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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Algeria

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Algeria, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
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.

Algeria's 1989 Constitution was supposed to provide for its conversion from a single-party Socialist state to a multiparty parliamentary system. Power, however, continued to reside in a government composed of present and former ruling party officials. Moreover, after an Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), won the first round in the first multiparty national legislative elections in December 1991, President Chadli Benjedid resigned in January 1992 under pressure from the army and others within the Government. The next day the regime cancelled the second round of elections. A five-member High State Committee (HSC) was created to act as Algeria's collective presidency. The HSC declared a state of emergency in February 1992 and had the FIS banned a month later. HSC president Mohamed Boudiaf was assassinated in June 1992; he was replaced by Ali Kafi, who remains in office. In August 1993, the HSC appointed Redha Malek as Prime Minister. The HSC has pledged to step down by January 31, 1994, to be replaced by another presidential body until the regime decides conditions merit a resumption of the political process.

The police, the gendarmerie, and the army maintain internal security. In efforts to restore stability, repress Islamic militancy, and combat terrorism, security forces have resorted to the use of excessive force, harsh treatment, and, in many cases, torture of prisoners and detainees.

Incidents of terrorism (which began in early 1992) continued throughout 1993. Such incidents included daily attacks against security forces; assassinations of numerous journalists, intellectuals, and a senior political personality; and attempts against the lives of three government ministers.

Algeria's industrialized hydrocarbon-based economy (agriculture accounts for less than 10 percent of the gross domestic product) remains largely under government control, with the State operating most major industries, much of the distribution and retail systems, and the banking and credit system. Under former Prime Minister Abdesselam, the Government pursued an economic program maintaining a predominant state role in managing the economy. Prime Minister Redha Malek's Cabinet, appointed in September, said it would pursue reforms that put more emphasis on the private sector. High population growth, an acute housing shortage, scarcity of foreign exchange, inflation and unemployment exceeding 20 percent, and the legacy of years of economic inefficiency continue to hamper government efforts to satisfy social needs.

The human rights situation, which deteriorated severely in 1992 following the cancellation of elections and the declaration of a state of emergency, further deteriorated in 1993. The Government extended the state of emergency and postponed new elections for 2 to 3 years; it continued to hold some 800 people in two administrative detention camps without benefit of due process, despite its pledge that it would close the camps; and it continued to restrict freedom of speech and press, suspending three new publications on security grounds while maintaining the earlier suspension of seven others. Within the upward spiraling cycle of violence, there were allegations that security forces engaged in extrajudicial killings, as well as credible reports of the security forces' frequent resort to torture, although the Government said it will not tolerate such actions. The Government claimed it investigated cases of security force members accused of committing such abuses but gave no details, creating at the very least the public impression of a climate of impunity for such actions. Other human rights problems included denial of the right to a fair trial, especially in the antiterrorist courts, and ongoing restrictions on freedoms of assembly, religion, and women's rights. Extremist opposition elements also committed human rights abuses on a large scale, waging a campaign of terrorism and armed attacks which claimed the lives of some 300 members of the security forces.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killings

Some opponents of the regime assert that the Government was responsible for politically motivated extrajudicial killings, arguing that at least some of the more than 500 alleged terrorists killed in 1993 in armed clashes with security forces were not offered the chance to surrender and were thus killed extrajudicially. One credible source cited the September 29 killing of 10 alleged terrorists in Benzerga as an example of extrajudicial killing. Furthermore, many Algerians believe that the Government was responsible for political assassinations, including the killing in August of senior political personality Kasdi Merbah; the Government blamed Islamists (a claim denied by the FIS) for his death. There were also claims by Islamist opponents of the regime, and at least one independent human rights league, that a number of people died in official custody as a result of harsh conditions and torture. The human rights league did not publicly cite any specific cases.

Government forces were subject to armed attacks throughout the year, resulting in the deaths of over 300 security force members, according to official figures for 1993. Three ministers were targets of assassination attempts: Defense Minister Khaled Nezzar in February, Labor Minister Tahar Hamdi in March, and Equipment Minister Mokdad Sifi in June.

