crimes were taking place – for example, assaults committed on an apparently regular basis in detention centers under the full control of particular commanders.
Sexual Abuse in Detention
Detention facilities where male and female detainees have reported sexual torture include Military Intelligence Branch 248 and Branch 235 (known as "Palestine Branch") in Damascus; the Military Intelligence facilities in Jisr al-Shughur, Idlib, and Homs; the Political Security branch in Latakia; the Air Force Intelligence branches in Mezze, Latakia, and Homs; and the Idlib Central Prison.
Salim (all names have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees), a soldier who was detained in June 2011 while on leave at the Air Force Intelligence branch in Latakia, was questioned about his brother's and father's roles in demonstrations. He told Human Rights Watch:
They started torturing me here (gesturing toward his genitalia) [with the electricity]. They were also beating me and there was a guard behind me turning the electricity on. I passed out. They were beating me and shocking me. The interrogator was beating me with a cable over my whole body. I still didn't have any clothes on … they asked me every thirty minutes if I would confess.
While a number of female detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they were not sexually abused in detention, others reported that they were subjected to sexual abuse and other torture. One was Sabah, who was detained in the Military Intelligence facility in Jisr al-Shughur, Idlib in November 2011.
"They took my abaya off," she said. "I was wearing jeans and a tee-shirt underneath, and a guard tied my hands behind my back ... He grabbed my breasts … I said, 'Beat me, shoot me, but don't put your hand on me.' … He came to grab my breasts again and I pushed him ... Then he grabbed me by the chest and threw me against the wall. I fell and he started beating me with a stick. On the knee and on the ankle. My ankle was also broken [along with my hand]…"
At least two male former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch also reported hearing women's screams – in the Air Force Intelligence and Military Intelligence branches in Homs, and an ad hoc shabiha facility in Latakia. Human Rights Watch does not have further confirmation that women were actually held and sexually tortured in these facilities.
All former detainees who described sexual abuse said they had received no medical or psychological treatment in prison for the sexual abuse. Only one of the 10 former detainees interviewed about sexual abuse in detention said she received medical treatment after her release. All of the former detainees interviewed have left Syria.
Sexual Abuse During Home Raids and Ground Operations
Human Rights Watch spoke to two women sexually assaulted in their homes and six other witnesses, including two male family members, with knowledge of sexual assaults against women and girls.
In five of these cases all of the interviewees described the attackers as shabiha. Descriptions and characterizations of shabiha forces varied, but in four out of five cases witnesses described them as armed men in civilian clothing operating alongside Syrian government forces, though official forces were not always present during the sexual assaults.
Maha, from Daraa, told Human Rights Watch that in February 2012 Syrian government forces and shabiha raided her house looking for her husband. She said that a member of the shabiha assaulted her and that a member of the army threatened her with rape if he did not turn himself in. She said:
They broke the door – it is just a regular wood door – and came in… They said to me, "Where is your husband?" I said, "I don't know. He left a long time ago." Then the one standing next to me came at me. He tore my shirt and started grabbing my breasts … The one who grabbed me looked like shabiha. He was wearing civilian clothes … The person in charge was outside. Someone came in and said, "The officer said to tell her that if he doesn't turn himself in that she will see worse than this"… [This person] was wearing plain green military clothes. He was clearly from the army.
Four army and security force defectors also told Human Rights Watch about incidents – five in all – that they were aware of or received information about in which government forces sexually assaulted women during home raids or detained women to sexually assault them. Three of these defectors described incidents in which women were taken to another location and sexually assaulted.
Walid, an army defector from Hafiz al-Nizam (riot police), told Human Rights Watch that officers bragged about raping women during home raids in Daraa: "[One officer] joked that during that house raid, 'When I fucked the woman, she made a lot of noise because I must have pleased her so much.'"
Another defector, Toufiq, who belonged to a security force mudahama (raid) unit told Human Rights Watch that a friend in his unit admitted to having participated in a gang rape of two women detained during a home raid in November 2011 in Homs. He saw video on his friend's cellphone that confirmed the gang rape.
Human Rights Watch also spoke to a first responder who worked in Homs and seven assistance providers outside of Syria who described their work with sexual assault survivors and who discussed the availability of assistance.
Human Rights Watch called on the Syrian government to end all use of or tolerance of sexual violence by its forces or by shabiha under its command or control, and to investigate and punish those responsible. Human Rights Watch also urged the United Nations Security Council to demand that the Syrian government grant the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry unrestricted access to all parts of Syria, especially detention centers, so that the commission can investigate all allegations of human rights violations.
The Syrian government should also give the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Annan plan, unrestricted access to all places of detention to monitor abuses. The mission should include among its personnel people trained to identify gender-based violence and other gender-specific human rights violations.
Human Rights Watch also reiterated its call to the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and urged other countries to join the calls for accountability by supporting a referral to the ICC as the forum most capable of effectively investigating and prosecuting those bearing the greatest responsibility for abuses in Syria.
Human Rights Watch has called on the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the Syrian government, and impose sanctions on Syrian officials involved in serious human rights violations.
Human Rights Watch called on international nongovernmental organizations, humanitarian assistance providers, the United Nations, and local organizations to develop, expand, and improve access to medical, psychological, social, and legal assistance to Syrian male and female victims of sexual abuse inside and outside of the country. Assistance providers should, in accordance with the UN Guidelines for Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings, ensure that survivors have information about and access to this package of services. In accordance with the Annan plan the Syrian government should also grant humanitarian assistance providers access to "all areas affected by the fighting" so that they can provide assistance to those affected by sexual violence.
