Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2014, 13:18 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Algeria

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Algeria, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa20c.html [accessed 30 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.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

After gaining independence in 1962, Algeria had a single-party state dominated by the country's military leadership and supported by the bureaucracy and the National Liberation Front (FLN). The FLN's rule ended in 1992 with the resignation of President Chadli Benjedid and the dissolution of the FLN-dominated Parliament.

President Liamine Zeroual, a former general, was elected in November 1995 to a 5-year term. Zeroual had previously served as president of a transition government established by the army in 1994. The President controls defense and foreign policy, appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers, and may dissolve the legislature. The presidential election was competitive. Three opposition candidates had some access to state-controlled television and radio and also received heavy coverage in the independent press. Zeroual received 61 percent of the votes according to government figures; losing candidates claimed that there were instances of fraud but did not contest Zeroual's victory. Algeria has not had an elected parliament since January 1992. In 1994 the military-backed Government appointed a National Transition Council as a surrogate parliament. The President pledged to hold new parliamentary elections in the first half of 1997.

Under the 1989 Constitution, there was to be a transition to a pluralist republic with a strong president. The democratization process was suspended in 1992 when the Army forced the President to resign, canceled the second round of parliamentary elections which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win, and installed a ruling five-man High State Committee, which banned the FIS and jailed more of its leaders. The cancellation of the elections in 1992 escalated fighting between the security forces and armed Islamist groups seeking to overthrow the Government and impose an Islamic state.

In May the President began reviewing with legal opposition parties a memorandum containing his ideas on how to develop a political system. These included amending the Constitution to define acceptable political practices and to establish a second parliamentary chamber (a senate). The President also insisted the electoral and political party laws be changed. In September several important opposition political parties joined with the President to sign a national charter encompassing these ideas. In November the Government obtained approval of proposed changes to the Constitution, including provision of a second parliamentary chamber and greater presidential authority, in a flawed popular referendum.

The Government's security apparatus is composed of the army, air force, navy, the national gendarmerie, the national police, communal guards (a local police), and local self-defense forces. All of these elements are involved incounterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. The security forces were responsible for numerous serious human rights abuses.

The economy is slowly developing from a centrally planned system to a more market-oriented system, in the wake of stabilization policies and structural reforms undertaken in 1994 and 1995. The pace of structural reform slowed in 1996. Uncompetitive and unprofitable state enteprises constituted the bulk of the industrial sector. The state-owned petroleum sector's output represented about a quarter of national income and about 95 percent of export earnings in 1996. Algeria is a middle-income country whose annual per capita income is about $1,700. Unemployment continued to rise in 1996, hitting young people especially hard. About 70 percent of persons under the age of 30 could not find adequate employment. Some made a living from petty smuggling or street peddling.

Although the Government's human rights performance improved somewhat, there were continued serious human rights abuses. The security forces carried out extrajudicial killings, were responsible for numerous cases of disappearance, routinely tortured or otherwise abused detainees, and arbitrarily arrested and held incommunicado many of those suspected of involvement with armed Islamist groups. Although the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, recent executive branch decrees have restricted some of the judiciary's authority. Poor prison conditions, lengthy trial delays, illegal searches, and infringements on citizens' privacy rights also remained problems. The Government heavily censored news about security incidents and the armed groups. The Government also continued to restrict freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement. During the November constitutional referendum, there were no independent observers at the polling stations during the vote or the ballot counting. Political parties opposing the constitutional amendments were denied access to the electronic media, and their activitists suffered occasional government harassment. The Family Code limited women's civil rights, while domestic violence against women remained a serious problem.

Armed groups and terrorists also committed numerous serious abuses, killing thousands of civilians. Armed Islamists have conducted a widespread insurgency since elections were canceled in January 1992. Although some areas of the country saw less conflict in 1996 that heretofore, acts of terrorism were still numerous. Islamist groups targeted government officials and families of security service members. They also assassinated political and religious figures, businessmen, teachers, journalists, state enterprise workers, farmers, and children. Armed Islamists targeted women specially; there were repeated instances of kidnaping and rape. Bombs left in cars, cafes, and markets killed and maimed people indiscriminately. By year's end, most commonly accepted casualty estimates were that 60,000 people had been killed during 5 years of turmoil.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing.

There were fewer credible reports that security forces killed persons suspected to be members or sympathizers of armed groups. According to an Algerian human rights organization, in August a group of self-defense force members killed 21 civilians outside of Boufarik. An Algerian human rights organization credibly reported that in September a communal guard killed the parents of a suspected terrorist in Draa Ben Khedda after the guard's father was murdered. There was also a credible report that security forces killed a dozen members of an armed group trying to surrender in a western Algerian province in June.

Human rights activists also stated that many persons arrested by police died in custody. For example, police took a young man from his Algiers home in January; his family learned that his body was at the Algiers morgue the following day. Neither the police nor other government authorities have explained how he died.

