Freedom of Association Under Threat - Algeria

While the Algerian constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association, the exercise of those rights is severely curtailed by government conduct and a state of emergency that has been in effect since 1992.

Freedom of Association

The main statute controlling nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is the Associations Law of 1990, which is often criticized for its restrictive nature. The law stipulates that there must be at least 15 founding members for each organization, and if an association is suspended, the founding members may face financial penalties or even prison. Moreover, the law grants the government significant discretion in rejecting applications for registration. Any organization whose founders have "demonstrated conduct contrary to the interests of the fight for national liberation" can be denied registration. The vagueness of this stipulation leaves it particularly open to abuse, and the Ministry of Interior (MOI) has denied recognition to several NGOs that are critical of government policies. The MOI can also refuse to register any group charged with disturbing public order, and it has rejected some applications on security grounds without providing evidence to support the decisions.

Civil society organizations report significant administrative delays in obtaining approval for their registrations, which in practice can take months or even years. Furthermore, the government frequently fails to provide written confirmation of the registration, exposing NGOs to the risk of arbitrary closure when they are unable to prove their legal status. However, some associations that were refused official recognition continue to operate. SOS Disparus, an NGO calling for an investigation regarding the thousands of Algerians who vanished during the 1990s, is one such group. In February 2007, a conference it organized in conjunction with other Algerian and international organizations was forced to relocate after security forces banned it and international participants were denied visas.

For Algerian NGOs to get funding from foreign sources, they must obtain authorization from the MOI and the Ministry of National Solidarity, a task which has proven extremely difficult. Visiting members of international NGOs often face obstacles when seeking visas. The groups affected include Freedom House, whose U.S.-based staff applied for visas twice in 2007 and were rejected both times. Moreover, visa delays prevented Amnesty International from hosting a conference on violence against women in March 2006, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) was forced to cancel scheduled events on electoral systems and youth leadership in June of the same year due to visa problems.

Worker Rights

The right of recognized unions to bargain collectively is respected, and approximately two-thirds of the Algerian workforce belong to unions, but certain restrictions impede truly free collective bargaining. New unions must be approved by the Ministry of Labor (MOL), which can invalidate a union's legal status if its aims are judged to be contrary to the established system, public order, or good morals. The MOL must approve applications within 30 days. Trade unions are not allowed to receive foreign funding or associate with political parties, and they may be dissolved by the courts if found to be engaged in illegal activities. The law protects workers against discrimination by employers based on their union membership.

Algerian workers have the right to strike, but the Law on Industrial Relations stipulates that a 14-day waiting and arbitration period must elapse before a legal strike can be mounted. The government can offer to mediate during this period, and when it does intervene, its decisions are binding on both sides. In recent years, strikes have taken place within the construction, medical, education, and other sectors. Algeria's state of emergency allows the government to order public- and private-sector workers to return to their jobs in the event of an unauthorized or illegal strike.

The right of unions to form coalitions is respected in law but hindered in practice by administrative delays. Some 50 autonomous unions have been created since 1990, but the MOL has refused to recognize many of them. The Autonomous Unions Confederation has tried unsuccessfully to obtain recognition since 1996.

The General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) is an umbrella trade union federation made up of national unions specialized by sector. The comparatively limited effectiveness of competing unions creates an incentive for Algerians to join the UGTA, which has strong ties to the government.

Freedom of Assembly

Citizens and organizations must obtain permits from local authorities to hold public meetings, but approval is often delayed to impede the events' publicity and impact. In addition, permission has been refused to groups advocating positions that are unfavorable to the government. For example, groups opposing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's 2005 Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation had difficulty obtaining permits, and in May 2007, the Democratic and Social Movement was prevented from holding a public discussion regarding its boycott of legislative elections.

The government banned demonstrations in the capital following violent prodemocracy protests by nearly one million people in 2001. Gendarmes, riot police, and other security forces allegedly used violent means to break up both authorized and unauthorized protests in and outside of Algiers.

On June 28, 2006, young men in Tiaret province protested the lack of water, gas, and paved roads, resulting in riots that lasted three days. The violence left 34 people injured, and 67 were arrested for vandalism. Subsequent protests led to the release of 57 youths who had been detained during the unrest. Violence was also used to prevent a protest in support of the Palestinian and Lebanese people – led by the Movement for a Society of Peace – in Algiers in July 2006. In 2007, protests were reportedly broken up in El Oued, Ain Talout, Oran, and Boussaada.

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