"The international community urgently needs to address the human rights violations going on in Syria," Whitson said. "The Security Council should send a strong signal to the Assad government that they will be held accountable for sexual violence and other human rights violations – by referring the situation to the ICC."
Evidence on Sexual Abuse in Detention
Salim, the soldier who was arrested in June 2011 while on leave and questioned about his brother and father, told Human Rights Watch in a face-to-face interview:
[T]hey took me downstairs, two sets of stairs with a turn. Each 15 steps … I couldn't see and my hands were tied [I was naked]. We were in the interrogation room. They were beating me for the first hour with their hands. Then they used a wood baton. I didn't confess. The interrogator said, "Bring me the electricity."…The guard brought two electric prongs. He put one in my mouth, on my tooth. Then he started turning it on and off quickly. He did this seven or eight times. I felt, that's it. I am not going to leave this branch. Then they started asking, "Will you confess now?" I said I had nothing to confess to.
They removed the electricity from my tooth and put it on my knees. Here they used the electricity the longest. It is still marked. They would put it on for a long time and then take it off ... They started torturing me here (gesturing toward his genitalia) [with the electricity]. They were also beating me and there was a guard behind me turning the electricity on. I passed out. They were beating me and shocking me. The interrogator was beating me with a cable over my whole body. I still didn't have any clothes on … They asked me every thirty minutes if I would confess. I said no. At a point they said, "We will kill you," and I said, "Ok, ok, kill me. Death is better than the torture you are putting me through." ... When he shocks you the electricity hits your whole body. I was there for hours. They had to carry me on a mattress to the cell. I couldn't walk after that.
Khalil, who was detained in Idlib governorate in late June 2011 and spent about two months in several detention places, including about one month in the Idlib Central Prison, told Human Rights Watch in a face-to-face interview that when he was detained there:
They forced me to undress. Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They used a stapler to put nails in my fingers, chest, and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The nails in the ears were the most painful. They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days.
Amer, a man from a town in Idlib governorate, described to Human Rights Watch in a face-to-face interview how he was tortured during his 42-day detention in the Political Security Branch in Latakia:
They undressed me, tied my hands behind my back, and hit me on my private parts. They clipped my hands to a metal pipe and lifted me so that my feet hardly touched the floor. They kept me like that for two days. When they released me I couldn't stand, my feet were completely swollen. I then spent five days in a single cell with six other people. After that 15 officers took me to a separate room. They were cursing my mother and sister and threatened to rape me. They put me on a flying carpet – I was lying on my back, tied to a board, and they lifted my head and legs. All this time I was undressed. They wrapped wires around my penis and turned on the electricity. I could just hear it buzzing. They did this maybe five times for about 10 seconds. I passed out. When I regained consciousness they were pushing my legs and hands into a tire. My entire body was blue from beatings.
Hussein, who was detained in Daraa at the end of April 2011 after he was shot in both legs and then held in Military Intelligence Branch 248 in Damascus told Human Rights Watch:
When I arrived at Branch 248 I was screaming from pain because my legs were broken [from gunshot injuries]. They laid me down in an underground corridor. After five minutes five guys came and started to beat me. I was still blindfolded, but I was able to see a bit under the blindfold. They punched me in the face so I started bleeding from the nose. They left me alone when I pretended to be unconscious. Afterwards another guy came and smacked my head into the ground. Finally an officer came. They wanted to transfer me to a cell, but there was no room for anybody with broken legs so they transferred me to Hospital 601 instead. After six days in the hospital they took me back to 248. In the cell, two guards held my legs apart and beat me in the groin.
Nour, who was detained in February 2012 at a checkpoint in Homs and held for approximately two-and-a-half months in the "Palestine Branch" told Human Rights Watch that while in detention she and three other women who were held with her were repeatedly raped. Nour said that she suffered from amnesia as a result of her detention, however Human Rights Watch could not independently verify her condition. Nour, who has left the country, told Human Rights Watch that she could not remember her life before she was detained. She could not recall information such as her name, her age, or whether she was married and had children. She said:
The earliest thing I remember is being stopped at a checkpoint in Homs. I thought I was going to be detained but the soldiers there took me to an apartment where there were other girls … I was there for two or three days and then they took me to Damascus to the Palestine Branch. They held me there for two-and-a-half to three months. There were three other women there … They had a schedule. They would take turns with us. More than one man would rape you. It wasn't every day, but it was regular….
Sabah, who was detained in the Military Intelligence facility in Jisr al-Shughur, Idlib in November 2011, told Human Rights Watch in a face-to-face interview that she had participated in demonstrations and prepared food and drink for demonstrators. She said that when she was detained she was beaten and groped:
The director asked me why I was going to demonstrations … I didn't lie. He asked what I said in demonstrations and I told him … Then he slapped me. I will not forget it. He told the boys to come take me … they took me to a closed room. There were boxes in it. It was like a storage room. There were also broken chairs and other things. They took my abaya off. I was wearing jeans and a tee-shirt underneath, and a guard tied my hands behind my back. I said, "A dog like you doesn't have a right to do anything [to touch me] …" He grabbed my breasts. [Eventually] he let my arms untie. I said, "Beat me, shoot me, but don't put your hand on me." … He came to grab my breasts again and I pushed him ... When I pushed him he fell on the boxes. Then he grabbed me by the chest and threw me against the wall. I fell and he started beating me with a stick. On the knee and on the ankle. My ankle was also broken [along with my hand]…
Former detainees also told Human Rights Watch that they had witnessed sexual abuse when they were in detention. Salim, the soldier arrested in June 2011, told Human Rights Watch that while he was detained in the Political Security branch in Latakia, a Brigadier General told him that he had to confess. Salim said:
He [the Brigadier General] told the guard to take my blindfold off. He wanted me to see with my own eyes how the other detainees were being tortured. He showed me the detainees. Two were being tortured. The interrogator and the guards were with me. He told me we will do this to you if you don't confess. They were putting them [the two detainees] on coke bottles. He told me their crime was going to demonstrations. They looked 24 or 25 years old. For five minutes they showed me this, their making them sit on the coke bottles. I put death in my mind. They took me to the end of the corridor to an empty room. Here they blindfolded me again. There were two guards and an interrogator with me in the room. They put me on my knees and started beating me on my back with a steel cable.
