United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Algeria, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3514.html [accessed 26 March 2015]
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ALGERIA Since shortly after independence in 1962, political power has been controlled by Algeria's military leadership, supported by the bureaucracy and remnants of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the former ruling party. The Constitution, adopted in 1989, provided for a transition from this military-based, one-party Socialist state to a multiparty parliamentary system. However, democratization was suspended in 1992 when the Army intervened, 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 five-man High State Committee. Subsequently, this ruling Committee imposed a state of emergency, banned the FIS as a political organization, and jailed most of its leaders. Since 1992, fighting has continued between the security forces and armed Islamist groups seeking the overthrow of the Government and the imposition of a fundamentalist Islamic state. In 1994 the Army leadership replaced the High Committee with Liamine Zeroual, a former general, who became president of a "transitional" government. Zeroual tried to find a political solution with the major legal parties and the FIS, and undertook some limited confidence-building measures. He conditioned release of FIS leaders from prison, and their inclusion in multiparty discussions, on their calling for an end to political violence. Late in 1994, Zeroual announced that a national dialog for a political resolution to the crisis had failed, and that presidential elections would be held in 1995. He rejected "totally and in detail" the "national compact," a proposal for negotiating a political solution, adopted by opposition parties at a meeting in Italy sponsored by the Sant'Egidio Society in January. These parties included representatives of the FIS and FLN, the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), which is supported mainly by Berbers, as well as several smaller parties. The Government tried without success to convince the Sant'Egidio parties to participate in the presidential election. Four candidates officially received the 75,000 signatures needed to appear on the ballot of the country's first pluralist presidential election. After an intense and widely-publicized campaign lasting 3 weeks, nearly 75 percent of the electorate voted on November 16. President Zeroual obtained over 60 percent of the votes, according to government figures. While there appears to have been little coercion of the 12 million voters, losing candidates claimed that there were instances of localized election fraud, but insufficient to alter the outcome. In his inaugural address, President Zeroual called for legislative elections and promised to move toward full democracy in the future. The Government's security apparatus is composed of the newly formed Communal Guards (a local police), the police, the gendarmerie, and the army, air force, and navy, all of which are involved in efforts to repress the Islamist insurgency and combat terrorism. The security forces were implicated in torture, arbitrary arrest, and extrajudicial killing. Spurred by government reforms, the economy is evolving slowly from a centrally planned system to a more market-oriented system. However, government-owned industry still dominates the economy. In 1995 the state-owned hydrocarbon industry alone constituted about one-fourth of gross domestic product and earned 97 percent of the country's export revenues. The Government's contractionary fiscal and monetary policies in 1995 hit the state sector hard, as the Government reduced its financial support to debt-ridden firms. Some of these companies laid off excess workers and limited salary increases during the year. Algeria is a middle-income country, with an annual per capita income of about $1,700. Unemployment rose in 1995, especially among younger workers. About 70 percent of persons under 30 could not find adequate employment. Some of them made a living from petty smuggling or peddling goods on the street. A broadly accepted estimate is that an average of 10,000 people have been killed every year since the beginning of the unrest. One estimate indicates that nearly 50,000 Algerians had been killed by the fall of 1995. There is convincing evidence that the security forces carried out dozens of extrajudicial killings and often tortured and otherwise abused detainees. While the Government continues to use its emergency law powers to detain hundreds of suspected Islamists, it closed the last remaining detention camp in November and released the 641 prisoners held there. The Government continues to restrict freedoms of assembly, religion, press, and movement, and the Family Code discriminates against women. The Government has promised legislative and local elections, but has not yet set a date. In contrast to previous years, there was only one report of anti-Islamist vigilante groups killing Islamists and their sympathizers. Domestic violence against women remains a serious problem. Terrorists carried out widespread attacks on civilians. They assassinated political figures, journalists, academics, and thousands of other civilians as well as 20 foreigners. According to press reports, they kidnaped and raped young women, forcing them to become mistresses of group leaders. Insurgents used car bombs and other devices to attack electric pylons, telephone exchanges, schools, bridges, police and military headquarters, local government offices, and railroad trains and tracks. Car bombs caused hundreds of civilian deaths. In addition, some armed groups are composed of ordinary criminals who have exploited the general breakdown in law and order.