Although armed attacks were aimed primarily against security forces and government officials, private citizens were also targets, including a number of civilians accused by the opposition of collaboration with the Government, as well as foreigners in Algeria. In February armed men attacked a schoolbus carrying gendarmes' children, and a bomb was placed in a university faculty office; in March intellectuals Laadi Flici, Hafid Senhadri, and Djilali Liabes were assassinated; in April armed men wounded the head of the former Communist Party; in May noted writer Tahar Djaout was assassinated, and gunmen attacked the director of Algeria's leading newspaper; in June Dr. Mahfoud Boucebci and professor Mohamed Boukhobza, prominent professionals, were assassinated, and several ambulances carrying civilians were attacked; in July journalist Merzak Begtache was attacked; in August Kasdi Merbah and journalists Rabah Zenati and Abdelhamid Benmenni were assassinated; in September writer Abderrahmane Chergou and two French citizens were assassinated; in October gunmen assassinated an Islamic studies professor, a former Marxist Party official, noted doctor and human rights advocate Djilali Belkhenchir, journalist Ismail Yefah, and former national television director Mustapha Abada. The same month, gunmen kidnaped three French consular officials (who were later freed), and assassinated an Islamic studies professor, an Algiers University lecturer and former Marxist Party official, noted doctor and human rights activist Djilali Belkhenchir, journalist Ismail Yehsah, former national television director Mustapha Abada, two Russian military advisors, and three foreigners working for a European construction company. In November gunmen attacked a photographer for the newspaper El Watan, and kidnaped a well-known Islamic director of a national charity organization. In December armed elements assassinated a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official, a Spanish businessman, a Frenchman resident in Algeria, a Russian woman resident in Algeria, a British computer technician working for an American company, and 12 Croatian hydroelectric company employees. The Armed Islamic Group, one of the most important armed groups in Algeria, claimed responsibility for some of the actions against the foreigners.

While difficult to confirm, there is also credible information about acts of vigilante vengeance against Islamists.

b. Disappearance

With the Government no longer engaging in a policy of large-scale administrative internment in southern Algeria, charges of individual disappearance were far fewer in 1993 than in 1992. Nevertheless, some regime opponents charged that a number of people detained by security forces in 1993 were not heard from again. The Government denied the charge and called for the names of persons who allegedly had disappeared to be made public to permit an official investigation. No such names were made public by the regime's opponents.

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

Knowledgeable sources, including Amnesty International (AI) and an independent Algerian human rights league, continued to report the frequent use of torture and brutal treatment of prisoners by the security forces. The National Observatory of Human Rights (ONDH, a government-created organization) argued that a special legal apparatus exists in Algeria to try those accused of torture but that many alleged victims have refused to pursue their cases for fear of reprisal. Nevertheless, the ONDH said it had sent 10 to 12 allegations of security force mistreatment of detainees to the Justice Ministry for investigation. Torture techniques used by security forces reportedly include electric shocks, beatings, burning with cigarettes, suffocating victims with cloths soaked in chemicals or filthy water, and insertion of objects into the anus.

The Government acknowledged that episodes of security force mistreatment of alleged terrorists occurred in 1993 but rejected claims that torture by security forces was practiced either systematically or with official approval. Government spokesmen argue that some prisoners use allegations of torture for political purposes. The Government has pledged to investigate allegations of torture for which evidence is presented. According to the Government, several security force members have been punished for committing such abuses, but it refused to make public any information regarding these cases, making it impossible to confirm this claim.

There were credible reports that extremist elements fighting the regime also committed acts of torture, although information on such incidents is difficult to confirm. The bodies of two police officers kidnaped by Islamist extremists in February were found with signs indicating they had been tortured to death.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and stipulates that incommunicado detention for questioning in criminal cases prior to arraignment may not exceed 48 hours, after which the suspect must be charged or released. Under the Penal Code, this period may be extended to 4 days by written request of the Public Prosecutor. An antiterrorist decree issued in October 1992 increased the allowable length of prearraignment incommunicado detention of suspected terrorists to 12 days. However, there have been credible charges from local human rights observers that authorities have detained people for more than 12 days. Critics have noted that such lengthy periods of incommunicado detention create the conditions in which torture and other abuse flourish, as well as making it difficult or impossible for the Government to refute allegations thereof. Provisional liberty may be granted if the detainee can prove that he will be present at all stages of the inquiry. Under law, detainees must be informed immediately of charges against them. Once charged, a person may be held in pretrial detention indefinitely while the case is investigated.

