"10 years of grave human rights abuses" in Algeria

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afrol News, 8 February - Ten years after the declaration of the state of emergency in Algeria, the authorities have failed woefully to bring an end to the human rights crisis in the country, Amnesty International stated on the eve of the anniversary, 9 February 2002. Impunity for human rights abuses still was the norm.

The human rights group denounces that successive Algerian governments since 1992 had not only "failed to take the necessary measures to ensure that thorough, independent and impartial investigations are carried out into grave human rights abuses, they have repeatedly blocked the attempts of others to scrutinize the human rights situation in the country."

- The blanket of impunity for human rights abuses has allowed many of those responsible for the most appalling crimes to escape justice and has denied the victims and their families the opportunity to seek redress, the group said in a statement released today.

Amnesty claims human rights violations in Algeria have become institutionalised. In the last year alone, more than 80 civilians were unlawfully killed by the security forces and dozens more tortured or held for varying periods of time in secret detention. Some 200 people continue to die every month as a result of the continuing decade-long armed conflict. The level of killing has remained largely unchanged since early 1999. Many are civilians, including women and children, killed in targeted and indiscriminate attacks by armed groups.

Since 1992 more than 100,000 Algerians have been killed, thousands have been tortured and thousands more have "disappeared" after being arrested by the security forces. Yet, in the vast majority of serious human rights violations, no matter whether the perpetrators were the security forces, state-armed militias or armed groups, the truth about what happened has not been clarified and little has been done to hold those responsible accountable. 

The Algerian authorities imposed a 12-month state of emergency on 9 February 1992, following the cancellation of the second round of Algeria's first multi-party elections, which the Front islamique du salut (FIS), Islamic Salvation Front, looked set to win. A year later, the state of emergency was extended indefinitely. In October 1992 an emergency "anti-terrorist" decree was passed. In 1995 the decree was incorporated virtually in its entirety into permanent legislation.

- Reported cases of human rights abuses may represent only the tip of the iceberg, the group said, "As it is extremely difficult to obtain information about violations due to widespread fear among victims and their families that reporting violations will only exacerbate their predicament." An official commission of inquiry, set up by the authorities to look into the killing of dozens of unarmed demonstrators in the region of Kabylia last year, reported in December 2001 that it was unable to complete its mission because many witnesses were too afraid to speak to them.

The authorities had also "taken some measures to ensure that the continuing human rights crisis goes largely unnoticed within the international community." These included recently passed legislation further curbing freedom of expression and severe restrictions on access to foreign observers.

Despite repeated attempts to send a delegation to Algeria in 2001, Amnesty International had not been permitted to visit the country to conduct regular research activities since November 2000. The group was able to visit on two occasions in 2000, but otherwise had been denied entry to Algeria since mid-1996. Other international human rights organisations have also been unable to gain access for at least a year.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, which asked to visit Algerian 2000, has not been granted access to the country. Long-standing requests by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, summary or arbitrary executions and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture to visit Algeria have similarly not resulted in invitations.

- Basic human rights can not continue to be sacrificed on the alter of national security, the Amnesty statement reads, adding that "On this occasion of the 10th anniversary of the state of emergency, the Algerian government is duty-bound to begin to conform with its obligations under national law and international human rights standards and practice.". 

Sources: Based on Amnesty and afrol archives

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