February 27, 2003

X. The International Community on a Treadmill

After conceding in mid-1998 that "disappearances" were a problem to be addressed, the government of Algeria grew more attentive to international inquiries on the subject.But, as the documentation in this chapter shows, none of the international bodies and organizations that have raised "disappearances" with the Algerian authorities can report any tangible progress on the issue. The responses provided to them by the government follow the patterns mentioned above: the individual in question is classified as either unknown to authorities, not in custody, presently being sought by authorities, kidnapped or killed by armed groups, or killed in a clash with authorities. The answers provided are brief, non-specific, and unsubstantiated.When the inquiring party is notified that the "disappeared" in question was killed, it sometimes emerges that the victim's family had never previously been informed of this, despite having submitted inquiries about the person in question to government agencies for months or years (see WGEID section below for an example).

The European Union

The E.U. and Algeria initialled an Association Agreement in December 2001 and signed it on April 22, 2002, successfully concluding four years of negotiations.The agreement focuses on the liberalization of trade between Algeria and Europe, but also includes the human rights clause found in all of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements: "Respect for the democratic principles and the fundamental human rights established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights shall inspire the domestic and international policies of the Parties and shall constitute an essential element of this Agreement." [151]

The practical impact of the common human rights clause in the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements has never been clear.The E.U. has yet to declare a partner government to be in violation of the clause because of a pattern of human rights abuses.However, even before agreements have gone into effect, the presence of the clause in all the draft agreements has provided a basis for raising human rights issues with the partner government.

In ratifying the Association Agreement with Algeria on October 10, 2002, the European Parliament adopted an unusually strong companion "political resolution" that spelled out its expectations of what the rights clause would mean in concrete terms.[152] "The fact that it is still possible to act with impunity remains a major obstacle to restoring the rule of law in Algeria," the parliament's resolution states. It identifies "resolving the problem of the 'disappeared' and eliminating all forms of impunity" as elements of the Parliament's conception of human rights. The resolution also calls on the Algerian authorities "to respond favourably to the repeated requests from various U.N. special rapporteurs (on summary executions, violence against women, torture, enforced disappearances and adequate housing)and from international NGOs to gain access to Algerian territory."

To enter into force the agreement must now be ratified by Algeria and the E.U. member states.

The European Parliament's engagement on the issue of "disappearances" in Algeria first attracted public attention during a visit by nine members of the parliament in February 1998.One delegate, Anne Andr-Lonard, of the European Liberal, Democratic and Reform Party (the Liberals), brought lists of "disappeared" persons and raised the issue with her Algerian counterparts.They responded with the evasiveness that characterized the government's response at the time. Abdelkader Hadjar, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the National Popular Assembly, declined to accept the list, telling Andr-Lonard to submit it through official channels. The ONDH also declined, advising her to present it via Algeria's embassy in Brussels.Andr Lonard departed Algeria without receiving any information whatsoever about the cases raised, according to her mission report. She noted, however, the gap between the figure of 2,000 cases that nongovernmental organizations were citing at the time and the figure of thirty-seven cases alluded to by government officials.[153]She later submitted her list of cases to the Algerian embassy in Brussels, which replied in May 1998 that it had forwarded it to competent authorities.

The following year, the E.U., under the German presidency, began submitting its own list of some thirty "disappearance" cases to the Algerian authorities.According to a European Council Secretariat official who spoke to Human Rights Watch in 2002 on condition of anonymity, the council has since regularly raised the issue of "disappearances" in its talks with Algerian counterparts and requested specific information concerning the cases on its list. The delegation of the E.U. troika[154] that visited Algiers on June 5, 2002, raised the issue. The delegation, headed by Spain's then-Foreign Minister Josep Pique, was received by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and foreign minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem. Pique later stated that the troika had raised the "disappeared" issue.[155]

The responses of the Algerian government to the E.U. letters have never been made public.However, the Council Secretariat official mentioned above characterized the government's responses as "unsatisfactory," from the first dmarche to the present, in that they have never resolved a single case.According to people who have seen the government's responses on individual cases, they differ little from the formulaic and unsubstantiated replies none of them acknowledging a security-force role that authorities have provided to similar requests for information from U.N. bodies and others.