Provisions established in Article 5 of the State of Emergency Declaration authorized the Interior Ministry to detain, in internment camps under the authority of the army, anyone thought to constitute a public danger. Of some 9,000 people detained in 8 camps in 1992, roughly 800 remained under detention in 2 camps by the end of 1993, despite the Government's pledges to close the camps and either release or try in a court of law the remaining detainees, who were detained without benefit of legal representation or due process. Security forces in 1993 made thousands of arrests for security-related incidents. (The Justice Minister told the Algerian press in November that 5,000 people currently in prison had been arrested on security-related charges.) Critics charge that many of those detained were arrested arbitrarily and without any legal basis.

There is no bail system. Lawyers are permitted regular access to their clients (except for periods of prearraignment detention described above). Special antiterrorist courts sometimes violated this right: lawyers for defendants accused of involvement in the August 1992 Algiers airport bombing, for example, were denied access to clients on several occasions before the May trial. Lawyer-client meetings are supervised visually by a guard. The exact number of political detainees is not known, but the 800 persons remaining in detention camps, who have never been charged, much less tried under law, would have to be included in the total.

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system consists of civil, military, and special antiterrorist courts. There are no Islamic courts, although Shari'a law forms much of the basis for civil court rulings on social matters. All three systems are reportedly seriously overloaded by an increase in the number of arrests in 1993.

The Constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary, and it is generally independent of the executive branch in deciding cases not involving security or public order. In cases involving public order, and particularly in military and antiterrorist courts, the Government is able to influence court decisions. Appointing judges is the prerogative of the executive branch; no legislative approval is necessary. Civilian judges are appointed by the President based on recommendations made by the Higher Magistrate's Council, composed of the President, the Minister of Justice, and various members of the judiciary. Because the council is led by officials of the executive branch, its institutional independence is open to question.

The October 1992 Antiterrorist Decree provided for three special courts, each made up of three civilian judges whose identities are secret, to try crimes specifically relating to terrorism. The decree defined terrorism broadly as "any act committed against individuals...or symbols of the Republic with the aim of jeopardizing life, security, or property, or the obstruction of public authorities or institutions...or the encouragement of such acts, including through the reprinting or redistribution of documents or recordings." These courts began functioning on January 3, 1993.

The October 1992 Antiterrorist Decree does not specifically preclude the Algerian public or press or foreign observers from attending special court trials, but leaves it to the judges' discretion whether to open or close the proceedings. Although the local press has attended and reported on such trials, foreign observers, including correspondents and human rights groups, have not been allowed to attend. Key cases tried by these courts in 1993 included the May trial of 54 defendants accused of various crimes, including the 1992 airport bombing (the court convicted 51, handing down 38 death sentences, including 26 in absentia), and the August trial of the Said Mekhloufi group (35 death sentences, including 29 in absentia). The antiterrorist courts handed down more than 300 death sentences during 1993, more than half of which were handed down in absentia. Twenty-six defendants were executed. AI expressed concern that many of the death sentences were imposed following "grossly unfair trials."

The special antiterrorist courts restrict certain defense rights protected by the regular court system. The courts have allowed the use of confessions allegedly extracted under torture which were later repudiated by defendants in court. Under state of emergency provisions, the courts have restricted access to defense lawyers and rights of appeal. According to an April decree reinforcing the powers of these courts, the courts have the right to suspend lawyers from appearing before the court for up to 1 year for using "obstructive methods," special court prosecutors may arbitrarily transfer to the special court system cases already assigned to the regular criminal courts, and lawyers must receive court authorization in order to represent clients at special court trials. Overall, these courts fail to accord the protections necessary to meet internationally accepted standards for fair trial.

Antiterrorist courts offer the Government greater influence over the outcome of security-related trials, as is suggested by the high rate of convictions and death sentences. According to the Justice Minister, 85 percent of the defendants are convicted and 12 percent get the death penalty. The Independent Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) issued a statement in September calling for the closure of these courts, which it deemed "arbitrary and illegal." AI notes that "executions after unfair trials are summary or arbitrary executions."