At least three adult male former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed the presence and sexual abuse of adult women and male children in detention facilities across Syria. Samih, who had been held in the Political Security branch in Latakia, told Human Rights Watch in a face-to-face interview that children were subjected to worse treatment than adults, including rape, specifically because they were children:
We were 70 to 75 people in a group cell that was three by three meters…. There were 15 and 16-year-old kids in the cell with us, six or seven of them with their fingernails pulled, their faces beaten. They treat the kids even worse than the adults. There is torture, but there is also rape for the boys. We would see them when the guards brought them back to the cell. It's indescribable. You can't talk about it. One boy came into the cell bleeding from behind. He couldn't walk. It was something they just did to the boys. We would cry for them.
Malik, a 28-year-old from Latakia who told Human Rights Watch that he took part in demonstrations, said in a face-to-face interview that he was detained in late March 2011 in Latakia in an ad hoc facility run by shabiha where female detainees were sexually assaulted:
There were 35 of us in my cell. We were all there because of participation in demonstrations. There were no children … and no women, but you could hear the sound of women screaming. They were on the floor above us. They were being sexually assaulted, screaming, and yelling. We could hear the guards talking to them. We would cry listening to them…
Wissam, who was detained for several months in a number of facilities and released in November 2011, also told Human Rights Watch that he heard women being sexually assaulted while in detention:
They [the female detainees] were in a cell next to us … This was in both the Air Force Intelligence branch and Military Intelligence branch in Homs … From the noise it seemed to be a lot of women. We would hear that all day … Some of them were detained because their husbands or brothers were wanted … When the guards were screaming at them we would hear them say, "Let your son [who they wanted] come and get you," or, "Let your brother come and set you free." They would respond with crying, saying, "I have nothing to do with it. I didn't do anything."
Evidence on Sexual Abuse During Home Raids and Ground Operations in Residential Areas
Maha, from Daraa, who described how government forces and shabiha raided her house looking for her husband, said that they assaulted her and threatened her with rape if he did not turn himself in:
We were sleeping, me and my girls all in one bed. I have five girls. They are aged from 12 years to nine months. They broke the door, it is just a regular wood door, and came in. The first room you enter in our house is where we were sleeping. I got out of bed and they said to me, "Where is your husband." I said, "I don't know. He left a long time ago." Then the one standing next to me came at me. He tore my shirt and started grabbing my breasts. My chest was completely exposed and I started to scream. Each one of them had a gun with him. The one who grabbed me looked like shabiha. He was wearing civilian clothes. When he did this the others were searching the house … The person in charge was outside. Someone came in and said, "the officer said to tell her that if he doesn't turn himself in that she will see worse than this." When he said this I feared rape … [This person] was wearing plain green military clothes. He was clearly from the army.
Wafa, who lived with her family in Hayy Ashera, Homs told Human Rights Watch in a face-to-face interview that a soldier tried to rape her while her husband hid during a home raid on March 8, 2012:
Two [soldiers] came into my house and … asked me where my husband was. They were wearing camouflage. They had vests that were full of weapons, knives, bullets, etc ... I told them there were no armed people in the house and that my husband was traveling. I started to show them around the house – we had nothing to hide. One of them … grabbed me when I went to open the pantry door. He grabbed my arm, and grabbed me by the side. I was afraid that if I screamed, my husband would hear from his hiding place [just outside the house] and would come up, but I did make some noise, and the other soldier heard me. He yelled, "Hey, leave her alone! Go out to the sitting area!" I thought if I made a noise we were all done for. He was trying to push me into the bedroom, and I was trying to pull myself back into the corridor … We fled three days later.
Suha from al Qusayr, Homs, also told Human Rights Watch in a face-to-face interview that the Syrian army raided her house a number of times during arrest operations. During one of these raids, she said shabiha raped her 28-year-old neighbor whose house was also raided:
I heard her screaming [when my house was being searched] and went to her house [after the army left]. She was hysterical, and we talked. She told me one attacked her. The other two were at the door. She resisted him. When he was done he let the other two in. They took her hijab off. Her face was cut and bleeding when I saw her. She was hysterical. Blood was coming down her face. When the army left she went to her family's house. There are no communications so I don't know what happened after that. Her two kids were sitting in the corner [during the attack].