The Government maintains that the security forces resort to lethal force only in the context of armed clashes with terrorists. The Government also contends that as a matter of policy disciplinary action is taken against soldiers or policemen who are guilty of violating human rights, and this occurred in some cases. In September the Government put a group of self-defense force members on trial in Blida on charges of wrongly killing 5 persons in May. In December a Tipaza court found guilty two policemen for torturing a young man in Tipaza; the officers received suspended sentences. There were no other reports of action or serious sanctions taken against security force members for killings or other human rights abuses.

Armed groups targeted both security force members and civilians. Terrorists attacked civilians whom they regarded as instruments of the State or whose lifestyles they considered in conflict with Islamic values. Sometimes they killed in the course of armed robberies or to enforce local protection rackets. Some terrorist bombings seemed intended only to create social disorder by causing a high number of civilian casualties without any apparent concern for the particular target.

The terrorist Armed Islamic Group (GIA) claimed responsibility for dozens of murders, including the killing of seven French monks in June. Terrorist targets included current and former government officials, businessmen, teachers, doctors, and farmers. An official from the Hamas Movement, a legal Islamist party, was murdered at Ksar Al-Boukhari in January, while an official from the former Communist Party was killed in May. Three men murdered a French-language teacher in a classroom in front of her students in Blida in March. Also in March terrorists killed six textile plant workers near Tizi Ouzou because the workers' villages had organized local defense groups. Armed men shot and killed a popular singer in Constantine in September. There also were instances throughout the year of terrorists stopping buses and cars and murdering civilian passengers. In some cases the victims apparently were murdered merely because they were young men of draft age eligible for military service. In April an armed group assaulted the village of Larbaatache east of Algiers and reportedly killed 60 persons, including women and children. There were a series of massacres in Blida, Tipaza, and Boumerdes provinces during November and December.

Terrorist bombs also killed hundreds. In some cases, the terrorists targeted government buildings. In others they sought to retaliate against the families of members of the security services by exploding car bombs outside their homes. In January a bomb planted in a mosque in Baraki killed six persons. Another bomb killed the Bishop of Oran in August. The Algiers region suffered from a series of cafe bombings during the summer. Terrorists also left bombs at several street markets during the year; one such bomb in Boufarik killed 17 persons in September. Since 1993 at least 59 journalists have died in terrorist attacks; at least 9 were killed during the year. Three of the journalists killed in 1996 died in a February car bombing of the Main Press Building in Algiers, along with 12 other persons (see Section 2.a.). Terrorists also murdered a well-known Algerian news photographer, a reporter for the national television station, and a broadcaster for Algerian Radio. Many journalists had to change their addresses every few days to make themselves less accessible targets. Over 120 foreigners have been killed since 1993.

b. Disappearance

The government-affiliated National Observatory of Human Rights (ONDH) received reports of about 50 cases of disappearance in 1996, down substantially from the 116 received in 1995. The ONDH did receive some responses to its inquiries about disappearance cases from 1996 and previous years. Some of these cases involved arrests by security forces, others involved persons kidnaped by armed groups, and still others involved persons who fled to join armed groups. These resolved cases represented only a small fraction of the total number of cases; the great majority remained unresolved. An independent Algerian human rights group said in December that it had 400 outstanding cases of persons arrested who have disappeared since 1992.

Independent human rights groups in Algeria had no specific total for 1996, but they also suggested that there were fewer cases of disappearance than in previous years. Armed men in uniforms took away an electrician named Mourad in Algiers in July in a vehicle clearly marked "security;" the family was unable to verify if or where he was being held. A man named Hakim was arrested in April by men in uniforms and taken away in the type of vehicle normally used by Defense Ministry elements, but his family could obtain no official confirmation of Hakim's detention. An electrician was arrested and taken from his home in Algiers by men in uniform in September, but his family could obtain no further information on his whereabouts. Families of 14 persons arrested by men in uniforms during a security force sweep of the district of Le Chevalier in March also could not obtain any news of their relatives. The Government asserted that terrorists disguised as security forces perpetrated numerous incidents.

Terrorist groups kidnaped hundreds of civilians, including family members of security service members. Sometimes the mutilated corpses of such victims were later found. In many other instances, however, the victims disappeared, and their families could obtain no information about their fate.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Both the Constitution and legislation ban torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. However, according to human rights groups and lawyers, the police regularly resort to torture when interrogating persons suspected of involvement in or of having sympathies with armed Islamists. There were several credible reports of torture at the Algiers police facility called Chateau Neuf. Rachid Mesli, a defense lawyer for the FIS was detained in August; he had severe bruises on his face and arms when he appeared for his first Algiers court hearing. There also were credible reports that an Islamist party activist and his wife were arrested and tortured in Setif in March. Security forces reportedly tortured residents from the town of Belaoudi during interrogations in the midst of a sweep for armed groups in July.

There were repeated reports that police applied to prisoners a technique called "Le Chiffon," in which a cloth soaked in noxious fluid was put in the victim's mouth. There were also reports that the police applied electric shocks to sensitive body parts. Police beatings of detainees appeared to be common.