In civilian courts, defendants are usually permitted unrestricted access to lawyers, who operate without government interference. The Algerian Bar Association is legally required to provide free legal services to defendants unable to afford counsel. Defendants are advised of the charges against them at the time they are bound over for trial. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses and present evidence. Trials are public, although generally not publicized, and defendants have the right of appeal.

Military courts, which originally had jurisdiction only in cases involving military personnel, were given broad jurisdiction by Article 10 of the State of Emergency Declaration to try civilians for security-related crimes. Although the vast majority of such cases in 1993 were heard by antiterrorist courts, cases involving civilians heard by military courts included the trial of FIS lawyer Brahim Taouti, who was convicted in May of distributing a subversive document and sentenced to 3 years in prison. Prior to the trial, the military prosecutor had argued that a military tribunal did not have jurisdiction over this case, an argument rejected by the military court.

The Government denied that there were any political prisoners in Algeria in 1993. Nevertheless, the State of Emergency Declaration and the Antiterrorist Decree allow for the sentencing of people for nonviolent expression of certain political views; many of the people imprisoned since February 1992 for expressing such views thus could be considered political prisoners.

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

Although the Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home, Article 6 of the State of Emergency Declaration authorizes the Interior Ministry and provincial governors to designate specific areas where visitors and nonresidents of particular areas must stay, refuse residence to anyone whose activity is perceived as threatening to public order, and issue "exceptional search warrants" at any time of day or night. Security forces frequently use these special provisions to enter residences and question suspects. During 1993 there were increasingly frequent reports that armed opposition elements entered private homes, either to kidnap residents or to steal weapons. Many Algerians believe the security services use telephone-monitoring systems, reportedly without the prior court authorization that is required by law.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violation of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

Charges of excessive force against demonstrators were far less common in 1993 than in 1992, in part because demonstrations did not occur as frequently as in 1992 due to the regime's ban on demonstrations. Security forces clashed on at least two occasions with small gatherings of demonstrators outside mosques in Algiers. Excessive force, including live fire, was reportedly used to disperse the gatherings; it is not known if there were any resulting deaths or injuries. These incidents were not reported by the Algerian press.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

These freedoms were restricted in 1993 by the Government's action in suspending several publications and detaining journalists for reports that the Government deemed harmful to public order. They were also impaired by the ongoing terrorist attacks against journalists and writers.

The State of Emergency Declaration gives the regime broad authority to reestablish public order. This authority, bolstered by the December 1992 Antiterrorist Decree, forced many journals to practice self-censorship in reporting on security issues. It also discouraged public expression of views supportive of the banned Islamic Salvation Front. While the Government said it did not object to criticism as long as such criticism did not weaken the institutions of the State or threaten security or public order, the Government decides what criteria to apply.

Under authority granted to it by Article 5 of the State of Emergency Declaration (and Presidential Decree No. 92-320 of August 1992), the Government suspended three publications in 1993: El Watan, a French language independent daily, was suspended for 9 days in January for "prematurely printing" an account of the killing of several security force members; Elmassa, an Arabic-language government-owned daily, was suspended for 2 days in January for printing a story deemed insulting to the head of state of a neighboring country; and El Djazair El Youm, an Arabic-language independent daily, was suspended in August, and remains suspended, for printing an advertisement from an Islamist group challenging several death sentences handed down by an antiterrorist court. Seven journals suspended in 1992, including two FIS journals, also remained suspended in 1993.

Following El Watan's suspension, a government spokesman told the press that security-related stories would henceforth require official approval before they could be printed. Although no official directive was ever issued, most journals thereafter reported more cautiously on security incidents.

Six El Watan employees, including the director, were detained by the authorities for 1 week in January; at the end of the year they were still considered to be on "provisional liberty" and could be called to trial at anytime. Three employees of El Djazair El Youm, including the director, were forbidden in September to leave the country or engage in journalistic activity and at year's end were awaiting trial by a special antiterrorist court. Authorities briefly detained a Reuter correspondent in March for erroneously reporting the assassination of a government minister. Authorities detained three employees of the independent French-language weekly L'Evenement, including the director, on December 15 following the publication of an article on Algerian Islamists that the authorities judged inflammatory. Two employees were kept in prison; the director was granted provisional liberty for health reasons. The three face trial in a criminal court. Despite these suspensions and arrests, the Algerian press continues to carry expressions of opinion contrary to those of the Government, often including sharp criticism of the Government's political, economic, and social policies and often stridently criticizing the Prime Minister and President by name. However, the press has been careful to avoid criticism of the state of emergency or the Government's handling of the security situation.