Selma, from Karm al-Zeitoun, Homs told Human Rights Watch in a face-to-face interview that she heard her neighbors being raped while hiding in her apartment in March 2012. She told Human Rights Watch that her family members had already fled the area and that she had returned home to pack clothing for her children when she realized she could no longer flee because the army and shabiha had entered her neighborhood:
I saw the security forces and the shabiha and I went into the house [and hid] ... My neighbor has girls. I heard her say to them, "Don't let out a noise." Our apartments are wall-to-wall ... They [the shabiha] came to our building … The door to my house was open still [as I left it when I was packing]. From my hiding place I could hear that someone came in and said "This one is empty, there is no one here"… They knocked on my neighbor's door … One of them said, "Open or we will shoot." She did not open the door and they shot at it … When they went in one said, "Why are you not opening the door?" She was saying, "Oh God, God forbid, don't come close to me." She said, "I will kiss your feet but don't come near us"… The girls were protesting. I could hear them saying not to grab the mother and she was just saying, "Don't touch my daughters." I could hear one girl fighting with one of them. He was saying, "Oh, you are going to scratch me too?" She pushed him and he shot her in the head. She was the oldest. 20 years old … They grabbed the youngest. She was 12. You could hear her say, "Don't take my clothes off." The mother said, "This girl is 12." The youngest, I saw her [later], her sweater was torn, all the way down the front. They raped her and they raped the two others … The other girls were 16 and 18 … I waited, hiding after they left. I didn't move for one hour or so until the thuwar (revolutionaries) came ... The girls had closed the door to their house and were crying … I knocked on their door and said, "I am your neighbor let me in." The scene on the inside was unreal. The 12 year old was lying on the ground, blood to her knees. I told them to get up, that this happened against their will. More than one person had raped the 12 year old. I heard them from my hiding place, saying, "Come on, enough, my turn." She was torn the length of a forefinger. I will never go back there. It comes to me. I see it in my dreams and I just cry.
In a face-to-face interview Mansour, from Baba Amr, Homs told Human Rights Watch that when the army invaded in March 2012 that he knew from listening to her screams that his neighbor was sexually assaulted in her home by shabiha. In tears, he said:
Ten of them went into the house … Her screaming filled the air. Afterward they killed her in the street. They took her out into the street with her kids. She has three boys and two girls. They were all killed … we could see and hear the screaming from where we were … You hear a woman screaming and there is nothing you can do to help.
Talal, a taxi driver from Homs told Human Rights Watch in a face-to-face interview that shabiha apparently raped and killed a woman in her apartment in the Karm el Zeitoun neighborhood in Homs in April 2012. A close relative had called Talal, asking him to pick him up because his building had been attacked during the night. When he entered his relative's apartment building, Talal noticed that the door to the apartment below his relative's was open. When he and his relative entered the apartment they found a woman and a small child in the bedroom, both dead, apparently killed by knife wounds to the neck. Talal said the woman was naked from the waist down and had bruises on her thighs. His relative, who had hid in the attic during the night, said that he had seen the shabiha enter the building and that he had heard screams from the woman's apartment.
Khalid also described to Human Rights Watch the sexual violence that accompanied the mass displacement following the Syrian army's entry into the Baba Amr district of Homs in early March 2012:
One of my relatives – she is married with two kids – told me about how she was raped … After her house was shelled she left with her husband and two kids to live with neighbors. When they were there, the army came in and arrested the men, and only women and children were left … She said that 15 minutes later some army soldiers dressed as civilians came into the neighbor's house where she was and put her and the other women there in the living room of the house. One of the soldiers took her, and put her in a room with a guard … She resisted him and he beat her. She showed me her hands. I saw her seven to eight days later. Her hands were still bruised. She tried to stop him, to beat him with her hands and legs but he said he would kill her two kids if she didn't give in … [She said] he was dressed in military gear ... After that she fled from Baba Amr to al Qusayr. I saw her here. Her husband is still detained.
Yousef told Human Rights Watch that he watched soldiers from the security forces rape his wife during a military operation in Daraa on June 25, 2011. He said about 25 security agents and shabiha entered his house in the afternoon during house-to-house searches in the city. When the security forces had finished searching the house some left, leaving seven inside.
"They had handcuffed me and three of them were surrounding me," he said. "Three others grabbed my wife and tore off her clothes and then the last guy raped her. They were all cursing and insulting us. There was nothing I could do to stop them. Then they took off the handcuffs and left."
Security force and army defectors interviewed by Human Rights Watch face-to-face confirmed that women were sexually assaulted during home raids or detained during home raids so they could be assaulted.
Ghassan, a sergeant who defected from Brigade 18, Battalion 627, told Human Rights Watch that on the night of February 18, 2012, he was stationed at a small military camp outside of Zabadani, a town near Damascus, when a young woman, who may have been a minor, was brought to the camp and, he believes, raped by a captain when he forced her into an armored vehicle and held here there for two hours:
Some men wearing civilian clothes – I think they were intelligence or shabiha – came to the camp in a grey van with a girl around 16 to 19 wearing an abaya but her face was showing and her hands were handcuffed. They handed her to a captain at about 2:30 in the morning, who took her inside an armored vehicle. She was crying and screaming. I suspect she was arrested during one of the home raids in the area. I saw and heard this from about 150 meters away. The captain and the woman stayed in the tank until about 4:30 a.m. [when] a black van came and seven men dressed in black took the girl away.
Ahmed, an army defector from Division 10, Brigade 85, Battalion 37, also told Human Rights Watch that that in the second half of February 2012 a woman in Zabadani had been raped by a commander:
During the second part of February, at our camp, I heard members of the Hafiz al-Nizam (riot police) … say that they raided a house with no men [in Zabadani]. They said they took out a young woman after blindfolding her and covering her mouth so that she couldn't speak or scream and put her in a vehicle. She was sent to a commander to be raped offsite.