Many victims of torture hesitate to make public allegations due to fear of government retaliation. The Interior Ministry in 1992 said that it would punish those who violated the law and practiced torture, but it has never revealed whether any of those responsible for torture have been punished. In its 1996 report, the ONDH stated that there had been complaints of torture in the Government's campaign against terrorism. It also pointed to a connection between incommunicado detention and allegations of torture. The ONDH called on the Government to put an end to torture of detainees, noting that such practice hurt the credibility of the State.

Armed groups also committed abuses, including frequent beheadings and dismemberment of their victims. There were frequent reports of young women being abducted and repeatedly raped, often for weeks at a time. The terrorists sought to justify this sexual abuse by referring to it as "temporary marriage," but all other observers, including Islamic scholars, uniformly condemned the practice as rape.

Prison conditions are poor and prisons are very overcrowded. According to human rights activists, cells often contain several times the number of prisoners for which they originally were designed. Medical treatment for prisoners is also severely limited. The Government does not permit independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers by groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or Amnesty International (AI).

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. It stipulates that incommunicado detention in criminal cases prior to arraignment may not exceed 48 hours, after which the suspect must be charged or released. According to the Antiterrorist Law of 1992, the police may hold suspects in prearraignment detention for up to 12 days; they also must inform suspects of the charges against them.

However, the security forces routinely exceed the lawful detention limit in practice. The 1996 ONDH report noted that detainees frequently are held incommunicado much longer than allowed by law. In the spring, there were credible reports from three villages in Jijel province that Communal Guard forces arrested persons suspected of sympathies with armed groups and detained them at Guard barracks.

The most prominent case involving a prisoner held incommunicado was FIS vice-president Ali Benhadj; his family has heard nothing about him since mid-1995 despite repeated approaches to the Justice Ministry by Benhadj's lawyers.

The ONDH report and human rights activists also stated that court judges could not exercise effective control over the police to ensure that the law was applied consistently.

The Antiterrorist Law of 1992 suspended the requirement that the police obtain warrants in order to make an arrest. During the year, the police made a few broad nighttime sweeps of neighborhoods in the Algiers suburbs in search of suspected terrorists and often detained suspects without identifying themselves. In some cases, they purposely arrested close relatives of suspected terrorists in order to force those suspects to surrender. In June the police arrested a 69-year old woman named Daouia in Constantine in order to compel her son, wanted for involvement in an armed group, to surrender. As of late fall, the family was unable to determine where the woman was being held.

According to the ONDH, there are several hundred persons awaiting trial on security-related charges. Other human rights groups allege that the number is much higher. The 1996 ONDH report stated that 12,000 persons were serving prison sentences after being convicted of security-related offenses; an independent Algerian human rights monitoring group put the number at 40,000. In both estimates, however, many – if not most – of those being held were allegedly involved in acts of violence. There were cases, however, which clearly appeared political. For example, Abdelkader Hachani, a senior FIS official, has been imprisoned since January 1992 without trial. Similarly, lawyer Ali Zouita has been held since 1993 despite a court's acquitting him in 1993 of aiding a terrorist group; he has never been tried on other charges.

Persons accused of crimes sometimes did not receive expeditious trials. During the year, the Government arrested hundreds of state enterprise officials on charges of corruption. Only a few have received a trial. The rest remained in detention. Mid-level officials from an Annaba State Enterprise accused of corruption staged a hunger strike in August to protest their 6 months of detention without trial.

Under the state of emergency, the Minister of Interior is authorized to detain suspects in special camps administered by the army. The Government closed the last camp in November 1995, and announced that it had released the 641 prisoners there, although there were subsequent reports that some were rearrested later. The Government and other sources contended that some persons released from this prison had joined armed groups.

Exile is not a legal form of punishment and is not known to be practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. In practice, however, the Government does not always respect the independence of the judicial system.

The National Judges Syndicate publicly charged several times during the year that the executive branch was interfering in matters that properly belong to the judicial system. It cited a Justice Ministry order of March that denied judges the right to release provisionally those accused of corruption without approval from the Ministry. The Government did not retaliate openly against the National Syndicate after it made these charges. However, the authorities prevented the Syndicates's leadership from convening a syndicate meeting in Algiers in December and reportedly encouraged the emergence of new syndicate leadership.

The judiciary is composed of the civil courts, which try misdemeanors and felonies, and military courts, which have tried civilians for security and terrorism offenses. There also is a Constitutional Council which reviews the constitutionality of treaties, laws, and regulations. Although the Council is not part of the judiciary, it has the authority to nullify laws found unconstitutional.

The Government in 1995 abolished the Special Security Courts which human rights observers had contended did not provide defendents fair trials. Regular criminal courts now try those accused of security-related offenses, but there have been very few actual trials.