For financial reasons, most newspapers currently use state-owned companies to print and distribute their publications.

The numerous terrorist attacks on the press in 1993 included, as noted in Section 1.a., the assassinations of at least seven journalists and armed attacks against several others, including the director of Algeria's preeminent French-language daily.

Radio and television remained under government control, with coverage biased in favor of the Government's policies. Because of the widespread accessibility of satellite dish antennas, however, millions of Algerians have access to both MBC (an Arabic-language network broadcasting from London) and European (particularly French) television and watch them regularly.

Academic freedom is constrained to the extent that academicians must operate within similar limitations as the press with regard to criticizing the Government. Academic seminars and colloquia are rarely restricted, even when the topic includes political discussion (although, as with the press, criticism of the regime's security policies is discouraged). Some Algerian professors attend international conferences regularly, and many Algerian professors are active in human rights circles without apparent prejudice to their careers, although they too must avoid outright challenges to the Government's security policies.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the Constitution and legislation adopted in 1989 provide for the rights of assembly and association, freedom of peaceful assembly is sharply curtailed under the state of emergency. Article 7 of the State of Emergency Declaration allows the Government to close "all places of entertainment, halls, and assembly places, as well as ban all demonstrations likely to disturb peace and threaten public order."

In 1993 the authorities generally allowed meetings, assemblies, and marches to occur, provided they were consistent with the regime's security policies. Permits were granted for a national march against violence in March (in which antigovernment placards were carried), for public assemblies held in June by Algerian economic associations (which were critical of the Government's economic policies), for an assembly held by the Algerian Journalists' Association (which was critical of the Government's handling of the press), and for a gathering to mark the commemoration of President Boudiaf's 1992 assassination (at which the Government's handling of the investigation of the assassination was criticized). Permits were also granted to the Front for Socialist Forces (FFS), a political party stridently critical of the Government's policies, to hold public assemblies in June and October. In April Berber cultural groups demonstrated throughout Kabylie without having obtained a permit to do so; most of the demonstrations were allowed to take place, although at least one group of marchers was dispersed with tear gas.

According to the July 1989 Political Associations Law, membership in political organizations is permitted for all Algerians except judges, army and security service personnel, and members of the Constitutional Council. All non- governmental associations must be approved by the Interior Ministry. Most political groups operate openly, although the FIS was banned in March 1992. These range from political parties – there were over 55 parties, including some centrist Islamic parties such as Hamas, active in 1993 – to specialized groups such as human rights and womens' rights groups.

c. Freedom of Religion

Almost all Algerians are Muslim. While the Constitution declares Islam to be the state religion (an Algerian interpretation of the Maliki school of Islamic law), it prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. The Government protects the rights of the small Christian and Jewish populations and often includes leaders of these communities at ceremonial state functions. The Jewish community numbers fewer than 200 and maintains a synagogue in central Algiers. Algerian Christians reportedly number fewer than 1,000 and often worship only in private. Both Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are found in Algiers, primarily serving the foreign Christian community.

Conversion from Islam to Christianity is extremely rare and is severely sanctioned by the community. Algerians who convert from Islam do so clandestinely. The Islamic clergy receives religious training administered by the Government, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs appoints imams to both state and privately funded mosques. On at least three occasions in 1993, progovernment imams were assassinated. Also during the year, several imams were reportedly removed from their positions for preaching antigovernment views, and Friday sermons at larger mosques were reportedly monitored by security forces, leading regime critics to argue that their freedom of religion had been compromised.

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

Freedom to travel within Algeria and abroad and to emigrate is provided for by law and is generally respected in practice, although minor children are not allowed to travel abroad without their father's permission. A curfew imposed in December 1992, and modified in May 1993, prohibits people from traveling within Algiers and surrounding provinces between 11:30 p.m. and 4 a.m. Gendarmerie checkpoints in the cities and countryside routinely stop vehicles to inspect identification papers and vehicle registrations and occasionally search for signs of terrorist activity or evidence of black marketeering. There are some administrative restrictions on foreign travel related to mandatory military service and the obligation to repay state education scholarships.