Other defectors told Human Rights Watch that fellow officers bragged about raping women during home raids. Walid, the defector from Hafiz al-Nizam (riot police), told Human Rights Watch that other officers told him they had raped women during home raids in Daraa when they found women alone:
Last July I heard … [a Major from the Brigade] boasting about raping a woman. He was describing an incident that happened in the days or weeks before. He joked that during that house raid, "When I fucked the woman, she made a lot of noise because I must have pleased her so much." A colleague responded, "You are not as clever as me, when I have sex with one of these women, I bind their mouths so that they don't make any sounds. I don't want people listening in."
The Algerian authorities' long delays in bringing key terrorism cases to trial undermines the defendants' right to a fair trial.
Human Rights Watch examined the cases of eight suspects who were held for up to six years in secret detention outside of the judicial system, and who now face trials of questionable fairness because the judges refuse to allow an important witness to testify. Most of the defendants are charged with involvement in the kidnapping of a group of 32 European tourists in the Algerian desert in 2003. These cases dramatize the continuing obstacles faced by those charged with terrorist offenses, even after authorities lifted a state of emergency in 2011, to obtaining justice that is both prompt and fair, Human Rights Watch said.
"President Abdelaziz Bouteflika speaks often about judicial reform, but when it comes to trying suspected militants, reform does not yet mean fairness," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch.
After lifting the state of emergency, Algeria has finally brought to trial men whom it had placed in secret detention for months or years. But the delays in their trials and the courts' refusal to summon key witnesses suggest that the injustice against these men is continuing, Human Rights Watch said.
The justice system has divided the case of the 2003 kidnapping into several trials. Some have been stalled for more than a year over the courts' refusal of defense motions to summon the alleged ringleader of the operation, who is in detention, to testify.
Human Rights Watch examined these cases with assistance from one of the key defense lawyers and by reviewing reports in the Algerian media. Algerian authorities have not approved requests made since 2010 by Human Rights Watch for visas to conduct an official mission to the country.
Responding to democracy protests in the region and in Algeria at the beginning of 2011, the government lifted the 19-year state of emergency and in April of that year, President Bouteflika pledged to reform laws and the judicial sector. On March 19, 2012, the president said that, "Plans for reforming the judiciary, which figured among the national priorities, have progressed in structural, juridical and human terms."
However, Algeria's handling of the alleged ringleader of the 2003 kidnapping operation, Amari Saïfi (known as "El Para"), illustrates the unjust treatment to which terrorism suspects can still be subjected. Algerian authorities took him into custody in 2004 and held him in an undisclosed location, without access to a lawyer, for more than six years, Amine Sidhoum told Human Rights Watch. Sidhoum is the lawyer who represented Saïfi after he was finally brought before a judge in 2011. Even though Saïfi was known to be in secret custody beginning in 2004, Algerian courts went ahead and tried him in absentia, sentencing him to death at one trial and to life in prison at another, violating his right to be present at his own trial.
Authorities finally brought Saïfi before an investigating judge in March 2011 and transferred him to Serkadji Prison in Algiers. But he still has not been brought to trial, even though Algerian law grants him the right to a new trial after his convictions in absentia. Judges also have refused to summon him as a witness in the trials of the men he allegedly led in the kidnapping operation.
"The handling of Amari Saïfi suggests that the courts are unwilling or unable to respect the rights of defendants in major terrorism cases," Whitson said. "The courts should respect due-process rights by summoning witnesses and trying defendants on the basis of a fair examination of all available evidence."
In another case in which the courts blatantly disregarded the rights of terrorism suspects to a prompt and fair trial, Malek Medjnoune and Abdelhakim Chenoui spent more than 11 years in pre-trial detention – a violation of their right to a prompt trial and to the presumption of innocence. In July 2011, they were convicted and sentenced in a one-day trial to 12 years in prison for complicity in the assassination of the celebrated poet-singer Matoub Lounes in June 1998, and membership in a terrorist group.
Both men said they were innocent and had been tortured during months of incommunicado detention before they were first brought to court in 2000 and charged. Medjnoune's father, in a complaint filed with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, stated that his son was held in incommunicado detention from September 28, 1999 until he was brought before an investigating judge on May 2, 2000. Human Rights Watch found no evidence that the court investigated the allegations about torture. Chenoui and Medjnoune were freed in March and May 2012, respectively, because their years in pre-trial detention were applied to their sentence.
"Algeria needs to show that even those charged with heinous crimes have access to the judicial system," Whitson said. "And suspects need to be presumed innocent until proven guilty if the verdicts of Algerian courts are to have legitimacy."
Secret Detentions Under the State of Emergency
On February 9, 1992, leaders of a military-backed coup issued a decree imposing a state of emergency shortly after halting legislative elections that an Islamist political party, the Islamic Salvation Front, was poised to win. The emergency decree gave authorities powers to restrict civil liberties and to detain people without charge.
In the months that followed, sporadic violence by Islamist armed groups became endemic, targeting both civilians and members of the security forces. The security forces engaged in fierce repression but also offered amnesty to militants who surrendered or renounced armed operations.
The violence continued throughout the 1990s, tapering off by the end of that decade. The number of people killed is not known but most estimates are between 100,000 and 200,000, most of them civilians.
Algeria continued to experience sporadic attacks by armed groups after 2000, including, in recent years, by groups claiming allegiance to Al-Qaida.
Violations of rights associated with the state of emergency included holding a group of terrorism suspects in secret custody for years, outside any form of judicial review or oversight. Since at least 2004, Algerian media have reported, citing official sources, the arrest or surrender of a number of people suspected of participating in the kidnapping in the Algerian Sahara of a group of 32 European tourists in February 2003, and in deadly attacks on military personnel at roughly the same period. Algeria said that the militant group behind this kidnapping was the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe salafiste de predication et de combat, GPSC). A commando operation freed 17 of the hostages in May 2003, and another 14 were freed in August 2003 after negotiations. One hostage died in captivity, apparently due to heatstroke.
