U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Algeria
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Algeria, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa290.html [accessed 25 July 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
ALGERIAPresident 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, which included a National transition Council (CNT) as a surrogate parliament. 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. According to government figures, Zeroual received 61 percent of the votes; losing candidates claimed that there were instances of fraud but did not contest Zeroual's victory. The Government does not always respect the independence of the judiciary. 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). Under the 1989 Constitution, there was to be a transition to a pluralist republic with a strong president. The democratization process was suspended, and the FLN?s rule ended in 1992 when the Army forced President Chadli Benjedid 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 that banned the FIS and jailed many 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, which still continues. In a flawed popular referendum in November 1996, the Government obtained approval of proposed changes to the Constitution, including provision of a second parliamentary chamber and greater presidential authority. In June Algeria held its first parliamentary elections since January 1992, and elected the first multiparty Parliament in Algerian history. Provincial and municipal elections were held in October. Although the election campaigns were marked by an increase in the openness of television and radio to political debate and discourse, international observers and political parties pointed out numerous problems with the conduct of the elections. 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 in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations and are under the control of the Government. The security forces were responsible for numerous serious human rights abuses. The economy is slowly developing from a state-administered to a market-oriented system. The Government has successfully implemented stabilization policies and structural reforms. However, privatization of state enterprises and the restructuring of the banking and housing construction sectors have just begun. Uncompetitive and unprofitable state enterprises constitute 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 1997. The agricultural sector, which produces grains, fruit, cattle, fibers, vegetables, and poultry, makes up 10 to 12 percent of the economy. Algeria is a middle-income country; annual per capita income was approximately $1,600 in 1997. Officially, about 28 percent of the working-age population was unemployed in 1997, and about 70 percent of the people under the age of 30 could not find adequate employment. Some made a living from petty smuggling or street peddling. The Government's human rights performance in 1997 reflected improvements in some areas, but serious human rights abuses continued. Citizens do not have the effective right peacefully to change their government. The security forces carried out extrajudicial killings, were responsible for numerous disappearances, routinely tortured or otherwise abused detainees, and arbitrarily arrested and detained or held incommunicado many individuals suspected of involvement with armed Islamist groups. On some occasions, security forces failed to intervene to prevent or halt massacres of civilians. Questions have been raised about security forces? indifference to, or complicity in, civilian deaths. Although the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, executive branch decrees restrict 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 freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. During the June legislative elections and the October municipal and provincial elections, there were credible reports of irregularities such as government harassment of opposition party observers and fraud in vote-tally procedures. The Family Code limited women's civil rights, and 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 legislative elections were canceled in January 1992. Islamist groups targeted government officials and families of security service members, as well as people whose lifestyles they considered in conflict with Islamic values. Increasingly in 1997, armed groups massacred large groups of civilians, including infants, often in apparent retaliation against villages or families that had ceased providing support to them. Armed Islamists particularly targeted women; there were repeated instances of kidnapping and rape. Bombs left in cars, cafes, and markets killed and maimed people indiscriminately. Some killings were also thought to arise from revenge, banditry, and land grabs. By year's end, there were estimates that 6,000 to 7,000 people were killed in 1997, and that a total of 70,000 people had been killed during 6 years of turmoil.