The Constitution provides for the right of political asylum. Based on data provided by the Government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that approximately 165,000 Sahrawi refugees live in camps in southwestern Algeria. Of these, some 80,000 are considered by the UNHCR to be in vulnerable groups and thus in need of aid. Sahrawi refugees in southwestern Algeria are supported by both the Government and the UNHCR. Another estimated 50,000 displaced Tuaregs from Mali and Niger live in settlements in southern Algeria.

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

The cancellation of National Assembly elections and assumption of power by the High State Committee (HSC) in 1992 effectively denied citizens the right to change their government. Constitutional provisions approved by the National Assembly in 1989 that afford Algerians the right to change their government have been effectively suspended.

National elections in December 1991 resulted in a decisive victory for the FIS – 188 of the 430 assembly seats went to the FIS; 15 went to the governing National Liberation Front (FLN) and reflected strong popular discontent with the Government. In January 1992, President Bendjedid resigned under pressure from the army; election results were cancelled; and a 5-member presidency, the HSC, was named to serve until December 1993 when Bendjedid's term of office was to end. The HSC pledged to respect this mandate and said it will step down before January 31, 1994. However, the Government has postponed resumption of the electoral process until it considers conditions, including the security situation, to be stable enough to allow a resumption. Until such time, a transition government will be responsible for governing the country. The Government has not offered a definitive timetable for new elections but has said repeatedly that 2 to 3 years would be needed before elections could resume.

Two levels of local government exist: 1,541 local districts elect municipal councils to 4-year terms, and 48 provinces elect provincial councils to 5-year terms to work in consultation with provincial governors appointed by the Interior Ministry. In local and regional elections in June 1990, the FIS won control of 853 municipal and 32 provincial councils. But in 1992 and 1993, under Article 8 of the State of Emergency Declaration, the Government replaced most elected local councils – including all 895 FIS-controlled councils as well as some FLN, Hamas, and Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) councils – with government-appointed executive committees.

Very few women are active in government; there are presently no women among the 26 Cabinet ministers. Fewer than than 1 percent of the candidates for assembly seats in the 1991 election were women, a reflection of strong social pressures against women's participation in politics and government.

The Berbers, an important indigenous minority group, participate freely and actively in the political process. Two important Kabylie-based (see Section 5) political parties exist, including the FFS, which came in second to the FIS in the number of seats won in the December 1991 election, and the RCD. Furthermore, Berbers hold a number of influential positions within the Government and the army. Algerian Tuaregs (a people of Berber origin) do not play as important a role in the national-level political process, due in large part to their small numbers (estimated in the tens of thousands) and their nomadic nature. Systemic or government-sanctioned barriers to political participation, however, do not exist against any minority groups.

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

A number of human rights organizations are active in Algeria, including the Committee Against Torture, the Algerian League of Human Rights (which is affiliated with the Maghreb Human Rights Association), the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, and the National Observatory of Human Rights (a government-created organization charged with monitoring and reporting developments to the HSC). Human rights monitors receive wide coverage in the independent press and hold press conferences to express their views, including criticism of government security policies and allegations of security force use of torture. No human rights groups have publicly aired charges of extrajudicial killings by the security forces. Human rights groups tend to be ignored by the government- controlled media.

The Government permitted a visit by the secretary general of AI in April, a month after AI released a highly critical report on the Government's human rights record. He met with the then Foreign Minister Redha Malek and delivered widely reported public remarks critical of the Government's human rights record.

The New York-based Middle East Watch (MEW) did not receive permission to visit Algeria in 1993, despite numerous requests by MEW to the Government. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was permitted to visit Algeria in April 1992, but has been denied permission to visit since then.

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

The 1989 Constitution specifically prohibits discrimination based on birth, race, sex, belief, or any other personal or social conditions or circumstance. The State of Emergency Declaration did not affect these prohibitions. The 1989 Constitution omits, however, the specific guarantees for women's political, economic, social, and cultural rights that had been included in the 1976 constitution.


Women's rights are restricted by Islamic law and custom. Women's rights to work, live independently, and generally function outside the traditional Muslim social norm have come under attack from Islamist leaders and conservative elements of society. Revisions in 1984 to Algeria's Family Code effectively restricted women's rights.