According to the Constitution, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They have the right to confront their accusers and may appeal the conviction. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to legal counsel. However, the authorities do not always respect all legal provisions regarding defendants' rights. Lawyers defending state enterprise managers accused of corruption in Annaba withdrew from the case after the Interior Ministry refused to share the evidence gathered against the managers as the law stipulates. Some lawyers would not accept cases of those accused of security-related offenses, due to fear of retribution from the security forces. Defense lawyers for members of the FIS have suffered harassment, death threats, and arrest (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.).

There are no credible estimates of the number of political prisoners. An unknown number of persons who may be considered political prisoners were serving prison sentences or detained without charge because of their Islamist sympathies and membership in FIS (see Section 1.d.).

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home, but the State of Emergency authorizes provincial governors to issue exceptional search warrants at any time. Security forces often entered residences without warrants. The security services also deployed an extensive network of secret informers against both terrorist targets and political opponents. The Government monitored telephones and sometimes disconnected service to political opponents (see Section 3). Security forces detained relatives of suspects to try to compel the suspects to surrender (see Section 1.d.).

There were credible reports that people had to leave their homes due to the Government's antiterrorist operations. In the spring, communal guards forced the evacuation of at least one small village in Jijel province in the midst of a security sweep. There were additional reports that Communal Guard forces blocked the supply of food and water to several villages in Jijel until they agreed to form self-defense forces. During the summer, gendarmerie forces compelled the residents of a village near Larbaa to abandon their homes when they refused to organize a self-defense force.

Armed Islamists routinely entered private homes either to kill or kidnap residents or to steal weapons, valuables, or food. In early 1996, armed groups kidnaped all of the daughters of several families in Jijel province. Armed Islamist groups consistently used threats of violence to extort money from businesses and families across Algeria.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for the freedom of speech, but a 1990 law specifies that such speech must respect "individual dignity, the imperatives of foreign policy, and the national defense." The state of emergency decree gave the Government broad authority to restrict these freedoms and to take legal action against what it considered to be threats to the State or public order. In March 1994, the Government issued an interministerial decree that independent newspapers could print security information only from official government bulletins carried by the government press service APS.

In February the Interior Ministry reminded newspapers of the existing requirement that only APS bulletins about security incidents and the armed groups could be published. In September President Zeroual reiterated that the Government would restrict information about security incidents.

Compliance with the Government directive varied among independent newspapers, but they rarely reported information about security force losses. The Government seized some newspapers for reporting what it considered sensitive information. For example, in April an issue of Al-Watan was seized at the printers when it carried an unauthorized story about a massacre at Larbaatache. Similarly, the Interior Ministry blocked two issues of Al-Acil, printed in eastern Algeria, in June, for allegedly trying to publish information about security incidents.

The Government's definition of security information often extended beyond purely military matters to encompass broader political affairs. The Interior Ministry blocked publication of the weekly La Nation three times in February and March for articles which, it alleged, justified terrorism. However, one issue's articles were reprints of articles about human rights already printed in the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique. The Interior Ministry seized an issue of the weekly Al-Houriya in March when it tried to publish an article about the history of political assassination in Algeria. In May the Interior Ministry briefly jailed two journalists from the weekly political satire Al-Mesmar and then banned the paper permanently. In June the Interior Ministry brought charges of defamation against an Al-Watan journalist after she wrote about corruption at the Oran Customs Administration; the Oran court convicted her. The Government closed the independent daily La Tribune in July after the paper carried a cartoon that the Government alleged defamed the Algerian flag; an Algiers court decision in September suspended the newspaper for 6 months. The Government also revoked the credentials of the Spanish correspondent of the Madrid daily El Pais because of its dissatisfaction with his analysis of the security situation. In December the Government again seized an issue of Al-Houriya, although it never explained why. Al-Houriya's editor presumed the seizure stemmed from his effort to publish a story about a book published in France about Algeria's human rights situation.

The Interior Ministry cautioned newspapers to avoid printing interviews with officials from the banned FIS. In 1995 FIS officials who had been freed from detention in 1994 received direct orders from the Justice Ministry to make no further public statements. This ban remains in force.

Journalists at independent newspapers often avoided printing stories about the security situation and Islamist groups in order to avoid difficulties with the Government. The Government frequently sanctioned journalists who wrote offending articles by putting them under judicial control. This required them to check in regularly with the local police. It also prevented them from leaving the country. The ONDH stated in February that the Government should apply this measure less routinely.

The independent press remained free to criticize economic and social policy broadly, but the Interior Ministry and the courts often retaliated against newspapers that accused specific officials of policy failures or crimes. The editor in chief of Al-Watan was convicted and fined for defaming the Health Minister in March after the newspaper alleged that he did not control wasteful spending by the Ministry. The editor of El-Kilaa was jailed briefly in May after his newspaper pointed out that the governor of Tebessa did not attend a local province ceremony as expected. The Interior Ministry charged journalists from La Nation and its fellow weekly Ach-Chourouq with defamation after they wrote exposes about the internal maneuverings of the National Liberation Front in May. In general, journalists exercised self-censorship by not publishing specific criticism of specific officials.

