Thousands of civilians were killed; some were extrajudicially executed by security forces or by militias armed by the state, others were deliberately and arbitrarily killed by armed groups which define themselves as "Islamic groups". Thousands of people, including possible prisoners of conscience, were detained; many were released without charge and hundreds were charged under the "anti-terrorist" law. Hundreds of people arrested in previous years were sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials. Hundreds of people remained detained without trial. Torture and ill-treatment by security forces remained widespread, especially during secret detention but also in prisons. Torture, including rape, by armed groups also continued. Dozens of people "disappeared" after arrest by security forces. Thousands of people who "disappeared" in previous years remained unaccounted for. Scores of people were abducted by armed groups. Hundreds of people were sentenced to death, the vast majority in absentia. Hundreds of others remained under sentence of death. No judicial executions were carried out.

In September President Liamine Zeroual announced that he would step down in February 1999, 21 months before the end of his term, and that presidential elections would be held. General Mohamed Betchine, President Zeroual's adviser, and Minister of Justice Mohamed 'Adami resigned in October after allegations of their involvement in corruption and human rights abuses appeared in the press. Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia resigned in December and was replaced by Smai‘l Hamdani.

Prime Minister Ouyahia told the National Assembly in February that more than 5,000 militias armed by the state, redefined Groupes de légitime défense, Legitimate Defence Groups, and also known as "patriotes" ("patriots"), had been set up. On the same occasion he stated that the total number of civilians and members of the security forces killed from 1992 to 1997 was 26,536. No figure was given for the number of people killed by security forces in military operations or other situations. It was the first time the government had given an official death toll. Other sources put the total number of dead for the same period at between 65,000 and 100,000.

The state of emergency imposed in 1992 (see previous Amnesty International Reports) remained in force.

The UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions were refused access to Algeria throughout the year. The government rejected calls by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Union, the g8 and others for the Special Rapporteurs to be allowed to visit the country to investigate human rights issues. It also rejected an attempt by the UN Secretary-General to discuss the situation. Amnesty International and other international human rights organizations were refused access to the country throughout the year.

In July the UN Human Rights Committee examined Algeria's second periodic report on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which had been overdue since 1995. The Committee expressed grave concern at the situation in Algeria and called on the government to take effective measures to prevent massacres and attacks against the civilian population; conduct investigations to determine who the offenders are and to bring them to justice; make inquiries into the conduct of the security forces in all cases of massacres; investigate all allegations of torture and prosecute officials involved in torture; record all reported cases of "disappearances" and assist families to trace the "disappeared"; and ensure that nobody is arrested or detained outside the law and that complaints about such arrest or detention be given immediate attention.

A UN panel composed of six international political figures and headed by former Portuguese President Mario Soares visited Algeria in July/August. It subsequently called on the government to hold the law enforcement, security and self-defence forces to strict standards of accountability; work resolutely to change theattitude in the judiciary, police, army and the institutions responsible for upholding human rights; and give expeditious attention to complaints of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions and "disappearances".

The unilateral truce declared in October 1997 by the Armée islamique du salut (AIS), Islamic Salvation Army – the armed wing of the outlawed Front islamique du salut (FIS), Islamic Salvation Front – remained in place. AIS groups reportedly cooperated with army and security forces units to combat the Groupe islamique armé (GIA), Armed Islamic Group, and other such armed groups in various parts of the country.

The level of violence remained high throughout the year, but appeared to be lower than in 1997. Responsibility for human rights abuses could often not be established because security forces, militias armed by the state and armed groups defining themselves as "Islamic groups" often adopted similar patterns of conduct and because there were no investigations. Restrictions on access to the country for international media and human rights organizations, and restrictions imposed on the local media severely curtailed reporting of human rights abuses.

Hundreds of people were killed in military operations against GIA groups carried out by the army, other security forces, and militias armed by the state. It was not possible in most cases to obtain details concerning the number of those killed, their identity or the exact circumstances in which they were killed. It was routinely reported by officials and the media that entire groups attacked by the security forces had been killed and no prisoners taken. There were allegations that many of those killed had been extrajudicially executed after they were captured. In March Riadh Boutekdjeret, a 21-year-old student, was reportedly shot in the back by a member of the security forces in the el-Biar district in Algiers, the capital, and died soon after. No inquiry was known to have been carried out.

No investigations were known to have been carried out into the alleged extrajudicial execution of Rachid Medjahed in 1997 (see Amnesty International Report 1998). A representative of the Algerian government told the UN Human Rights Committee in July that Rachid Medjahed had been shot by security forces in January, whereas the government had previously maintained that he had been shot in February.

Reports of extrajudicial executions and other grave abuses by militias armed by the state continued to be widespread. Two militia chiefs who were also mayors of Relizane and Jdiouia for the Rassemblement national démocratique, National Democratic Rally, the largest party in the government, were arrested in April. They were accused of widespread human rights abuses, including numerous murders, torture, abductions and racketeering, committed since 1995. However, they were released on bail within days and had not been brought to trial by the end of the year. The authorities announced in February that more than 120 members of the security forces and militias had been brought to justice for human rights abuses committed in previous years, including murder, rape and abduction. However, the authorities refused to provide further information.

