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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Algeria

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Algeria, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4864668e69.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis 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.

Political context

During the ten-year conflict that tore Algeria apart in the 1990s, 200,000 people were killed and thousands more were victims of enforced disappearances, kidnappings, rapes and acts of torture carried out both by armed groups and the security forces. The hope that one day responsibilities will be established and light will be shed on the fate of the victims of these systematic and grave violations lessens with each of the measures taken by the Algerian authorities. Indeed, measures have been taken in the completely opposite direction in recent years.

The "Civil Concord" and the "Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation" were adopted by referendum in 1999 and 2005 respectively. Their official aim was to put an end to internal conflicts, enabling many perpetrators of serious human rights violations to be granted amnesty. However, as of today, the authorities have given Algerian citizens no substantial information on the effect of the Civil Concord and the numbers of persons who have benefited from its provisions. The crimes of the past continue to weigh heavily on the political life of Algeria.

Despite maintenance of the state of emergency, which has been in force since 1992 and is intended to guarantee the safety of the population, the country is still the theatre of acts of violence, causing the death of dozens of civilians and members of the security forces each year.

In this securitarian environment, many obstacles prevent human rights defenders from organising and carrying out activities, despite the fact that the Algerian Constitution guarantees "individual or associative defence of the fundamental human rights and individual and collective liberties" (Article 33). Human rights defenders, including journalists and trade union members, are victims of acts of harassment and intimidation, smear campaigns and abusive judicial proceedings that have resulted in several receiving prison sentences. The fight against terrorism, which was intensified following the attacks in Algiers in 2007, has further reinforced this environment that is destructive of liberty.

Finally, the Algerian authorities continue to ignore requests for visits by several United Nations Special Procedures. In recent years, there has been no response to requests from the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms while countering terrorism, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances. However, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, visited Algeria in January 2007 and, following a delay of several years, Algeria submitted in 2006 its periodic reports to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Committee Against Torture.

Obstacles to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly

Although the legal existence of associations has been governed by a declaratory system since the adoption of Law 90-31 in 1990, in reality it is arbitrary practice that prevails. Several human rights associations have been unable to file their registration documents and have therefore been denied legal existence, following rejection by the authorities. This has been the case with SOS-Disappeared (SOS-Disparus) since 2001. Moreover, a number of human rights associations, even those that are licensed, such as the Algerian Human Rights Defence League (Ligue algérienne de défense des droits humains – LADDH) and the Youth Action Movement (Rassemblement action jeunesse – RAJ), regularly encounter difficulties in organising meetings, finding premises, obtaining funding and carrying out their activities.

The authorities also generally flout freedom of peaceful assembly. Indeed, human rights associations are almost systematically prevented from organising peaceful demonstrations or public meetings in private venues. As an example, in February 2007 five associations for the defence of victims of the armed conflict – the Collective of Families of Disappeared Persons in Algeria (Collectif des familles de disparu(e)s en Algérie), SOS Disappeared, "Djazairouna", the National Association of Families of Disappeared Persons (Association nationale des familles de disparus – ANFD) and "Somoud" – had organised a seminar entitled "For Truth, Peace and Conciliation" in a hotel in Algiers, but were barred from entering. The Algerian authorities had also previously refused to grant access to the territory for the international experts invited to the event, including the lawyer Mr. Roberto Garretón, a member of the Chilean Organisation for the Defence of the Families of Political Prisoners (Organización de Defensa Popular – ODEP), and Mr. Louis Joinet, Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Haiti.

The Charter for National Peace and Reconciliation, a threat to defenders

In 2007, the authorities continued to ban all public debate on the consequences of implementing the Charter for National Peace and Reconciliation and its related implementation provisions. Many of its opponents were harassed, threatened and sometimes imprisoned. In addition, the texts implementing the Charter made any public discussion on the conflict a criminal act. Article 46 of the Ordinance 06-01 to implement the Charter provides for sentences of up to five years in prison for any work in favour of fostering truth and justice, and constitutes a direct threat to human rights organisations and to associations of families of disappeared persons that fight for truth and the rights of victims to justice and reparation. During consideration of Algeria's periodic report in November 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Committee called for this Article to be repealed.1

It is in this context that Mr. Sofiane Chouiter, a lawyer and a member of SOS Disappeared, was subjected to repeated intimidation, especially after public interventions on the international scene, and that he was notified that some of his activities were liable to classification as criminal offences, in particular under Article 46 of the Ordinance on implementation of the Charter. In June 2007, Mr. Chouiter was questioned by the police at Algiers airport on his return from a training course on transitional justice in Morocco. He had already been interrogated in March 2007 about his participation in the seminar "For Truth, Peace and Conciliation" organised in Brussels and on his hearing before the Human Rights Commission of the European Parliament. During his trip, Mr. Chouiter had been interviewed in a programme broadcast by the Al Jazeera TV channel.

Abusive legal proceedings instituted against human rights defenders

In 2007, abusive judicial proceedings were instituted against numerous defenders, to dissuade them from continuing their human rights activities. On May 27, 2007 Mr. Amine Sidhoum, a lawyer and member of SOS Disappeared, was summoned regarding an article published in May 2004 in which he had referred to an "arbitrary decision" issued against one of his clients. On August 23, 2006, the Minister of Justice had filed a complaint against him for "discrediting a court's decision" and for "contempt of a State institution". Likewise, proceedings were instituted against Ms. Hassiba Boumerdassi, a lawyer for the Collective of Families of Disappeared Persons in Algeria, for having given a report to a client in prison without requesting the permission of the prison director. She was discharged on April 25, 2007. Mr. Mohamed Smain, Head of the Relizane branch of the LADDH, was sentenced in October 2007 to two months in prison for having condemned "fictitious crimes". He had informed the press of the existence and exhumation of mass graves discovered by gendarmes and a local militia group (February 2001). Mr. Smain was however discharged of charges of "defamation and contempt".

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).


1 See Final Observations of the Human Rights Committee, United Nations document CCPR/C/ DZA/CO/3, December 12, 2007.

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