President Zeroual in a September press conference said that the problems confronting the press resulted from market forces, not censorship. However, the Government maintained an effective monopoly of printing companies and newsprint imports and blocked a UNESCO grant to establish a private printing press.

The Government also tightened controls over vital newspaper advertising revenues, centralizing in April all state companies' advertising decisions in a single state agency called ANEP. (This advertising is crucial in an economy in which state companies' output and government services still represent approximately two-thirds of national income.) ANEP provided significant amounts of advertising to particular publications with an anti-Islamist editorial line and that did not undertake investigations of corruption. Other newspapers with different editorial policies received very little or no advertising, even though they had a larger national readership and sometimes even offered cheaper advertising prices. For example, the anti-Islamist newspapers L'Authentique and Le Matin received much more advertising than did L'Opinion or El Al-Alem As-Siyasi newspapers, even though the latter two newspapers had about the same circulation and cheaper advertising prices.

Radio and television remained under government control, with coverage biased in favor of the Government's policies. Opposition political parties occasionally were able to present their points of view, but these appearances represented only a small fraction of the total radio and television broadcast time. Satellite dish antennas are widespread, and millions of citizens have access to European and Middle Eastern broadcasting.

Armed groups continued to target journalists of both the government-controlled and independent media. The February bombing against the Main Press Building was the most visible incident, but at least 9 journalists were murdered during the year (see Section l.a.).

Many artists, intellectuals, and university educators fled Algeria after widespread violence began in 1992 being especially fearful of Islamist terror. Few returned in 1996. As a result, there were few academic seminars and colloquia, although there appeared to be more in 1996 than in 1995. The Government did not interfere with nonpolitical seminars; it did sometimes with those that were more political in content. For example, it banned seminars that an Algerian youth group sought to hold to discuss human rights (see Section 2.b.).

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the rights of assembly and association, but the 1992 Emergency Law sharply curtails these freedoms. Citizens and organizations must obtain a permit from the appointed local governor before holding public meetings.

The Government had a mixed record of permiting public meetings during the year. The local Algiers authorities refused permission for a labor union in March to protest wage cuts in February. They also banned a sit-in by a nongovernmental organization called The Children of War Martyrs to protest social conditions. Another nongovernmental organization, The Rally for Youth Action, sought permission to hold seminars on human rights in June and on democracy in October, but both were denied. The Algiers authorities did permit a rally in front of the Main Press Building in support of freedom of the press in July, however. In addition the Socialist Forces Front obtained approval for a public rally in downtown Algiers in September. In December political parties and a coalition group called the "Call for Peace" sought permission to hold marches and meetings, but all requests were refused.

The authorities' record outside Algiers also was mixed. During the first half of the year, some legal Islamic parties could not obtain approval to hold public meetings in the provinces of Setif, Khenchala, and Tebessa. During the second half of the year, however, the local authorities granted permission to these same parties. The legal Islamist party An-Nahda could not obtain authorization for a rally in Algiers during the autumn. The Socialist Forces Front also sometimes could not obtain authorization for party rallies during the year. At various times throughout the year Interior Ministry officials sought to gather names of political party activists, and sometimes they summoned activists briefly to police stations to question them about their activities.

The Rally for Youth Action was able to hold human rights conferences in western Algeria and in the Kabylie region east of Algiers, but police later detained its activists in Oran and Bejaia temporarily.

The Interior Ministry licenses all nongovernmental associations, and regards all associations as illegal unless they have licenses. It may deny a license to, or dissolve, any group regarded as a threat to the existing political order. After the Government suspended the parliamentary election in 1992, it banned the FIS as a political party, and the social and charitable groups connected to it. Membership in the FIS is illegal.

According to a 1989 law, all citizens except judges, army, and security service personnel, and members of the Constitutional Council have the right to join political organizations. The Government was rewriting this law late in the year to bar some other government employees in positions of authority from joining political organizations. There were several political groups, including some centrist Islamist parties, such as Hamas and Al-Nahdah, which were able to conduct political activities, though not with complete freedom. Other associations include specialized groups such as human rights and women's rights groups, social welfare groups, and regionally-based cultural organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution declares Islam to be the state religion but prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. The Government respects this right in practice. It permits the small Christian and Jewish populations to practice their faiths without interference.

The Government appoints preachers to mosques and gives general guidance on sermons. The Government monitors activities in mosques for possible security-related offenses.

Conversions from Islam to other religions are rare. Because of security worries and potential legal and social problems, Muslim converts practice their new faith clandestinely. The Family Code prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although this is not always enforced. The Code does not restrict Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women.