After Algerian media reported arrests of the alleged kidnappers, some were placed in secret custody, removed from judicial review or oversight for months or years. Even though they were in custody, courts tried and convicted some of them in absentia and in other cases refused to summon them to testify at the trials of other defendants where their testimony seemed relevant.
Authorities called this practice of secret detention "house arrest" (assignation à résidence). The apparent basis for this practice is articles 5 and 6 of the 1992 emergency decree (presidential decree no. 92-44 of February 9, 1992 imposing the state of emergency). Article 5 provided:
The minister of interior and local government may decide to place in a security facility, in a specified place, any adult individual whose activity is determined to be dangerous for the public order, public security, or the proper operation of public services.
Under Article 5, the security facilities were to be set up by order of the interior minister and local officials. No list of such facilities, nor of the detainees placed in them, was ever made public, as far as Human Rights Watch could determine.
Article 6(4) of the emergency decree empowered the ministry of interior and local government and governors "to assign to a residence any adult whose activity is determined to be harmful to the public order or to the functioning of public services."
Those placed in this form of detention did not, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, benefit from any regular form of judicial review of their continued detention, despite this fundamental requirement in international law, which applies even during genuine states of emergency. The UN Human Rights Committee in its General Comment on states of emergency, held:
The presumption of innocence must be respected. In order to protect non-derogable rights, the right to take proceedings before a court to enable the court to decide without delay on the lawfulness of detention, must not be diminished by a State party's decision to derogate from the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].
The detainees removed from the judicial system and placed in "assigned residence" during the state of emergency include Amari Saïfi, Hassan Hattab, Otmane Touati, Lounis Mokadem, Kamel Djermane, Fateh Bouderbala, Ali Ben Touati, and Khalouf Feres, whose cases were reviewed by Human Rights Watch. Authorities later charged most of them with complicity in the 2003 kidnappings, among other charges.
Algerian authorities stated throughout the decade beginning in 2000 that the continued risk of terrorism justified maintaining the state of emergency, but then lifted it on February 23, 2011, after weeks of rioting by youths and small pro-reform street demonstrations in the capital, and after uprisings erupted in neighboring Tunisia and Libya and elsewhere in the region.
President Bouteflika then pledged both legal and structural reforms, including in the judiciary. In his annual oration at the opening of the judicial year on December 21, the president spoke, according to El-Moudjahid, of "reforms of the judicial sector [that would] restore the confidence of the citizen in general and those before the justice system in particular, in their judicial system." This goal, he said, "depends on the behavior of judges, on their impartiality … and their performing well through timely and objective verdicts in conformity with the law." They are to "apply the law in complete loyalty to it and independence."
Impact of Lifting Emergency Laws on Secret Custody Detainees
The lifting of the emergency law had immediate consequences for detainees who had been held in secret custody outside of the prison system, some for years. They were brought before a judge, who sent some to pretrial detention in an Algiers prison and others to a new form of custody created by a presidential decree on the day the state of emergency ended.
The presidential decree amended article 125bis(1) of the code of criminal procedure by allowing judges to assign suspects who have been charged to a "protected residence" (résidence protégée). The decree does not specify the types of locations where the state can confine a person in "protected residence" and also imposes secrecy around it, stating that, "Anyone who reveals any information related to the location of the protected residence risks the punishment provided [by the law] for revealing confidential aspects of a judicial investigation" (la divulgation du secret de l'instruction). The decree limits the period of "protected residence" detention to three months, renewable twice for additional three-month periods.
The term "protected residence" suggests that this could be a kind of house arrest, in the affected person's home. However, authorities used a similar term (assignation à residence) during the state of emergency to confine people in military barracks and other unacknowledged detention sites secretly. This raises concerns that the new "protected residence" provision will still allow the government to hold people in unacknowledged detention sites.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance states in Article 17(1), "No one shall be held in secret detention." Algeria has not ratified this convention but has signed it, implying an engagement not to develop laws and practices that contravene it.
Human Rights Watch has been unable to determine the total number of suspects who were transferred out of secret custody upon the lifting of the state of emergency. It is only aware of a few of such cases, presented below.
Placing these detainees under judicial oversight, either in prison or "protected residence," is an improvement over their previous state in secret custody, removed from the judicial system, Human Rights Watch said. However, the trials of many of those suspected of involvement in the 2003 kidnapping have been held up for more than a year because the courts refuse to summon Saïfi to testify, as their defense lawyers have requested.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Algeria has ratified, states in article 14(e) that the guarantee of a fair trial requires that a defendant be able "to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him." Article 14(c) guarantees the right "to be tried without undue delay." This provision applies especially to people in custody: if they are not given a trial within a reasonable period, they should be released.
The following people, whose cases have been reviewed by Human Rights Watch, were held outside of the judicial system for up to six years:
Amari Saïfi ("El Para")
Saïfi is one of the best-known suspects held outside the judicial system for years. The Algerian press commonly refer to both Saïfi and Hassan Hattab (see below) as emirs of the militant Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe salafiste pour la prédication et le combat, GSPC). Algerian newspapers reported in 2009 that both men, after they had been held in secret custody for years, had issued appeals to militants to lay down their arms.