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There is credible evidence that security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings of persons involved in, or suspected of, terrorism. In February the Minister of Justice announced that 96 prisoners were killed and 10 wounded during a disturbance at the Serkadji Jail, a facility which houses prisoners condemned to death for terrorism. The prisoners killed four guards during the disturbance. The Government has not made public a list of those killed, nor has it released the report of a special committee which investigated events at Serkadji. However, the National Observatory for Human Rights (ONDH), a government body which reports on human rights issues to the President, released a report in May which supported the Minister's version that the security forces quelled a prison riot. Nevertheless, lawyers for the victims and their families issued a report in July claiming that the Government had spurned a peaceful settlement during the disturbance, and that the security forces deliberately killed over 100 prisoners even after the disturbance was quelled. The lawyers also claimed that prison authorities systematically removed or destroyed evidence. The Government has not responded to the lawyers' charges or to calls by Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch for an independent investigation. An AI medical delegation visiting Algeria in March requested permission to visit Serkadji Prison and interview surviving detainees, but was denied access to Algerian jails. The Government maintains that the security forces resort to lethal force only in the context of armed clashes with terrorists. Nonetheless, ONDH claims that during the year it provided President Zeroual with information on "some tens" of cases of possible extrajudicial killings. In other cases, ONDH was unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators. In July ONDH stated that a detainee in the Ain M'guel detention camp had been killed and an investigation was underway. In September Saghir Bouhadida, a former journalist, died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody. Bouhadida was arrested on June 11 on suspicion of membership in a terrorist group. While in detention he reportedly gave the police information about a terrorist cell, and in September led the police to a terrorist hideout. The Government claims that Bouhadida was killed there in an exchange of fire. In 1994 ONDH provided the Ministry of Justice with information on 12 suspected extrajudicial killings. The Ministry responded to only one case in 1995. In that case, a military tribunal found three security officials guilty of the extrajudicial killing of several people and gave them long jail sentences. ONDH did not receive information on the other cases, despite President Zeroual's publicly stated assurances that human rights violators would be punished. The anti-Islamist, independent daily Liberte reported in October that the self-defense committee in a village in eastern Algeria had apprehended three men who allegedly participated in a terrorist attack on the village. The committee executed the three without a trial. Armed groups, most notably the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), killed hundreds--perhaps thousands--of persons, including members of the security forces and ordinary citizens. Terrorists attacked civilians whom they regarded as instruments of the state or whose life styles they considered in conflict with Islamic values. Victims included politicians, teachers, tax collectors, entertainers, government-appointed Islamic preachers, veterans of the war of independence, journalists, intellectuals, the families of security service personnel, and foreigners. The throats of many victims were cut or their bodies were mutilated after death. Sometimes the victims' severed heads would be discovered in one location and the bodies in another. There were numerous reports of armed bands taking over villages, destroying government buildings, raping women, and killing inhabitants, including children. During the year, armed groups killed a minor presidential candidate; the president of the National Football Association; two members of the Finance Committee of the National Transition Council (Algeria's appointed parliament); a professor of Islamic law; the president of a women's association; a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official; a professor (a female) at the National Institute of Agronomy; the Director of Training at the National School of Administration; a well-known sports figure; active members of political parties; the imam of the Sidi-Abderrahman Mosque; and a trade union leader who was also a member of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH). In November terrorists killed a member of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Forces Front, as well as workers in the election campaigns of President Zeroual and Said Sadi, the candidate of the RCD party. The president of the Algiers Association of Private Practitioners was assassinated in his office on November 26. Armed groups intensified their attacks on journalists, killing at least 25 in 1995. Five of the victims worked for the state television company and three for the state radio company. In March a gunman shot and critically wounded a television journalist and her sister while the two were waiting for a company car to take them to work. The journalist died of her wounds 10 days later. A week after her death, the chief editor of the Government's French language daily El Moudjahid was killed on his way to work. Three journalists were killed within 48 hours on September 3-4, and a television reporter and his wife were killed on September 8. After these killings, independent newspapers suspended publication for 3 days to protest the killings of journalists and demand better police protection. Throughout the year, some journalists lived a transient life, to avoid staying 2 nights in the same place. Since 1993, 54 Algerian journalists reportedly have been killed. Terrorist groups killed 20 foreigners in 1995, compared to 74 in 1994. Victims included Roman Catholic priests and nuns, businessmen, a university professor, and construction