In 1994 the GIA declared its intention to eliminate Jews, Christians, and polytheists from Algeria. The Christian community, composed mostly of foreigners, curtailed its activities. Some church workers left the country because of GIA threats. During 1996 the GIA kidnaped and killed seven Roman Catholic monks in central Algeria. The Catholic Bishop of Oran also was murdered at his home.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for freedom of domestic and foreign travel and freedom to emigrate. The Government generally respects these provisions. It lifted the remaining nighttime curfew in 10 provinces in February. It has, however, placed some journalists under "judicial control" that does not allow them to leave the country (see Section 2.a.). In addition the Government does not allow foreign travel by senior officials from the banned FIS. The Government also does not permit young men who are eligible for the draft and have not yet completed their military service to leave the country if they do not have special authorization; this authorization can be granted to students and to those with special family circumstances. The Family Code does not permit women under 19 years of age and boys under the age of 18 to travel abroad without their husband's or father's permission.

Under the state of emergency, the Interior Minister and the provincial governors may deny residency in certain districts to persons regarded as threats to public order. The Government also restricts travel into four southern provinces where much of the hydrocarbons industry and many foreign workers are located in order to enhance security in those areas.

The police and the communal guards operate checkpoints throughout Algeria. They routinely stop vehicles to inspect identification papers and search for evidence of terrorist activity. They sometimes detain persons at these checkpoints.

The GIA in February warned young Algerians of draft age not to travel across the country on pain of death for collaboration with the Government. Armed groups establish temporary roadblocks in various regions, including the capital, to rob travelers of cash and vehicles or to kill them. According to credible reports, they sometimes massacred groups of civilian passengers at these roadblocks (see Section l.a.).

The Constitution provides for the right of political asylum, and the Government occasionally grants asylum. The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. It also provided first asylum. For example, it cooperates with the UNHCR on programs to help refugee Sahrawis, the former residents of the Western Sahara who left that territory after Morocco took control of it in the 1970's. The Government also has worked with international organizations helping the Tuaregs, a nomadic people of southern Algeria and neighboring countries. Some refugees came from Mali to escape fighting in the northern part of that country. There were no reports of forced expulsion of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

President Zeroual was elected in a November 1995 presidential election, officially winning 61 percent of the votes cast; there is no elected legislature. The presidential campaign was generally freely contested. Three opposition candidates representing a spectrum of viewpoints had access to both the independent press and the government-controlled media, including radio and television. Their parties were permitted to hold rallies across the country, and they had authorization to send observers to polling stations. There was an independent election commission to supervise the election process, but the opposition parties complained that it did not carefully review complaints it received about the conduct of the election.

Legislative elections have been announced for the first half of 1997. The now-banned FIS and the Socialist Forces Front won a majority of votes cast in the first round of the last legislative election in December 1991. In 1992 the Army forced the President to resign, canceled the second round of parliamentary elections which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win, and installed a ruling five-man High State Committee, which banned the FIS and jailed more of its leaders. In 1994 the military-backed High Council of State appointed delegates to a National Transition Council, which still acts as a surrogate legislature to ratify legislation proposed by the President. Some opposition parties have representatives on the Council, but their numbers do not reflect any proportional electoral base. Several opposition parties rejected the President's offer to join the Council.

The President called a popular referendum in November to amend the Constitution, and 79 percent of the voters approved the changes, according to the Government. There were no independent observers at the polling stations during the vote or the ballot counting. Political parties opposing the constitutional amendments suffered occasional harassment by local government officials and could not obtain access to the electronic media, which is government-controlled.

Under the new Constitution, the President has the authority to rule by decree in special circumstances. The President must subsequently submit to the Parliament for approval decrees issued while the Parliament was not in session. The Parliament will henceforth have a popularly elected lower chamber and a Senate, two-thirds of whose members will be elected by municipal councils. The President will appoint the remaining one-third of the Senate's members. Legislation must have the approval from three-quarters of both the upper and lower chambers' members to be made law. Laws must originate in the lower house.

The President also proposed changing the law regulating political parties. Under the proposed new law, parties will need official approval from the Interior Ministry. To obtain approval, they will also have to have 25 founders from across Algeria. Parties may not seek to utilize religion, Berberism, or Arabism for political purposes.

The existing political parties represent a wide spectrum of viewpoints and engage in activities ranging from holding rallies to printing newspapers. However, they sometimes encounter difficulties when dealing with local officials who hinder their organizational efforts (see Section 2.b.).

The Government monitored private telephone communications and sometimes disconnected telephone service to political opponents for extended periods (see Section 1.f.). Opposition parties have very limited access to state-controlled television and radio, but the independent press publicizes their views without difficulty (see Section 2.a.).

There is only one woman in the Cabinet, and there are few others in senior government positions. There are several women on the National Transition Council. About 25 percent of the judges are women, and this percentage has been growing in recent years. Only about 1 percent of the candidates in the 1991 legislative elections were women, and none of the four candidates in the 1995 presidential election was a woman. However, a woman heads a workers' party and a woman was the 1995 presidential campaign spokesperson for one of the candidates. The major political parties have women's divisions. The Government changed the electoral law in 1995 to ensure that women cast their own ballots, rather than to permit their husbands or fathers to vote for them, as frequently happened in previous elections. Women voted in large numbers in the 1995 presidential election.

