A Call to Algerian Civil Society!
Let us react to the report the government submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee
Alkarama and Algeria-Watch, 25 June 2007
We appeal to all Algerian human rights groups, women’s organisations, journalists, independent unions, organisation and party political activists, lawyers and human rights defenders to get involved in the UN Human Rights Council expert examination of the third periodic report of the Algerian government on 23 July 2007 (available at: Report .)
The Algerian state ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 16 May 1989, and thus undertook regularly to submit a report in which it answers for the application of the rights guaranteed by the Covenant and responds to the concerns expressed by the Human Rights Committee regarding the previous report.
The Human Rights Committee examines the communications submitted by individuals relating to claimed violations of the Covenant but also to reports and communications sent in light of examination of the State parties’ periodic reports.
Following analysis of Algeria’s second periodic report, submitted in 1998, the Human Rights Committee published some observations in which it noted, among other things, “that it does not provide sufficient specific data on the prevailing human rights crisis”, especially regarding the “widespread massacre… in a great number of villages and towns”, the assassinations and the kidnapping and rape of women, the “lack of timely or preventive measures of protection to the victims from police or military officials” and “the persistent allegations of collusion of members of the security forces in terrorist attacks.”
The Committee expressed concern over the information received on arbitrary and extrajudicial executions, systematic use of torture and forced disappearances, secret detention centres, prolonged custody, and restrictions on freedom of expression and association.
Furthermore, it regretted how little information was provided by the Algerian government about the “self-defense groups”, as well as the regulations guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary.
The Committee formulated a certain number of recommendations regarding concerns expressed, including the issue of informing the Algerian public about the rights protected under the Covenant and the possibility for people whose rights have been violated to address the Committee. It asked the Algerian state to respond in its next report of June 2000 to the concerns expressed.
On 22 September 2006, the Algerian government, six years late, sent in its third periodic report. For us, organisations defending human rights and public freedoms, it is all the more important that we take note of this report and react, given that it paints a glowing picture of the Algerian situation but incorporates numerous gaps and inaccuracies.
So as not to leave the Algerian government with a monopoly on addressing such fundamental issues, we need to send the Human Rights Committee detailed reports of the facts, each according to our jobs and specific missions.
The Algerian government has responded to some of the recommendations formulated by the Human Rights Committee and gone over the various articles of the Covenant to explain their situation in practice. Here we take a few examples taken from the report to show the falsehood of some of its claims:
1. The report tries to show that the establishment of the state of emergency was justified by the “the very serious situation of insurrection and subversion that has beset the country since 1991,” but insists that this measure “does not interrupt the democratic process, while the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms continues to be guaranteed”. Without going into details, we recall that Prof. Mohand Issad, appointed by President Bouteflika to lead an investigating committee following the serious upheavals that shook Kabylie in 2001, stated that “the chronology of the texts allows one to note a subtle slide from a state of emergency to something more like a state of siege. The powers given by the 1993 decree to commanders of military regions are personal powers, which is characteristic of a state of siege.” Maintaining the state of emergency since 1992 amounts to decreeing that the situation which, according to those in power at the time, made it necessary continues to hold. Yet the whole political class affirms that the security situation is under control.
Obstructions to the exercise of individual and collective liberties and violations of fundamental rights are routine, and are sometimes justified by the state of emergency, as for example the restrictions on the right to protest.
2. The report discusses at length the decree putting into effect the dispositions of the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation promulgated on 27 February 2006, arguing that it conforms to the constitution and is compatible with international standards. The inadmissibility of complaints against members of the security forces laid out in article 45 of the decree is justified by the government by the fact tha6t the Charter had been voted for by referendum by the people on 28 September 2005. The restriction contained in this article “thus represents a specific amendment, introduced by the referendum, to the general rules on the initiation of legal proceedings.”
It is essential to denounce this codification of impunity which also accommodates itself to the absence of transparent and public procedures for the treatment of people suspected of terrorist activities who are handed over to the authorities. As for the “amnestied” people, the removal of their political rights is in many cases anti-constitutional. The decree moreover, in article 46, mandates a penalty of 3 to 5 years’ prison for anyone who “use or to instrumentalize the wounds of the national tragedy to harm the institutions” of the country, “to weaken the State, to undermine the honor of all its agents who served with dignity, or to tarnish the image of Algeria internationally.”
3. The Algerian government addresses all too quickly one of the most serious violations of the past 20 years: torture. The main idea is to affirm that the legislator has improved the existing texts to adapt them to international norms and that anyone who practices it is punished by law, including officials. Not a word of explanation about the claims of torture regularly made by victims and by human rights organisations.
4. In the context of individual liberty, the government discusses custody, which, like pretrial detention, must be ordered by the investigation magistrate submitted to judicial control and to the obligation of the judiciary police officer to inform the public prosecutor. But in reality, the custody period of 48 hours, which according to the report is the limit, is routinely exceeded. The report does not mention the custofy length of 12 days established by the antiterrorist law of 1992, still in force today. It goes without saying that the law does not ban communication with family or with the defence lawyer. But there too the reality is completely different. People suspected of terrorist activities (and not just they) are detained in secret for periods ranging from a few days to a few weeks, sometimes even for many months.
5. The government allocates an important place to freedom of expression and celebrates the immense progress made since the adoption of the law on information in 1990, the plurality of media and the “openness to the full spectrum of partisan, political and sectoral opinion” which results. Algerian journalists will appreciate these elegies and know better than anyone how to describe the subtlety of censorship and self-censorship, the choice of words, the formatted analyses imposed, the relative liberty ordered within the framework of the regulated settling of scores. What about the floods of convictions for “defamation”, the refusal of visas to many foreign journalists, the closing of the Al-Jazeera office in Algiers?
6. As for freedom of association, another point addressed in the report, the number of organisations registered is said to bear witness to the vitality of civil society. It is well known that the great majority of them exist only on paper, while others have been trying for years to get a permit, in particular associations for the victims of human rights violations committed by State personnel. Political parties too have been refused permits.
The freedom to set up unions has actually been enshrined in law, but independent unions are faced with many obstacles: withdrawal of grants, prohibition from renting headquarters, arrests and judicial harassment of unionists, etc. The members of independent unions will know how to report on the vexations they encounter in exercising their rights.
In this appeal we only address a few of the articles of the Covenant discussed by the Algerian government. The report also discusses the question of equality of rights between men and women, judicial independence, education, and children’s rights.
In this report, the Algerian government presents itself as guaranteeing the rights and liberties of its citizens. The examination of this periodic report by the Human Rights Committee offers us the chance to provide this UN body with detailed supplementary information from a non-governmental perspective. It is nonetheless necessary to make it clear that the observations and recommendations of the Committee are not binding. But this body, like others, offer organisations defending human rights and public freedoms an extra chance – and a significant one – to make their voices heard.
To perform this task well, organisations or people wanting to get involved in one or more of the points addressed in the government’s periodic report should send their communication to the Human Rights Committee well before 23 July 2007 in 20 copies (one for each expert on the Committee) by post, so that they will have time to study it.
We suggest that organisations, in particular those based in Algeria, send us their contribution by email, and we undertake to get it to the Committee in the appropriate format. We also propose – if they so desire – to publish their contributions on our respective sites.
Alkarama for Human Rights