workers. Terrorists attacked two French nuns, both longtime residents of a violence-prone suburb of Algiers, on November 10, killing one and critically injuring the other. Terrorists also killed two Latvian sailors on November 30 and wounded a third. In addition to targeted killings, terrorist groups resorted to indiscriminate violence, making greater use of bombs and car bombs in 1995 than in previous years. In January a suicide car bomb exploded in a busy street in central Algiers, killing 42 and wounding 286. In March a car bomb wounded 83 persons and destroyed 60 apartments in a building housing police families. The GIA claimed responsibility for that attack. A car bomb in May at Bachdjara, also directed at a housing area for police, wounded 37 people. In August a car bomb aimed at the Gendarmerie headquarters in central Algiers killed nine and wounded 104. In September a bomb exploded under a locomotive near Algiers, killing 5 and injuring 11. In October gunmen opened fire on a crowded country bus, killing 18 passengers, including three children, and wounding 15. Also in October, car bombs exploded in the towns of Barki and Relizane, and another exploded near a gendarmerie barracks in Rouiba, killing 6 and injuring 83. In November a car bomb exploded near a police station in Souk El-Tenine, in the Kabylie region, killing 3 and wounding 7. Fourteen people were killed in December by a car bomb in Ain Nadja. A communique issued by the FIS condemnend that bombing.
The ONDH claimed that it received significantly more complaints about disappearances in 1995 than in 1994 when it documented 116 cases of disappearances allegedly caused by security force personnel. It submitted information on all of these cases to the Ministries of Justice and Interior; in some cases the Government responded to the ONDH queries, but in others it did not. In many cases it was impossible to determine whether the security forces or armed groups were responsible. In July ONDH said that the security forces denied holding Djamal Fahassi, a radio journalist, who disappeared on May 6. Fahassi was reportedly a militant supporter of the FIS who had been fired from his job at a state radio station. ONDH assumed that Fahassi was kidnaped by armed groups; but many journalists believe he was arrested by the security forces. Hadj Abdelkader Benaamane, an Algerian press service reporter who disappeared in February, reappeared in July at his trial before a military tribunal (see Section 1.e.). Terrorist groups kidnaped hundreds of civilians. Sometimes their bodies were found later, but often the victims disappeared and their families have no information about their whereabouts.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Knowledgeable sources, including Amnesty International (AI) and all three major Algerian human rights organizations--ONDH, LADDH, and the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADH)--reported that the security forces frequently used torture on detainees, especially suspected Islamists, to extract confessions or to obtain information about the activities of terrorist groups. The ONDH claimed that it provided the Ministry of Justice with information on "tens" of cases of torture. Evidence suggests that many alleged torture victims decline to press charges against security officials for fear of reprisal against themselves or their families. In July the political parties that participated in the Sant'Egidio conference charged that torture had become an integral part of police investigations. The Government denies that torture is a matter of policy or an accepted practice, but acknowledges that individual security officials may commit "excesses." In January President Zeroual ordered the prosecution of any official charged with using torture. However, the Government has failed to condemn the use of torture publicly, nor has it demonstrated that it investigates torture allegations seriously. ONDH claimed that it submitted 17 torture cases to the Ministry of Justice in 1994, of which 5 had been transferred to judicial proceedings. The Government has not revealed whether torturers have been punished. A commonly reported torture method is the use of the "chiffon," a cloth stuffed into the victims mouth and saturated with dirty water. Other torture techniques reportedly include electric shocks, beatings, the pulling out of fingernails, burning with cigarettes or a blowtorch, and the insertion of objects into the anus. Hamas party officials complained to the media that security forces arrested a party worker during the presidential election campaign and tortured him to death. An autopsy reportedly revealed evidence of torture. The Government did not deny the Hamas charges. Terrorist groups have also abused persons under their control. For example, the media reported that armed Islamist groups often raped women when they took over control of towns and rural villages. Prisons are overcrowded, but there is no reliable information to assess other conditions. The Government does not permit independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers by such humanitarian organizations as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
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. However, under the state of emergency, the security forces have arrested and detained thousands of persons. According to the Antiterrorist Decree of 1992, the police may hold detainees in prearraignment detention for 12 days and must inform them of the charges against them. In practice, the security forces routinely exceed the lawful detention limit. In January ONDH announced that it had received 327 complaints in 1994 that detainees were held in prearraignment detention longer than 12 days. When making arrests the security forces do not obtain warrants and allegedly often refuse to identify themselves or to provide detainees' relatives and lawyers with information about their whereabouts or well-being. These practices are apparently permitted under the state of emergency. Under the state of emergency, the Minister of Interior is authorized to detain suspects in special camps administered by the Army. The Government announced on November 29 that it had closed Ain M'guel, the last of these camps, and released the 641 men who were held there (see Section 1.a.). 