The Government does not ban political participation by any ethnic minority group. The Berbers, an ethnic minority centered in the Kabylie region of Algeria, participate freely and actively in the political process. The Berber-populated region of Algeria has given birth to two political parties, the Socialist Forces Front and the Rally for Culture and Democracy. These two Berber-based parties will have to conform with changes in the new party law that stipulate that political parties have 25 founders from across Algeria.

Independent Berber associations tried in vain to obtain approval to hold conferences about the Berber language in Batna in July and in Ain Beinan in September. The local governor in the Berber city of Bejaia, however, allowed a major rally in September (see Section 2.b.). The Tuaregs, a people of Berber origin, do not play as important a role in politics, due in large part to their small numbers, estimated in the tens of thousands, and their nomadic existence.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The most active independent human rights group is the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) which has members throughout Algeria. The LADDH president is a lawyer who speaks out publicly about the general human rights situation. In 1996 the LADDH brought some cases to the attention of the authorities without effect. The LADDH is not allowed access to the authorities or to prisons beyond the normal consultations allowed between a lawyer and client. Members of the LADDH have suffered harassment. Telephone service of their President, for example, was intermittently disrupted, and he and other LADDH activists received death threats from unidentified callers.

There are two other human rights groups in Algeria. The Algerian League for Human Rights (LADH), an independent organization based in Constantine, is less active. The LADH has members throughout Algeria who follow individual cases. It issued a report on the human rights situation in April. The other organization, the National Observatory for Human Rights (ONDH), is a government-affiliated body which was established by the Government in 1992. The ONDH is mandated to report human rights violations to the authorities. It prepares an annual report with recommendations to the Government. The 1996 report highlighted murders committed by terrorist groups but made no mention of killings by government forces. It did, however, recognize violations of the law regarding detention of prisoners. It also recommended that the Government reduce the frequency with which it places journalists under judicial control (see Section 2.a.).

There is an Amnesty International (AI) chapter in Algeria, but it does not work on cases in Algeria. An AI team of foreign human rights monitors came to Algeria during the year. The team moved around freely; however, it was not allowed to visit prisons. The Government has extended an invitation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on birth, race, sex, belief, or any other personal or social condition. However, women continue to face legal and social discrimination.

Women

Women's rights advocates assert that spousal violence is common, but there are no reliable studies regarding its extent. There are no laws to protect women from spousal rape or abuse. Battered women must obtain medical certification of the physical effects of the attack before they lodge a complaint with the police. According to women's rights advocates, fewer than half of the women attacked visit doctors for such certification. They also assert that the police and courts are lenient with men accused of beating their wives. Women's rights groups had great difficulty drawing attention to spousal abuse as an important social problem.

Some aspects of the law, and many traditional social practices, discriminate against women. The 1984 Family Code, based in large part on Islamic law or Shari'a, treats women as minors under the legal guardianship of a husband or male relative. A woman must obtain a father's approval to marry, for example. Divorce is difficult to obtain except in cases of abandonment or the husband's conviction of a serious crime. Husbands generally obtain the right to the family home in the case of divorce. Custody of the children normally goes to the mother, but she cannot enroll them in a particular school or take them out of the country without the father's authorization.

The Family Code also confirms the Islamic practice of allowing a man to marry four wives – a rare occurence. However, a wife may sue for divorce if her husband does not inform her of his intent to marry another wife prior to the marriage. Only males are able to confer citizenship on their children.

Women suffer from discrimination in inheritance laws; in accordance with Shari'a they are entitled to a smaller portion of an estate than male children or even a deceased husband's brothers. Women under 19 years of age cannot travel abroad without their husband's or father's permission (see Section 2.d.).

Social pressure against women pursuing higher education or a career is strong. Women comprise only 8 percent of the work force. Nonetheless, women may own businesses and enter into contracts; they pursue opportunities in government, medicine, law, education, the media, and even the armed forces. The 1990 Labor Law bans sexual discrimination in the workplace, but Labor Ministry inspectors do little to enforce this law.

During the year, Islamic extremists often specifically targeted women. For example, they killed wives of members of security forces and female French language teachers (see Section 1.a.). Armed Islamist groups reportedly kidnaped some young women in remote areas and kept them as sex slaves for group leaders (see Section 1.c.).

There are numerous small women's rights groups. Their main goals are to foster women's economic welfare and to amend aspects of the Family Law. No such amendments have yet been passed.

Children

The Government is committed in principle to protecting children's human rights. It provides free education for children 6 to 15 years of age and free medical care for all citizens – albeit in often rudimentary facilities. The Ministry of Youth and Sports has programs for children, but these face serious funding problems. Legal experts maintain that the Penal and Family Codes do not offer children sufficient protection. Hospitals treat dozens of cases of child abuse every year, but many cases are unreported. Laws against child abuse have not led to notable prosecutions against offenders.