Armed groups which define themselves as "Islamic groups" deliberately and arbitrarily killed hundreds of civilians and non-combatants. Some women abducted by these groups were reportedly raped before being killed. The singer Ma‘toub Lounes was shot dead by an armed group in June as he was driving near Tizi Ouzou in Kabilia. His wife and two sisters-in-law were injured in the attack.

In January up to 200 men, women and children were killed by an armed group near Relizane, in the west of the country, in the largest massacre reported during the year. Some of the victims were families of AIS members. Security forces only came to the scene the following day, after the attackers had fled. By the end of the year no one was known to have been brought to justice for this massacre or for the massacres of hundreds of civilians in Rais and Bentalha in 1997 (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

Scores of civilians died in bomb attacks by armed groups, who targeted markets, cafés and other public places in different parts of the country.

Thousands of people, among them possible prisoners of conscience, were detained during the year. Many were released without charge having spent periods ranging from a few days to a few months in secret detention. Hundreds were charged under the "anti-terrorist" law. Hundreds of others detained in previous years were sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials or continued to be detained awaiting trial. Allegations of torture during often prolonged secret detention were routinely disregarded by the courts, as were defence lawyers' requests to call witnesses. In January, 37 detainees and one prison guard were tried in connection with a mutiny in Serkadji Prison in which at least 96 detainees and five prison guards were killed (see Amnesty International Report 1996). The defendants were accused of attempting to escape, destruction of property and holding hostages. The guard was also accused of participation in murder. The court did not seek to establish the causes and circumstances of the deaths of the detainees, and defence lawyers were not allowed to call key witnesses. The prison guard was sentenced to death, 21 detainees were sentenced to between two and 10 years' imprisonment and 16 were acquitted. Among those acquitted and released was Nadir Hammoudi, who had been detained since 1992 (see previous Amnesty International Reports).

In December the Supreme Court quashed the conviction against human rights lawyer and prisoner of conscience Rachid Mesli, who had been sentenced to three years' imprisonment in 1997 (see Amnesty International Report 1998). He was refused bail and remained in detention awaiting retrial at the end of the year.

Torture and ill-treatment remained widespread, especially during secret detention after arrest. For example, Mohamed Boukhlaf was arrested in August with his wife, baby daughter and 10-year-old nephew and was reportedly tortured in the gendarmerie station in Bab Djedid in Algiers. He said that he was raped and sexually abused, had teeth pulled out and was threatened that his wife would be raped. His wife, child and nephew were released after 11 days. He remained detained on charges of links with armed groups. No investigations were known to have been carried out into his complaint of torture or into any other torture complaint in 1998 or previous years.

The maximum 12-day limit for incommunicado detention was routinely breached by security forces who often held suspects in secret detention for weeks or months. A 70-year-old Imam from Constantine was released in April after 11 months in secret detention. During this entire period his family was unable to obtain any information on his whereabouts from the authorities who consistently denied his arrest.

Dozens of other people "disappeared" after arrest by security forces and were believed to be held in secret detention. For example, Mohamed Cheridji, a father of four, "disappeared" after he was arrested at his home in Baraki in January in front of his family. Thousands of others who "disappeared" in previous years remained unaccounted for. ‘Aziz Bou‘abdallah, ‘Allaoua Ziou, Djamaleddine Fahassi, Mohamed Rosli, Brahim Cherrada, Mohamed Chergui, Yamine ‘Ali Kebaili and 13 others who "disappeared" after arrest between 1993 and 1997 remained unaccounted for (see previous Amnesty International Reports).

In August hundreds of relatives of people who had "disappeared" began to hold weekly demonstrations outside the office of the official human rights body, the ondh, and other government buildings. In response the Ministry of the Interior opened offices in the capital and elsewhere to receive the families' complaints and promised to investigate the cases. At the same time both the government and the ondh continued to deny that most of the "disappeared" had ever been arrested, and claimed that others had been killed by the security forces in combat or while attempting to escape, or had been killed by "terrorist" groups. Some of the "disappeared" were alleged to have died as a result of torture or to have been extrajudicially executed after arrest. No independent investigations were known to have been carried out into the "disappearances" by the end of the year.

‘Ali Belhadj, a FIS leader arrested in 1991 and sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment in 1992, who had "disappeared" in mid-1995, was allowed to be visited by his family for the first time since then in September in Blida Military Prison (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

Hundreds of people were sentenced to death, most of them in absentia. Hundreds of others remained under sentence of death. The moratorium on executions remained in force.

In March and April Amnesty International and three other organizations, the International Federation of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Reporters sans frontières, called on the UN Commission on Human Rights to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Algeria and to set up an international investigation into the human rights situation in the country. However, the Commission failed to take any concrete action (see International Organizations).

Throughout the year Amnesty International called on the authorities to take concrete measures to stop and prevent human rights abuses by its security forces, by militias armed by the state and by armed groups; investigate all incidents of human rights abuses; and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

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