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, and in December, President Zeroual promised new efforts to ensure that independence. The judiciary is composed of the civil courts, which try misdemeanors and felonies, and military courts, which have been known to try civilians for terrorism offenses. There is also a Constitutional Council which reviews the constitutionality of treaties, laws, and regulations, and elections. Although the Council is not part of the judiciary, this independent body has the power to nullify laws, etc., if they are found unconstitutional. Islamic law, or Shari'a, provides much of the basis for civil court rulings in matters involving personal status, such as divorce or inheritance. Under the state of emergency, military courts are authorized to try civilians accused of terrorism. The only known example of such a trial this year occurred in July when a military court in Tamanrasset sentenced Hadj Abdelkader Benaamane, a journalist, and at least two other defendants, to 2 to 4 years in prison for publishing the place of detention of the Vice President of the FIS, Ali Benhadj. In February the Government abolished three special courts established to try terrorism and subversion cases. Their jurisdiction was transferred to the ordinary criminal courts. The President appoints civilian judges on recommendations from the Higher Magistrate's Council, composed of the President, the Minister of Justice, and various members of the judiciary. According to the Constitution of 1989, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They have the right to legal counsel, are entitled to be advised of the charges against them, have the right to confront their accusers, may appeal the verdict, and trials are public. In November the Minister of Justice admitted that 18,000 of the country's 34,000 prisoners have not yet been tried. About half of the prison population is being held for alleged terrorist offenses. The courts continued to hand down death sentences to those found guilty of terrorism; however, executions were suspended in 1993. Police subpoenas are not always delivered to those subpoenaed, and the Government is unable to ensure their delivery. The law requires that the Government provide lawyers for indigent defendants. Lawyers representing Islamists have received death threats. The former detainees of the Ain M'guel detention might be considered political prisoners as most were arrested in 1992 for alleged "subversive activities" and held without trial (see Section 1.d.).
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home, the state of emergency authorizes regional governors to issue exceptional search warrants at any time. Security forces often enter residences illegally. The Government fails to ensure that the police adhere to lawful procedures for entering houses or monitoring correspondence. Armed insurgents often enter private homes either to kill or kidnap residents or to steal weapons, valuables, or food.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. The state of emergency and the Antiterrorist Decree of December 1992 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. Fear of arrest deters many journalists from reporting on internal security developments, the Islamist movement, or the military and security services, unless the information is provided by the authorities. In February journalists reported that the Government had assigned newspaper censors to prevent the publication of offending articles. Nonetheless, the press continued to report opinions contrary to the government line. Commentary on the military is usually self-censored, but some newspapers have published interviews with former military officers who have criticized the current commanders. The Government continued to suspend newspapers without providing reasons for the closures, beyond vague accusations of undermining public order or the interests of the State. The Government continues to restrict news about the FIS, unless provided by government sources. In November 1994, the Ministry of Interior suspended the publication of the FLN newspaper, El Hiwar, and that newspaper did not resume publication in 1995. In September, the FLN's Secretary General claimed that the Ministry still had not provided him with a written suspension order. Without it, the FLN was not able to petition for the removal of the suspension order. The Arabic weekly El Wadj El Akhar, suspended for a month in December 1994, was suspended again in 1995. It has not resumed publication. In March the Government suspended the independent weekly, La Tribune, because it did not publish an Arabic-language version as required by law. After complaints that the law was applied selectively, the Government lifted the ban. Also in March, the Government began an investigation of the editors of El Watan, Algeria's biggest newspaper, and El Khabar on unspecified charges. The editors were placed under "judicial control," which requires them to report periodically to their local police station. The Government did not explain the purpose of the investigation, but the editors speculated that they ran afoul of the authorities because El Watan published an article about a scandal in the Public Health Service, and El Khabar criticized the Ministry of Justice's handling of the disturbance at Serkadji prison (see Section 1. a.). In May the Government suspended the publication of the newspaper Horizon, reportedly for publishing material that overstepped the Government's news guidance. In June the Government suspended the French-language El Ouma for 15 days, and the weekly La Nation and the monthly El Houria, each for a month, allegedly for printing an announcement signed, inter alia, by the FIS, of a public meeting of the Sant'Egidio parties. El Ouma reported in June that in its 8 months of existence, the Government had suspended its publication for 81 days. Also in June, the Government suspended the publication of the newspaper El Hadith, for 6 months reportedly because it had published a letter by FIS Vice President Ali Benhadj, after the Government had denied the existence of the letter. In July the police arrested Sheikh Hocine Slimani, purportedly