An official of the Belgian Foreign Ministry who requested to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch on July 30, 2002, that the E.U. had agreed that member states should raise bilaterally as well as collectively with Algeria their concerns about the "disappearance" issue.He said that Belgian officials had been doing so on a regular basis for some time.However, the responses Belgium received differed little from the uninformative and unsatisfactory responses that Algeria had conveyed to the E.U., in no case providing verifiable information on the whereabouts of persons listed.On January 28, 2003, the official confirmed that nothing had advanced.In November 2002, he said, President Bouteflika had orally promised the president of Belgium's Chamber of Deputies, Herman de Croo, responses on three "disappearance" cases that Belgium had presented. To date, nothing satisfactory had been received.The official said that he was aware of no bilateral action by individual E.U. member states that had obtained concrete results.

Romain Serman, the Algeria desk officer at France's Foreign Ministry, confirmed that Algeria's responses to E.U. inquiries did not include establishing the whereabouts of the missing persons on the E.U.'s list or any of the thousands of persons not on the list. Sermain wrote to Human Rights Watch, "Algerian authorities indicate that they have registered requests for information about 4,600 cases of missing persons. At present, these requests have not led to identifying the location of the 'disappeared' individuals (the same applies to those on the [E.U.'s] consolidated list)."

According to Serman, the issue "is raised systematically as part of the political dialogue between the E.U. and Algeria at the level of the troika.[T]he fifteen E.U. nations have shared their information for several years in order to produce a consolidated list of cases of "disappeared" persons.This list of some thirty names is updated regularly in response to new cases brought to the attention of E.U. member states, and information provided by Algerian authorities."

The troika, Serman said, "systematically submits this updated list" at each meeting, and requests "specific information" on the cases submitted at the previous meeting.E.U. member states also bring up the issue "in the same terms" within the framework of their bilateral relations.

The E.U.'s strategy has two objectives, Serman said: "In bringing up the overall situation of the 'disappeared,' the E.U. conveys its grave concern about arbitrary detentions, torture and degrading treatment; it demands that all efforts be undertaken to shed light on the thousands of cases that have been registered, so that the families will finally be informed of the situation of their 'disappeared' relatives, and so that the overall human rights situation in Algeria will improve.More specifically, the E.U. asks that Algeria cooperates fully with the U.N.'s human rights mechanisms."

Serman declined to furnish the replies received from the Algerian government on the grounds that it would undermine the hoped-for "the climate of confidence," which was aimed in part at "winning more cooperation from Algeria with the U.N. in Geneva."While he stated that "the climate was more positive on this issue" in 2001, he said not enough had been achieved and "we have to pursue our efforts."[156]

The European Parliament has expressed concerns periodically about human rights in Algeria, including "disappearances." The parliament adopted a resolution in 2001 calling on Algerian authorities to spare no effort in carrying out the necessary investigations and bringing to justice those responsible for killings, massacres and disappearances," and urging "Algerian authorities to cooperate fully with the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances."[157]

Hlne Flautre, vice president of the European Parliament's Maghreb group, conducted a mission to Algeria in May 2001 (see above). She summarized the evasive response she received from top officials when she raised the issue of "disappearances":

There is a striking contrast between the specific demands [of the associations of families of the "disappeared"], backed up by painstaking work to surmount the obstacles placed in their way, and the official discourse, which, without denying the reality of the situation, remains vague, far from expressing the political will to respond to the never-ending sorrows, by making an effort to search for the truth. Prime Minister Ali Benflis said, "at the end of a civil war that did not declare its name, against 20,000 armed terrorists, time is needed. It is the responsibility of the justice system to investigate. International NGOs can all come"[158] The Justice Minister and former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said he "sympathized with the distress of families [and] accepts what they might say[I] regret that political parties are making it a theme.Many ["disappeared"] went and joined the maquis and were assassinated by the terrorists. I won't say that not a single one was arrested by a soldier; we're looking for evidence. If you have cases, bring them."[159]

The U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

TheWorking Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) is the chief mechanism within the U.N. system dealing with the phenomenon of "disappearances." Established in 1980 and housed in Geneva, it receives information from relatives and human rights organizations about hundreds of cases of "disappearances" around the world each year, and presses the respective governments both to shed light on these cases and to take measures to prevent future "disappearances."