Authorities accuse Saïfi, reportedly a former paratrooper in the Algerian army – thus the nickname "El Para" – of being a leader of the group, masterminding the 2003 kidnapping operation, and killing members of Algeria's security forces the same year. Numerous press reports said that Chadian rebels captured Saïfi and turned him over to Libyan authorities. Libyan authorities sent him to Algeria in October 2004, Algerian press reports at the time said, citing a statement by Algeria's Interior Ministry.
The GSPC professed allegiance to Al-Qaida in 2007 and renamed itself Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The UN Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee lists Saïfi as a member of that group.
Between Saïfi's reported arrival in Algerian custody in October 2004 and his appearance before a prosecutor in Algiers on March 7, 2011, he remained in custody in an undisclosed location, prevented from attending his own trial and those of co-defendants who sought his appearance in court to testify at their trials.
Amnesty International cited press reports that authorities presented Saïfi to a prosecutor in January 2005. However, he was absent from an April 24, 2005 hearing of a trial before the Algiers criminal court in which he was among the accused. The court convicted him in absentia on June 25, 2005, along with other defendants, of "forming a terrorist group that aimed to sow terror among the population," and sentenced him to life in prison, L'Expression reported at the time. Saïfi was also absent from a trial against him in Biskra that was postponed indefinitely on March 24, 2008, El-Watan reported.
The general prosecutor at the Algiers Court, Zaghmati Belkacem, declared on November 3, 2009, that Saïfi was not in any prison within his jurisdiction – that is, in Algiers, L'Expression reported.
On June 21, 2010, the criminal court in the city of Batna sentenced Saïfi to death in absentia for terrorist activities, according to El-Watan.
On March 7, 2011, two weeks after the state of emergency was lifted, authorities brought Saïfi before a special terrorism prosecutor (procureur des Pôles Spécialisés chargé des affaires de terrorisme) at the Algiers criminal court. The court charged him with harming the security of the state in order to topple or change the nature of the government; inciting citizens to take up arms against the state; harming national unity; leading armed groups to subvert national security; rape; theft; attacking public agents; forming a terrorist group to sow terror among the population and to create a climate of insecurity; possession of forbidden weapons and munitions; selling, importing and exporting arms without authorization; premeditated murder; and kidnapping for the purpose of demanding a ransom.These are offenses under the penal code, articles 77, 84, 86bis(7), 87bis, 87bis(3), 87bis (1), 245, 255, 256, 257, 261, 291, and 293bis.
Authorities then remanded Saïfi to Serkadji prison in Algiers. Media reports quoted Justice Minister Tayeb Belaïz in March 2011 saying that Saïfi was in pre-trial detention and that his case "is now in the hands of the courts."
However, the courts' handling of the 2003 kidnapping cases in the year that followed demonstrated a disregard for the right of defendants to due process and to a prompt trial, Human Rights Watch found. Saïfi has remained in Serkadji prison. The courts have yet to put him on trial and have rejected defense requests to bring him to court to testify at the trials of defendants charged for their role in terrorist activities that Saïfi allegedly led.
For example, Omar Ferrah and Yacine Aïssani are on trial for membership in an armed terrorist group, murder, involvement in the kidnapping of foreign tourists in 2003, and other serious crimes. They are not among those who were placed in secret "house arrest" during the state of emergency. However, their trial has been delayed repeatedly by protests by the defense team over the court's refusal to summon Saïfi to testify. At the March 17, 2011, session of their trial, for example, the judge told the lawyers that Saïfi's presence was "not necessary." El-Watan reported:
Attorney Hadria Khannouf asked for the trial's postponement. "Your honor, today we know that El Para [Saïfi] is in the custody of the Justice Ministry. The minister himself confirmed it. For this trial to proceed properly, we ask that he be present." The judge replied that the trial has already been postponed several times and that the court has decided to get on with the trial, after determining that the presence of El Para is unnecessary, "considering that he is not among the accused."
This remark prompted attorney Amine Sidhoum to respond, "But, Your Honor, El Para is named in the court report, a copy of which is before you. Among the accused parties, his name is listed third. And I, as the lawyer for [Aïssani], demand his presence considering that he is in detention according to the minister of justice."
Attorney Saâdia Touati made the same request. She had petitioned last January the general prosecutor to "require the attendance of El Para." "According to the court report, my client belongs to the group of El Para, but the latter denies and rejects the charges. He should be heard in order to clarify this point," she said.
The three lawyers asked what was behind the refusal to present this "ex-Amir.""He is not a witness but rather the principal accused party and the commander of the kidnapping of the foreign tourists." They ask, why are they trying to keep him away from the case?"
Sidhoum confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the judge had called Saïfi "a special case" to justify his refusal to summon him to court.
To protest the court's refusal to summon Saïfi, lawyers Sidhoum and Khannouf withdrew from the case at the March 17 session, prompting the judge to assign new lawyers to represent Ferrah and Aïssani. At the subsequent sessions of the trial, on April 14 and again on June 22, Saïfi still did not appear. The judge adjourned the case until the next court session, starting in October 2011. The adjournments continued throughout the autumn court calendar, as the defense lawyers maintained their boycott of the case to protest the judge's refusal to summon Saïfi for questioning. By February 1, 2012, the trial had been postponed 11 times. On April 11, 2012, with the situation unchanged, the judge postponed the case until the autumn 2012 court session. Meanwhile, Aïssani has petitioned the Court of Cassation to quash the indictment prepared by the Accusation Chamber.
Hattab was, until his surrender, widely recognized as the emir of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni told news media that Hattab surrendered to authorities on September 22, 2007. An Algerian newspaper said he had turned himself in to take advantage of an amnesty. However, Zerhouni was quoted as saying, "As [Hattab] is involved in several judicial cases, he has to clarify his situation."