because El Watan had published a description of his alleged role in facilitating behind the scenes talks between the Government and the FIS in June. Slimani was released after 24 hours but reportedly was placed under judicial control. In August the Government placed the managing editor of La Nation under judicial control, after it published an interview with a senior FIS official. The Interior Ministry prevented La Nation's October 18 issue from appearing on news stands without explanation. Shortly thereafter, the Ministry suspended two other issues of La Nation, again without explanation. Observers speculated that the suspensions were ordered because La Nation supported the Sant'Egidio parties' call for a boycott of the November presidential election. In December the authorities arrested the editor and a reporter at the French-language newspaper, Liberte, apparently for discussing a possible government appointment for one of the country's top generals in a gossip column. They received suspended sentences of 4 months and 2 months, respectively, and the newspaper was suspended for 15 days, even after it apologized for reporting erroneous information about the general. The Government further controls the press by its monopoly on newsprint, printing presses, advertising, and newspaper distribution services. Several newspapers ceased publication for financial reasons, which they attributed to the government monopolies. Their problems were exacerbated by shortages of newsprint and cuts in electricity. The Government continued to curtail the public expression of views supportive of the FIS. Two FIS publications banned in 1992 remain suspended. However, communiques and bulletins from various Islamist organizations, including the FIS and its armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), circulated clandestinely. Islamist communiques sometimes appear on the walls of mosques. The press may report news related to the FIS only after the Government has issued a news release about the FIS, as in the case of a series of letters from FIS leaders to the Government. The press may also publish without harassment when the news reports police successes against the armed groups, or, in selected cases, when the news has already appeared in print abroad. Radio and television remained under government control, with coverage biased in favor of the Government's policies. However, the state radio and television allowed opposition presidential candidates to present their views prior to the November presidential election. Because of the widespread accessibility of satellite dish antennas, millions of citizens have access to European broadcasts. The terrorist campaign against journalists and academics continued to constrain freedom of speech and press. In January the GIA reiterated its threats against all journalists. Assailants murdered 25 journalists in 1995. Many journalists received death threats and took security precautions. In April an unidentified group of armed Islamists seized a state television relay station in western Algeria and broadcast their own hour-long tape of Koranic verses before destroying the station's transmitting equipment. The exodus abroad of intellectuals and university educators to escape threats continued throughout the year. As a result, there were few academic seminars and colloquia. According to the Government's latest figures, in 1994 terrorists destroyed 915 primary and secondary school classrooms, 7 institutes of research and development, 9 centers for professional training and 3 university administration buildings. Terrorists continued to target schools in 1995.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although the 1989 Constitution provides for the rights of assembly and association, the Government has sharply curtailed these freedoms under the Emergency Law. In July the Government forbade two officials of the FIS to make any public statements. A month earlier, the Government had ordered them not to engage in further political activities after they had appeared on a public platform with other figures of the Sant'Egidio parties. Citizens and organizations must obtain a permit from the local governor's office before holding public demonstrations. After review by the Ministry of Interior, such permits are generally granted for demonstrations against terrorism or in support of the Government. Legal parties are not required to obtain permits to hold private meetings, but in July and September the Government refused several parties permission to hold a series of public meetings on human rights. The Government allows Berber organizations to hold demonstrations only in the Kabylie region, which has a large Berber population. In January and February, it denied permission for two demonstrations sponsored by the Berber Cultural Movement in the Algiers area. The Ministry of Interior 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 dissolved the FIS as a political party, and the social and charitable groups associated with it. Membership in the FIS is illegal. However, the Government itself has continued to meet periodically with FIS leaders who are in detention. According to a 1989 law, all citizens have the right to join political organizations, except judges, army and security service personnel, and members of the Constitutional Council. Most political groups, except the banned FIS, conduct activities freely. Over 55 parties, including some centrist Islamist parties such as Hamas, were active in 1995. 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 (numbering approximately 1,000 and 200 respectively) to practice their faiths without interference. 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 and evacuated some church workers because of death threats. During the year, extremists killed two Roman Catholic priests and three nuns, and wounded another nun. Conversions from Islam to Christianity are rare. The Family Code prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women. Because of legal problems and social stigma, Muslim converts to Christianity practice their new faith clandestinely. The Ministry of Religious Affairs appoints Islamic preachers in both state and private mosques. It also proposes themes for and monitors sermons.