The mandate of the working group is spelled out in resolution 20 (XXXVI) (of February 29, 1980) of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and in subsequent commission resolutions.It is elaborated upon in the "Revised methods of work of the Working Group," adopted on November 14, 2001:

The basic mandate of the Working Group is to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives who, having disappeared, are placed outside the protection of the law.To this end, the Working Group endeavours to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned, with a view to ensuring that sufficiently documented and clearly identified individual cases which families, directly or indirectly, have brought to the Group's attention are investigated with a view to clarifying the whereabouts of the disappeared persons.Clarification occurs when the whereabouts of the disappeared persons areclearly established as a result of investigations by the Government, inquiries by non‑governmental organizations, fact-finding missions by the Working Group or by human rights personnel from the United Nations or from any other international organization operating in the field, or by the search of the family, irrespective of whether the person is alive or dead.

In addition to its original mandate, the Working Group has been entrusted to monitor States' compliance with their obligations deriving from the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearanceand to provide to Governments assistance in its implementation.States are under an obligation to take effective measures to prevent and terminate acts of enforced disappearance by making them continuing offences under criminal law and establishing civil liability of those responsible.[160]

All detailed responses sent by the government to the WGEID are forwarded to those who registered the "disappearance." If they do not respond within six months, or if they contest the government's information on grounds that are deemed unreasonable by the Working Group, the WGEID classifies the case as having been "clarified by the Government's response." But if the author of the communication contests the government's information on reasonable grounds, the government is so informed and invited to comment once again, and the case remains open.

Of the 1,133 cases that the WGEID has submitted to the Government of Algeria over the years, only thirteen have been classified as "clarified," according to the WGEID's latest report, dated January 12, 2002.[161]Seven of these were clarified on the basis of information provided by the government and six on the basis of information provided by the source.[162] The Working Group was unable to report on the fate and whereabouts of the persons concerned in the 1,120 outstanding cases.[163]

During 1999 the WGEID said it was unable to clarify any case.From the government, it reported, "There were two kinds of response: the missing persons had neither been questioned nor arrested; investigations to locate the missing persons were continuing."[164]These two answers were also the predominant ones given by the government to cases during 2000 and 2001.

In 2001 authorities provided the WGEID with information on188 outstanding cases, denying in nearly every case that officials had the person in custody or knew his or her whereabouts.The WGEID reported:

In two cases, the persons concerned had been arrested by the security forces and subsequently released, and the Working Group decided to apply the six-month rule to these cases.In another case, the person concerned was reported to be at home.For 47 of them, the Government stated that investigations had been carried out, but that the persons had not been found, and in another 79 cases, the Government reported that investigations are still continuing.In 9 cases the persons concerned were being sought by the authorities and in 22 cases, the Government reported that the persons concerned were wanted by the security forces for criminal activities.With regard to five cases, the Government stated that the persons had been killed during armed confrontations with the security forces, and the Working Group asked to be informed of their place of burial.In one case, the person concerned was said to have been killed by an armed group, and in another, the person was reported to have been abducted by an armed group.For 21 cases, the Government stated that the persons had not been taken in for questioning.[165]

In some cases where the Algerian government informed the WGEID that an individual was being sought by the security forces or had died in a clash, authorities had never provided the family with that information even when the family had repeatedly sought information about their missing relative.Amnesty International provides the following example:

Mohamed Amraoui and Kheir Bouadi were arrested by security forces respectively on 2 May 1994 and 22 July 1994 and then "disappeared." In October 1996 the Algerian government responded to the U.N. WGEID that Mohamed Amraoui had been arrested on 2 May 1994 and that during the transfer he threw himself from a cliff into the sea and that his body was recovered after a few hours' search. In the case of Kheir Bouadi, the government responded to the U.N. WGEID in August 1997 that he had never been arrested. At the same time the government responded to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions that the body of Kheir Bouadi and 15 others had been found on 22 July 1994 in a forest, indicating that he had been abducted and killed by a "terrorist group." However, during the period between the arrest of these two people and the government's response to the U.N. two years in the case of Mohamed Amraoui and three years in the case of Kheir Bouadi the government never informed their families of their death, despite the families' repeated inquiries to the authorities asking for information about their "disappeared" relatives. The families have to date neither been handed the bodies of their sons for burial nor shown their graves if they are already buried.[166]

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Collectif des familles de disparu(e)s en Algrie provided Human Rights Watch with letters they had received from the WGEID between 1999 and 2001 informing them of Algerian government responses to forty-eight cases.[167]The answers were:

"this person has been the object of an investigation but has not been located as of this date": thirty-six cases;

"this person has neither been questioned nor arrested": seven cases;

"this person is being sought by the security services on suspicion of participating in criminal acts," three cases;

"this person has been released after having served a prison sentence": one case; and

"this person was imprisoned then released, and has not since been located"; one case.

In most of these cases, the answers provided by the Algerian government conflict with the information provided to human rights organizations by families and other witnesses.For example, authorities informed the WGEID that Moulay Sid Ahmed was "sought by the security services on suspicion of participating in criminal acts." But according to the information on Sid Ahmed collected by human rights workers, gendarmes from the brigade of Zabana (Blida) arrested him on May 18, 1996, at 3 p.m. at his workplace, the Irshad School in Blida, in front of teachers and the school's director. At twelve o'clock the same night, gendarmes searched the house and took the passport and a photo of Sid Ahmed, according to the family.A released prisoner reportedly stated that he saw him at the compound of the gendarmerie of Ouled Yache (Blida) on July 28, 1996.[168]

In the case of Djillali Belhaguet, authorities told the WGEID that he "was the subject of an investigation but has not been located." But according to the information collected by human rights workers, he was detained at 4 p.m. on October 25, 1994, by plainclothes and uniformed agents of Military Security in a cafeteria in Oran, in the presence of his brother and other clients. His brother followed the arresting party to the gendarmerie in Gdyel. Belhaguet had previously spent six months in a detention camp in the southern desert, seven months in the prison of Oran, and twelve days in the Magenta military detention center.[169]

Among the forty-eight cases, there is some variation in the quality and extent of independent evidence linking the detention to the security forces.However, authorities provide no indication in their correspondence with the WGEID that they pursued that evidence, either by interviewing witnesses or members of the forces that witnesses had accused of responsibility.

While providing the WGEID with stock answers in response to inquiries, the Algerian government has kept the WGEID from conducting a visit to the country.The WGEID first requested an invitation in August 2000.Despite pleas from the E.U. and other bodies to cooperate with the WGEID and other U.N. human rights mechanisms, Algiers has not answered the WGEID's request.

The WGEID, meanwhile, is hampered by a shortage of resources.Its January 2002 report states:

The Working Group is gravely concerned about its inability, with the present limited financial resources and acute shortage of staff, to carry out the mandate assigned to it by the Commission and to fulfil its obligations.Over the last years, the number of its secretariat staff has been dramatically reduced from nine Professional and four General Service staff members to two Professionals, one of them working only half-time, and two part-time General Service staff members.[170]

A staff member confirmed reports that the WGEID had temporarily mislaid a large number of Algeria case files, telling HRW in March 2002 that "between 500 and 600 files on Algerian disappearances had been neglected and never processed in the first place due to a lack of resources."[171] According to a staff member contacted in January 2003, the WGEID was still processing a large backlog of Algerian cases, including new ones it had received in recent years.