Under the Family Code, much of which is based on Shari'a law, women, regardless of their age, employment, or civil status, remain like minors under the legal guardianship of a husband or father. Although the Family Code allows husbands to have four wives (a rare occurrence in Algeria), it requires the husband to disclose his marital status and intent to both his present and future spouses. If he fails to tell the truth, any of his wives may file a suit in court against him for fraud or divorce. The Code awards 4 months of alimony to the woman regardless of the husband's means and the circumstances of the divorce, although under the Code the wife may receive a significant settlement in cash or property after divorce if so stipulated in the marriage contract. Because the Code forbids Algerian women from marrying non-Muslims, women engaged to non-Muslim men can be subjected to harassment, reportedly including confiscation of their passports by authorities. In March women's rights advocates commemorated International Womens' Day by calling on the Government to protect women's rights and to change the Family Code.

With the growing influence of highly traditional Islamist views and norms, secularist women regard themselves as increasingly under pressure from proponents of the implementation of Islamic law. Conservative societal and family pressures, as well as support or fear of political Islam, have compelled many Algerian women to wear Islamic dress, including the hijab headcovering with ankle-length overdress. Many other women, however, continue to wear Western dress despite what they feel is continuous harassment and pressure to dress more traditionally.

Roughly 10 to 15 percent of the work force are women, most of whom work in urban areas. Many of these women are trained and employed in the fields of medicine, education, and the media; some women serve in the armed forces. Some orthodox Islamists have blamed high national unemployment (21 percent according to official figures) on female participation in the workplace and argue that women should not work outside the home. However, some moderate Islamist leaders have publicly defended the right of women to work. Girls represent just under 50 percent of students enrolled in primary and secondary schools and 35 percent of students enrolled in universities.

The extent of violence against women is unclear. National studies on this problem do not exist, but the Central Hospital in Algiers alone reported more than 4,600 cases of abuse against women requiring medical treatment in 1991 and 1992. Women's rights advocates assert that such violence is not rare, particularly in the context of family conflicts (i.e., wife and sister beating) in more conservative, male-dominated families. Such abuse, however, is increasingly unacceptable to middle-class Algerians. Violence against women is seldom discussed publicly, although several independent journals published articles on the subject during 1993. Wives who are beaten by their husbands may file criminal charges or sue for divorce, but such legal actions are rare, and civil courts are far more likely to rule in favor of men, according to women's rights advocates. Cases of rape and incest continue to be underreported to police and to doctors, due to the social stigma attached in Algeria to victims of such crimes. The Government is committed in principle to combating violence against women, but, given the higher priority it places on other political and security problems, it devoted few resources and little attention to this issue in 1993.


The Government is committed in principle to protecting children's human rights and welfare. Several children's advocacy groups exist, including the Association for Childrens' Rights and the National Association for the Defense of Children's Rights. Governments at the regional level offer social and sanitary services for children, but financial resources for such services are severely limited. Furthermore, according to local observers, neither the Penal Code nor the Family Code offers sufficient legal protection to children. Although most larger hospitals treat at least several dozen cases of child abuse every year, many more such cases go unreported. Some schools, according to news accounts, still use corporal punishment, and disciplinary beatings of children by parents are said to be common.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Algeria's population is ethnically mixed, and ethnic minorities seem to fare no better and no worse than other Algerians. Berbers were the original inhabitants of the region, and their ethnic consciousness, fueled by a desire to preserve their distinctive cultural identity and language in the face of the Government's emphasis on the development of an Arab identity, remains strong. Many Algerians are both Arab and Berber, and many Berbers hold positions of influence within Algerian society. Nevertheless, some Berber spokesmen assert that the Government implicitly seeks to repress the Berber culture, including the teaching and propagation of Amazight, the language of the Kabylie Berbers. Amazight is not taught in primary and secondary schools but is taught at Tizi Ouzou University. A clear expression of Berber ethnic consciousness was evident in April when Berber groups organized marches and demonstrations in commemoration of Berber demonstrations in 1981.