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, although it imposes some restrictions on men of military age. Under the Family Code, women under 19 years of age need their husband's or father's permission to obtain a passport or travel abroad. Under the state of emergency, the Minister of Interior and the provincial governors may deny residency in certain districts to persons regarded as threats to public order. A curfew first imposed in 1992 prohibits people from traveling in Algiers and the surrounding provinces between midnight and 4 a.m. In April the Government restricted travel by non-residents to four southern provinces where much of the oil industry and many foreign workers are located. Police checkpoints in the cities and countryside routinely stop vehicles to inspect identification papers and search for evidence of terrorist activity. Armed groups establish comparable false checkpoints to rob travellers of cash and vehicles, or to kill them. The Constitution provides for the right of political asylum, and the Government has granted asylum in a few cases. The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugee Sahrawis, the former residents of Western Sahara who left that territory after it was occupied by Morocco in the 1970s, and Tuaregs, a nomadic people of southern Algeria and neighboring countries. Some came from Mali to escape fighting in the northern part of that country. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: the Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Army's cancellation of the electoral process in 1992 effectively denied citizens the right to change their government by legislative election. Power remains in the hands of the military leadership, supported by the bureaucracy, and some officials of the FLN, the former ruling party. The military appointed all the members of the National Transition Council, which functions as a quasi-parliament. In November President Liamine Zeroual was elected to a 5-year term in office, after obtaining over 60 percent of the vote in a multiparty presidential election. Nearly 75 percent of the electorate cast their ballots in an election that was generally considered to be free and fair. In his inaugural address, President Zeroual pledged that Algeria would continue to move toward full democracy, and announced his intention to hold legislative and local elections. Prior to the election, the Government clamped down on opposition parties which called for their supporters to boycott it. When the FLN was denied permission to hold a large party meeting, it complained that the Government had impinged on its constitutional liberties. The Government also clamped down on the media which supported the Sant'Egidio parties (see Section 2.a.). Few women hold high government positions. There are no women in the Cabinet, but the highest government official responsible for family matters is a woman. Fewer than 1 percent of the candidates for parliamentary elections in the 1991 parliamentary election were women. However, the head of the Labor Party is a woman, and the major political parties have women's divisions. The Government changed the electoral law to ensure that women cast their own ballots, rather than to permit their husbands or fathers to do so for them, as frequently happened in previous elections. The Berbers, an important indigenous minority group, participate freely and actively in the political process. Berbers hold influential positions in the Government and the army. 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. Systemic or government-sanctioned barriers to political participation do not exist against any minority group.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are two independent human rights groups: the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), whose president was spokesman of the parties at the Sant'Egidio Conference, and the Algerian League of Human Rights (LADH), which is largely moribund. Neither group issues annual reports of its findings. A governmental body, the National Observatory of Human Rights (ONDH), established in 1992, is charged with reporting human rights developments directly to the President. The ONDH submitted its first annual report to the President in 1994, but the Government has not made it public. Although the Government does not permit independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers (see Section 1.c.), it allowed representatives from AI to visit Algeria twice. The Government claimed that AI has preconceived ideas about the conflict in Algeria, and lacks evidence to support its allegations of human rights abuses. The Government did not respond to calls by AI and other international human rights groups for an independent investigation into the disturbance at the Serkadji Prison (see Section 1.a.). The Government's public interest in human rights increased in January after the Sant'Egidio Conference. At that meeting, several political parties and the FIS issued a "national compact" to end civil unrest, and called for respect for human rights. Shortly afterwards, President Zeroual ordered state entities to cooperate with investigations conducted by ONDH, and indicated that the Government would prosecute any official accused of violating unspecified "human rights." In June the ONDH held a 2-day seminar to educate the public about human rights.