The WGEID has also prompted protests over its practice of classifying cases as inadmissible including, in recent years, many from Algeria when the information provided by the petitioner is deemed inadequate.As argued by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in a detailed letter it sent in December 2002 to the WGEID, classifying cases as "inadmissible" is inappropriate for a body whose mandate is not judicial in character but rather, above all, to help families determine the fate of their relatives.The FIDH urged the WGEID to change its policy by opening a file for such cases while asking the interested party to provide additional information where possible.

Cooperation with International NGOs Regarding "Disappearances"

Algeria has shown only a sporadic willingness to permit visits by international human rights organizations. In May 2000 President Bouteflika invited Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) to conduct missions, assigning windows for their visits that did not exceed two weeks for each.In November of that year, Amnesty International returned for a second visit, and Reporters sans Frontires came in January 2001 to investigate the cases of five missing Algerian journalists. [172] RSF was able to return again the next time it requested visas, in October 2002.

But between January 2001 and August 2002, Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch all submitted requests for visas to conduct missions, without success. Substantive letters sent to Algerian authorities by Human Rights Watch since its May 2000 mission, requesting information about human rights issues, went unanswered.[173]It was not until September 2002 that a request from Human Rights Watch was approved.Amnesty International received visas in February 2003 for the first time since November 2000; as of this writing the FIDH was still waiting for visas.

During the May 2000 missions, Justice Ministry officials presented to both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International case lists purporting to show both that authorities were investigating reported "disappearance" cases and that many of them did not involve state agents.Upon closer study, the information provided separately to the two organizations proved to be so vague and imprecise as to be unverifiable. Each organization made follow-up efforts to obtain clarifications from the government on these lists, without receiving any response.

As Human Rights Watch noted in its letter to the justice minister of May 16, 2002, Justice Ministry officials presented to our delegation a list of cases of persons supposedly "disappeared" whose fate you had been able to clarify. While authorities refused to provide us with a copy of the list,[174] one of the members of our delegation was permitted to copy it in part [the fifty cases as copied from the list are listed in Appendix 3 of this report].The list was presented to us as proof that numerous cases of "disappearances" were either mis-classified as such or already clarified by the authorities.In theory, the list should have permitted us to contact the families of the persons listed in order to confirm their whereabouts. However the information we received that day has been impossible to verify.The list provides very little information on each case. According to the nongovernmental organizations we consulted, none of the names on the list correspond to cases of "disappearances" that these organizations identified themselves, with one possible exception.

Human Rights Watch received no reply to its request to receive a list containing the names of the cases that had been "clarified," including verifiable details such as the address and the birth date of these persons, as well as their juridical status; for those who had been arrested, information on the place, date, and motives for their arrest; for those who died, the place, circumstance, and date of their death.Nor did authorities reply to Human Rights Watch's request for news of developments in the cases of the twelve "disappeared" individuals featured in its 1998 report, none of whom had been located to this day.

Amnesty International reported a similar experience. The Ministry of Justiceinformed the organization in May 2000 that it had received 3,019 complaints of "disappearance" and clarified 1,146 of them: 82 who are or were in detention, 833 who are sought by the authorities for acts of "terrorism"; 92 who have been killed in armed combat with the security forces; nine who have been killed by other armed groups; 74 who are at home with their families; 49 who had been arrested and later released; five who either benefited from the January 2000 amnesty for members of the AIS or were exempted from prosecution in the context of the Civil Harmony law; and two who were released from prison following the presidential pardon of July 1999.Authorities claimed that the "disappeared" were re-appearing among the armed group members who had surrendered to the authorities in the context of the amnesty or the Civil Harmony law (the "repentis").[175]

In response to Amnesty International's request for names and a minimum amount of identifying information about the persons on this list, authorities provided names and dates of birth for only seven cases. Of these, six did not appear on Amnesty International's own list of some 4,000 "disappeared" persons.The seventh seemed to be on the list but since the birth date differed slightly it was not possible to confirm.

