Protest against EU-Algerian association

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afrol News, 30 September - Four human rights organisations are protesting the upcoming, unconditional vote on the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement with Algeria in the European Parliament. The agreement does not include any concrete steps to assure democratic principles and fundamental rights in Algeria, the groups hold.

On 9/10 October, the European Parliament is scheduled to vote on the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement with Algeria. In giving its assent, the European Parliament will be expressing its expectation that the government of Algeria will meet its commitment under Article 2 of the Agreement to treat democratic principles and fundamental rights as essential elements of the Agreement.

- To approve the Agreement without specifying concrete steps that need to be taken will risk reducing Article 2 to a mere piety at a time when grave human rights abuses continue to be committed with impunity in Algeria, say four human rights groups in a protest letter to the European Parliament. The groups include Amnesty International, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, the International Federation for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch.

The groups called on the European Parliament to adopt the draft resolution that was approved by its Foreign Affairs Committee, which spells out specific steps the government of Algeria should take to meet its human rights commitments, as well as mechanisms to periodically evaluate compliance with Article 2. "To reinforce this resolution on human rights, we recommend that it be cited within the resolution assenting to the Association Agreement," the letter says. 

The four groups underscored the importance of support human rights, civil society and the struggle against impunity. The draft resolution "rightly insists that the Algerian government must pursue its efforts to improve its procedures for defending and protecting human rights and to allow the flourishing of independent civil society," by recognising that impunity remains a major obstacle to restoring the rule of law.

The groups supported the draft resolution calling for access to Algeria for the UN thematic mechanisms and international human rights organisations. The Algerian authorities had hitherto "failed to cooperate effectively with the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations," the letter says, citing several examples. 

They further welcomed the draft resolution's reassertion that respect for human rights, including the "resolving of the tragic problem of disappearances and eliminating all forms of impunity, is an essential element of the association agreement." 

- To this end, Article 3 should be amended to call on the Algerian authorities to set up an independent and impartial commission of inquiry to investigate the thousands of killings, "disappearances", reports of torture, and other human rights abuses committed since 1992 by the security forces, state-armed militias, and armed groups, the letter says.

In light of statements by Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem before the EU's Foreign Affairs Committee on 9 September that cases of "disappearances" were being examined by the Ministry of Justice, that Algeria had created a bureau in charge of "disappearances", the groups recalled that Algerian authorities had until now "failed to undertake full, independent and impartial investigations required to address the problem."

- The offices that were set up throughout the country to receive complaints of 'disappearances' have produced few if any tangible results for the families of the 'disappeared', the groups say. "The offices are by their very nature problematic, since they are administratively part of the Ministry of the Interior, an institution whose forces are believed to have carried out the abduction of many of the people reported to have 'disappeared'." 

The letter further calls for the ending the state of emergency in Algeria, as it was demanded in the draft resolution. The European Parliament should urge Algerian authorities to revise legislation adopted following the announcement of the state of emergency to bring it into conformity with international human rights standards.

Following the announcement of the state of emergency in 1992, an "anti-terrorist" decree was issued in September 1992, which, among other things, increased the time limit that suspects could be held in the custody of the security forces before appearing before a judge from a maximum of two to twelve days. Legislation adopted in 1995 incorporated these provisions into the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, which has "had a profound effect on the situation of human rights in Algeria." 

Algeria should further be urged to "fight 'terrorism' while respecting human rights," the letter says. The European Parliament should commit itself to ensuring that any EU cooperation with Algeria on combating "terrorism" upholds internationally recognized standards of human rights, and call on the Council and the Commission to maintain the same vigilance, the groups demand. 

Finally, the EU should address the ongoing crisis in Kabylia, where some 100 unarmed civilians have been killed since April 2001 in the context of demonstrations and unrest. The European Parliament should "explicitly call on the Algerian authorities to ensure that prompt, thorough and independent investigations are conducted into all violations of the right to life and that the alleged offenders are brought to justice in proceedings which meet international fair trial standards." 

The groups welcomed the intentions of the European Parliament to play a greater role in the shaping of future EU-Algerian relations. "A strong political resolution is an important first step in this process," they state. 

Since the EU's first Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement took effect in 1998, it had become clear that Article 2's noble sentiments "require explicit benchmarks and assessment mechanisms if they are to be implemented meaningfully." By endorsing the measures proposed above, the European Parliament would signal its commitment to achieving this objective, not just with respect to Algeria, but with all of its Mediterranean partners, the four groups conclude.

Sources: Based on HRW, Amnesty and afrol archives

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