Algeria’s next president urged to address past human rights abuses

Algerians go to the polls on Thursday to vote for their next president. Amnesty International is calling on the new president to take concrete steps to address the legacy of gross human rights abuses committed during the internal conflict that wracked Algeria during the 1990s and to ensure justice and reparation for the victims.

Over 200,000 people died during the conflict, according to government estimates. Security forces and state-armed militias committed massive human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings. They were also responsible for enforced disappearances, secret and arbitrary detentions and torture and other ill-treatment of thousands of real or suspected members or supporters of armed groups.

Armed groups also committed widespread human rights abuses, including killings of civilians, abductions, rape and other forms of torture.

Most of the crimes were never investigated and most of the perpetrators have never been held to account.

“Algeria’s new president must seize the opportunity of a new mandate to tackle the culture of impunity that has prevailed since the 1990s,” said Philip Luther, Acting Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme. “There can be no genuine national reconciliation unless the authorities take steps to establish the truth and face up to the crimes of the past, providing justice and reparation for the victims, and end the continuing spiral of impunity for human rights violations.”

An Amnesty International report, entitled A Legacy of Impunity: A Threat to Algeria’s Future, released last week, highlights the organization’s concerns over the Algerian authorities’ ongoing lack of investigations into past and present human rights abuses and the impunity afforded to those responsible for them.

The report argues that amnesty measures instigated and promoted by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999, have prevented victims and their families from obtaining truth, justice and reparation. Rather than addressing the effects of these amnesty measures on entrenching impunity, the introduction of additional amnesty measures has been a key plank of Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s campaign for re-election for a third term as president.

“The blanket amnesties granted successively to armed groups and later to members of the security apparatus are an additional wound inflicted on the victims and their families,” said Philip Luther. “Instead of granting impunity to perpetrators, thereby encouraging further abuses, the authorities should restore the dignity of victims by sending out a strong message that such crimes will no longer be tolerated.”

Amnesty International is making a series of recommendations to the new president which, if implemented, would help to guarantee redress to victims of human rights abuses and prevent further violations.