The ONDH also provided Amnesty International in May 2000 twenty-three names, along with minimal information about their cases.Of these, Amnesty International could not match thirteen to cases on its own lists.The ONDH promised, according to Amnesty International, to provide a categorized list of the cases it was studying, but never did so.[176]

[151] To date, the E.U. has signed association agreements with Morocco, Tunisia, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and Lebanon.

[152] European Parliament, minutes of October 10, 2002, provisional edition, P5_TA-PROV(2002)0462.

[153] "Fact-finding Mission Report, Mrs. Andr-Lonard, ELDR Group Spokesperson, Ad Hoc Delegation of the European Parliament to Algeria, Algiers February 8-12, 1998."It is unclear what the figure of thirty-seven referred to.There has never been, in 1998 or since, government confirmation of one, much less thirty-seven state-sponsored "disappearances."

[154] The troika is composed of representatives of the European Commission, the office of the E.U. High Representative, and the current and next E.U. presidency.

[155] Algerian Television broadcast of June 6, 2002, as excerpted in BBC Monitoring: Middle East, "Algeria, E.U. Discuss Human Rights Situation," June 6, 2002.

[156] E-mail message from Romain Serman to Human Rights Watch, May 6, 2002.

[157]"Human rights: Situation in Algeria," European Parliament resolution B5-0066, 0083 and 0086/2001, January 18, 2001, online at http://www3.europarl.eu.int/omk/omnsapir.so/calendar?APP=PV2&LANGUE=EN (retrieved February 18, 2003).

[158] At the time of Benflis' statement that international NGOs "can all come," Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch had not been allowed in to Algeria for several months. It was not until fifteen months later that the first of them received entry visas.

[159]"Algrie: Le rapport d'Hlne Flautre."

[160]Contained in Annex I of the Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, E/CN.4/2002/79, January 18, 2002, online at http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/TestFrame/f5cefa4dfb6ad460c1256ba0004bb8d3?Opendocument (retrieved February 18, 2003).

[161] The WGEID's next report is scheduled for public release in March 2003.

[162] Report of the Working Group, E/CN.4/2002/79.

[163] Report of the Working Group, E/CN.4/2002/79.

[164] United Nations Commission on Human Rights, "Item 11/b of the 56th session, Civil and Political Rights, Including Questions of Disappearances and Summary Executions, Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances" (New York: United Nations, 2000), E/CN.4/2000/64.

[165] Ibid.

[166] Amnesty International, "'Disappearances': The Wall of Silence Begins to Crumble," March 1999, MDE 28/01/99, p. 22-23.

[167] Letter dated December 15, 1998, sent by Tamara Kunanayakam of the WGEID to Nacera Dutour of the Collectif des familles de disparu(e)s en Algrie;letter dated March 26, 1999, sent by Kunanayakam to Dutour; letter dated April 16, 1999 sent by Kunanayakam to Zahia Batch; three letters dated February 27, 2001, one from Miguel de la Lama of the WGEID to Sara Guillet of the FIDH and two from de la Lama to Dutour; a letter dated March 14, 2001, from de la Lama to Dutour.

[168] Algeria Watch, "1000 cas de disparitions forces (1992-2001)."

[169] Ibid.

[170] E/CN.4/2002/79, paragraph 367.

[171] Human Rights Watch interview, Geneva, March 7, 2002.

[172] Reporters sans Frontires,"Algerie: Cinq journalistes disparus."

[173] See for example, letter in Appendix 2 and Human Rights Watch's letter to President Bouteflika of December 20, 2000, online at http://hrw.org/press/2000/12/bouteflika1220-ltr.htm (retrieved February 21, 2003).

[174] Authorities gave as the reason for this refusal that Algerian law prevented disclosure of information about cases that were still open.

[175] Certain Algerian newspapers echoed these claims uncritically, without providing a single name or verifiable example. See, for example, Nacer Belhadjoudja, "La vrit sur des disparus," Libert, June 1, 2000.

[176] Amnesty International, "Algeria: Truth and Justice Obscured by the Shadow of Impunity," November 2000, MDE 28/11/00, and e-mail message from Amnesty International staff to Human Rights Watch, September 25, 2002.