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disablility, 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's rights advocates assert that spousal violence is common, although there are no reliable studies on the problem. Battered women may file criminal charges or sue for divorce, but women's rights advocates maintain that legal actions are rare because the courts are generally lenient with abusive husbands. Some aspects of the law and many traditional practices discriminate against women. Women's rights advocates argue that the 1984 Family Code violates the Constitution. Based on Islamic law, or Shari'a, it regards women as minors under the legal guardianship of a husband or father. Women do not have full legal responsibility for their children because the father must sign all official documents. A woman's testimony in a court of law does not equal a man's. The Family Code also confirms the Islamic practice of allowing a man to marry four wives--a rare occurrence. However, a wife may sue for divorce if her husband does not inform her of his intent to marry another wife. Only males are able to confer citizenship on their children. In cases of divorce, the Code awards guardianship of the children to the father, even though the mother is usually expected to care for them until a son is 13 and a daughter is married. Women may own businesses and enter into contracts. Women constitute about 8 percent of the work force and pursue opportunities in government, medicine, law, education, the media, and even in the armed forces. Nonetheless, social pressure against women pursuing a career is strong. According to government figures, women constitute 53 percent of illiterates. During the year, Islamists continued to pressure women to adopt Islamic fundamentalist social norms. According to the Government, unidentified assailants killed over 160 women in 1995. The GIA announced in March that it would attack families of members of the security forces. They have carried out that threat (see Section 1.a.). Extremists have also killed those who own and operate hair salons and their clients. Islamist groups reportedly raped women and forced some to serve as mistresses of group leaders.
The Government is committed in principle to protecting children's human rights. It provides free education for children ages 6 to 15 and free medical care for all citizens. The Ministry of Youth and Sports has many programs for children, but those programs 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 generally ignore a law which requires that they reserve 1 percent of their jobs for people with disabilities. The independent newspaper La Tribune reported in May that the Government has ignored international standards for treatment of people with disabilities. The ONDH is charged with developing programs to provide unspecified "help" for people with disabilities, but the project has not been given a high priority. The Government also provides limited financial support to several nongovernmental organizations that assist people with disabilities.
The Berbers were the original inhabitants of Algeria, and many citizens claim to be of mixed Berber and Arab ancestry. Berbers have sought to maintain their own cultural identity and language in the face of the Government's emphasis on the development of an Arab identity. In May the Government created the High Commission for Berber Affairs. The move followed a year-long school boycott in Berber areas, because there was no instruction in Berber language and culture. The Commission has begun implementing its mandate to promote Berber culture, and to introduce the Berber language into the education and media. There have been professorships in Berber language and culture at the University of Tizi Ouzou for years.
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. Workers are required to obtain government approval to establish a union. After a labor union receives its license, it must wait 6 months before it can start its organizing activities. The Government limits some union activities. As part of its crackdown on the FIS, the Government abolished an Islamist union affiliated with the FIS, because it had never been licensed. 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. 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 level of public services must be maintained during public sector service strikes. There were numerous local strikes and work stoppages by public-sector workers, such as a strike in June and July by oil-sector workers. Most ended quickly following mediation efforts involving government officials and labor unions. The Government did not invoke the state of emergency to block strikes; it only rarely retaliated against workers involved in the stoppages. 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 law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of antiunion practices by employers. It further 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 periodic or unannounced inspection visits to public sector enterprises, but do not effectively enforce it in the agricultural or private sectors. Many children are driven by economic necessity into 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 decree a guaranteed monthly minimum wage for all sectors. The minimum wage is $80 per month (4,000 dinars). Ministry of Labor inspectors are responsible for ensuring compliance with the minimum wage regulations, although they enforce these provisions inconsistently. Algeria has a 44-hour workweek and well developed occupation and health regulations codified in a decree issued in 1991. However, government inspectors do not enforce these regulations effectively.