Like Saïfi, Hattab was convicted in absentia during the state of emergency for terrorist offenses even though he was in custody at the time of his trial. On November 25, 2007, a criminal court in Tizi-Ouzou sentenced him and a co-defendant to death in absentia for membership in a terrorist organization and the attempted assassination of an army general in 1993, El-Watan reported. On March 17, 2007 – before Hattab's surrender – a criminal court in Batna had sentenced him to death in absentia on terrorism-related charges.
The day after lifting the state of emergency on February 23, 2011, authorities brought Hattab before a court. He is charged with "forming a terrorist group, participating in attacks using explosives, premeditated murder, attempted murder with premeditation, and possession of weapons of war without authorization," among other charges.
Instead of placing Hattab in pretrial detention, as they had done with Saïfi, authorities said they had placed Hattab in "protected residence." Justice Minister Belaïz stated on March 13, 2011, that the investigating judge could visit and question Hattab in his "protected residence," but that "the family of the accused and his lawyer must not reveal the location [of his protected residence], for reasons of security." Media reports at the time said that Belaïz intimated that authorities were placing Hattab in "protected residence" rather than in pretrial detention because he could be "useful" to the security forces in their fight against terrorism.
In December 2011, the general prosecutor of the Algiers Court, Belkacem Zeghmati, told the press that an investigating judge had transferred Hattab from "protected residence" to "judicial supervision," without disclosing his whereabouts. He remains under "judicial supervision" as of this writing.
Since being taken into custody nearly five years ago, Hattab has not appeared in court in any trials where he was a defendant or in trials where defendants sought his testimony as a witness.
Algerian authorities suspect Djermane of being a top aide to Saïfi. The UN Security Council's Al-Qaida Sanctions List names Djermane as a member of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Libya sent Djermane to Algeria on July 14, 2007, according to his court file, as cited by the Algerian press. Sidhoum, Djermane's lawyer, told Human Rights Watch that his case file shows that authorities placed him in garde à vue (pre-arraignment) detention from September 10 until September 23, 2007. During that time, Djermane was allowed no contact with his family or lawyer, Sidhoum said. The file also indicates also that the judicial police questioned him on October 28 of that year, Sidhoum told Human Rights Watch. Authorities charged Djermane in connection with the kidnapping of the foreign tourists in 2003, but kept him in "assigned residence" until the end of the state of emergency, when they transferred him into pretrial detention.
Djermane's trial before the Algiers Criminal Court has been postponed repeatedly, as Djermane's lawyers, including Sidhoum, protested the court's refusal to summon Saïfi as a witness for the defense. On April 15, 2011, for example, the defense lawyers refused to argue the case in the absence of Saïfi, maintaining that he appears in the report of the Chamber of Accusation (l'arrêt de renvoi) as a co-accused. The judge adjourned the hearing, to allow for "clarification" of Saïfi's status in this case, the Algerian daily Liberté reported. On June 9, 2011, with the defense still protesting Saïfi's failure to appear, the judge in the case adjourned the case until court's autumn season, Le Soir d'Algérie reported. The situation remained unchanged throughout the autumn 2011 and spring 2012 court sessions. On April 3, 2012, the court postponed the case again due to the absence of the defense team, who had walked out of the trial to protest the court's refusal to summon Saïfi. The trial is scheduled to resume July 7.
Gherbia is on trial for his alleged role in the 2003 kidnapping of foreign tourists. His trial opened before an Algiers court in November 2011. At that time, Sidhoum, also Gherbia's lawyer, asked the court to subpoena Saïfi to testify as a witness. The trial was postponed until January 2012, when the court maintained its refusal to subpoena Saïfi, causing Sidhoum to withdraw from the case in protest. The trial has not resumed as of this writing.
The following three prisoners have not been charged with involvement in the 2003 kidnapping of Europeans but all were held in secret "assigned residence" during the state of emergency.
Authorities arrested Mokadem on April 18, 2010, and placed him in "assigned residence," according to a written order dated May 10, 2010, from the Interior Ministry. The Algerian media also later reported Mokadem's arrest on that date, describing him as a former medical chief for Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Human Rights Watch viewed a "general report" in Mokadem's court files that is signed by the president of the judiciary police service in Algiers and that refers to the May 10, 2010 detention order.
Sidhoum, also Mokadem's defense lawyer, said that from the time of Mokadem's placement in "assigned residence" in April or May 2010 until February 24, 2011, the day after the state of emergency ended, authorities did not bring him before a judge or allow him access to a lawyer.
On May 15, 2011, the Accusation Chamber of the court in the wilaya (province) of Boumerdès examined charges against Mokadem that included "membership in a terrorist organization operating inside the country." In November 2011 the court convicted him and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
Authorities describe Touati as a top aide to Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb emir Abdelmalek Droukdel and as a "judge" within the organization. Touati surrendered to authorities on May 25, 2010, news media reported. He remained in "assigned residence" until he was brought before an investigating judge on February 27, 2011, Sidhoum said. Touati remains in pretrial detention, facing charges of belonging to a terrorist organization and possessing weapons without authorization.
Feres was held in "assigned residence" for a period following his arrest, denied access to a lawyer and his family, Sidhoum said, and then charged in 2008. In May 2011, after the end of the state of emergency, an Algiers court convicted him of membership in a terrorist organization and possession of explosives, and sentenced him to five years in prison. Feres was then sent to Bouira Prison.