The situation of the nomadic Tuareg of Algeria's southern desert continues to be of domestic and international concern. The drought in the central Sahara continues to disrupt traditional Tuareg patterns of life. Notwithstanding agreements negotiated between the Governments of Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Libya and Tuareg representatives, Tuareg-related grievances and conflicts outside Algeria remain unresolved. As a consequence, large numbers of Tuareg refugees (from Niger and Mali) remain in Algeria. Government authorities encourage Algerian Tuareg to settle and generally treat them fairly.

People with Disabilities

The Government is committed in principle to protecting the rights and welfare of the disabled. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs sponsored in January the creation of the Consultative Council for the Protection of Handicapped People (CNCIPH). It is charged with identifying and resolving professional discrimination against the handicapped, organizing cultural and sporting activities for the handicapped, providing the handicapped with professional training and placement assistance, and working to assure the accessibility of public places to the handicapped. Several private associations for the disabled also exist, including the Federation of Associations for the Physically Handicapped. The lack of available government resources, however, greatly limits the services and assistance that both the public and private associations are able to provide to the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Algerian workers have the right to form and be represented by trade unions of their choice. Government approval for the creation of a labor union is not necessary, although considerable limits are imposed on union activities, and one Islamist union, SIT, has been banned. Unions are not legally allowed to be associated with political parties, although in practice some, including the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), still are. Unions are forbidden to receive funds from abroad, and the Government may suspend a union's operations if it violates the law. Unions are also subject to dissolution by judicial means if a court finds the union has engaged in illegal activities.

The State of Emergency Declaration authorized the Government to require workers to continue their usual jobs in both public and private enterprises in the event of an unauthorized or illegal strike. The 1990 Law on Industrial Relations permits strikes only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation, mediation, or arbitration efforts. This law states that arbitration decisions in worker-management disputes are binding on both parties. If no agreement is reached, and provided a majority of the workers vote by secret ballot to strike, the workers may legally strike. A minimum level of public services must be maintained during public service sector strikes.

Approximately 10 major strikes and numerous minor ones were held in all sectors in 1993. Although many of these strikes did not satisfy the terms set by the 1990 law (in many cases there were no attempts at arbitration or mediation), the Government did not prosecute the striking workers. Strikes included those by dock workers, airport maintenance workers, and workers in the construction sector. Most of the strikes were resolved by wage or other concessions from management.

The Government did not invoke the State of Emergency provisions to force striking workers back to work. The 1990 law on work relations prohibits retribution against striking workers.

Unions may form and join federations or confederations and affiliate with international bodies. Several Algerian unions, including the UGTA, have sought international contacts beyond the quasi-official Arab and African trade union organizations in which they participate. The UGTA, for example, established direct contact in 1993 with the AFL-CIO.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The 1990 law permits collective bargaining for all unions, and this right has been freely practiced. The law also 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 all unions, whether longstanding or newly created, to recruit members at the workplace. In the context of a new Investment Code approved in September, the Government announced its intention to establish an undetermined number of free trade zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is incompatible with the Constitution's provisions on individual rights. The Penal Code was amended in 1990 to ban compulsory labor explicitly (prior to this, compulsory labor by convicted prisoners was allowed). This ban is effectively enforced by labor inspections and penal sanctions.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum employment age is 16 years. Work inspectors, who report to the Ministry of Labor, are responsible for enforcing the minimum employment age by periodic or unannounced inspection visits to the workplace. The minimum age is enforced in the state sector, the country's largest employment sector. It is not effectively enforced in the agricultural or small private sectors, but violations are not widespread. However, many children under 16 are driven by economic necessity into informal employment, such as street vending. Legislation on acceptable working hours does not make a distinction between young workers and the regular work force.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The 1990 Law on Work Relations defines the overall framework for acceptable conditions of work but leaves specific policies with regard to hours, salaries, and other work conditions to the discretion of employers in consultation with employees. A guaranteed monthly minimum wage rate for all sectors is fixed by government decree. The most recent minimum wage agreement, reached in 1992, set the minimum monthly wage at roughly $75 (1,800 dinars) per month, which is not adequate to provide a worker with a family a decent standard of living. Ministry of Labor work inspectors are responsible for ensuring compliance with the minimum wage regulations, although enforcement reportedly has been inconsistent.

Algeria has a 44-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period and well developed occupational and health regulations codified in a January 1991 decree, but enforcement by government inspectors is generally lax. Laws on working conditions do not specify whether workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

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