People with Disabilities

The Government does not mandate accessibility to buildings or government services for people with disabilities. Public enterprises, downsizing the work force, generally ignore a law that requires that they reserve 1 percent of their jobs for people with disabilities. Social Security provides for payments for orthopedic equipment, and some nongovernmental organizations do receive limited government financial support. The Government also tries to finance specialized training, but this remains rudimentary.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Berbers are an ethnic minority, centered in the Kabylie region. Berber nationalists have sought to maintain their own cultural and linguistic identity while the Government's Arabization program continues. As part of the National Charter signed in September, the Government and several major political parties agreed that the Berber culture and language were one of the components of Algerian identity. The Charter did not meet the demands of some political groups that Berber be made an official language. In 1995 the Government established a commission to study how to promote teaching of the Berber language, and some elementary and high schools in the Kabylie region and Algiers started teaching it. However, school administrations decided to suspend these courses in September because they lacked qualified teachers and an approved curriculum. There are professorships in Berber language and culture at the University of Tizi Ouzou. The government-owned national television station began broadcasting a brief, nightly news program in Berber in May. Berbers hold influential positions in Government, the army, business, and journalism.

The Tuaregs, a people of Berber orgin, live a nomadic existence and are relatively few in number.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to establish trade unions of their choice. About two-thirds of the labor force belongs to unions. There is an umbrella labor confederation, the Union Generale Des Travailleurs Algeriens (UGTA), which dates from the era of a single political party and its affiliated entities. The UGTA encompasses national syndicates specialized by sector. There also are currently some autonomous unions, such as a Syndicate of Air Algerie Pilots, another for airport technicians, and another for teachers in the Kabylie.

Workers are required to obtain government approval to establish a union. The 1990 Law on Labor Unions requires the Labor Ministry to approve a union application within 30 days. Early in 1996 a second labor confederation, the Autonomous Syndicates Confederation (CSA), tried to organize the autonomous syndicates, but it did not gain wide support for this effort. It made its application to the Labor Ministry in September 1995 but had not received its approval by the end of 1996. It was allowed to function without official status.

The law prohibits unions from associating with political parties. The law also prohibits unions from receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The labor union organized by the banned FIS, the Syndicate Islamique Des Travailleurs (SIT), was dissolved in 1992 because it had no license.

Under the state of emergency, the Government is empowered to require workers in both the public and private sectors to stay at their jobs in the event of an unauthorized or illegal strike. According to the 1990 Law on Industrial Relations, workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation, mediation, or arbitration. This law states that arbitration decisions are binding on both parties. If no agreement is reached in arbitration, the workers may legally strike after they vote by secret ballot to do so. A minimum of public services must be maintained during public sector service strikes.

The UGTA staged a 2-day general strike in February to protest the Government's decision to cut wages. This was the first nationwide general strike since 1991, but there were approximately 400 local strikes in 1994 and about 200 in 1995. The number of local strikes appeared to decrease further in 1996, but teachers in the Kabylie region staged a strike in

April, textile workers staged a strike in March, and the pilots of Air Algerie held a series of strikes in August and September. University teachers staged a strike that lasted from October through the end of the year. With the exception of the pilots' and university teachers' strikes, most work stoppages ended quickly with mediation between company management and the unions. The Government did not invoke the state of emergency to block strikes. Some companies, such as Air Algerie, filed injunction appeals in court to prevent strikes. The courts upheld the companies' motions, and thereby denied the right to strike in these instances, in apparent contravention of the law.

Air Algerie in September fired several dozen pilots who went on strike in August. It claimed that it did so for financial reasons. Most of the pilots' syndicate organizers lost their jobs. Air Algerie later offered all strikers their jobs again, but only for 1-year contracts, providing much less security than their previous permanent positions.

Unions may form and join federations or confederations, affiliate with international labor bodies, and develop relations with foreign labor groups. The UGTA, for example, has contacts with French unions and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for collective bargaining for all unions. The Government permits this right to be practiced. The UGTA engaged in several rounds of negotiation with the Government over wage issues. It won concessions in February talks over the issue of salary deductions and it represented workers again in three-way discussions with the Government and business associations in September.

The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of antiunion practices by employers. It also permits unions to recruit members at the workplace.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is incompatible with the Constitution's provisions on individual rights. The Penal Code prohibits compulsory labor, and the Government effectively enforces the ban.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 16 years. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor enforce the minimum employment age by making periodic or unannounced inspection visits to public-sector enterprises. They do not effectively enforce the law in the agricultural or private sectors. Economic necessity compels many children to resort to informal employment, such as street vending.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law defines the overall framework for acceptable conditions of work but leaves specific agreements on wages, hours, and conditions of employment to the discretion of employers in consultation with employees. The Government fixes by decreee a guaranteed monthly minimum wage for all sectors. The minimum wage is $87 (4,500 dinars) per month. Ministry of Labor inspectors are responsible for ensuring compliance with the minimum wage regulations, although their enforcement is inconsistent.

Algeria has a 44 hour workweek and well developed occupation and health regulations codified in a 1991 decree. Government inspectors do not enforce these regulations effectively. There were no reports of workers being dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions.

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