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I. Summary

On September 20, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced a new body to investigate the thousands of cases of persons who were “disappeared” during the civil strife of the 1990s and who remain unaccounted for. The announcement reflected a growing acknowledgement of the state’s responsibility for resolving the tragedy of “disappearances.”

The presidential decree defining the new mechanism’s powers and mandate were made public in mid-November. The decree gives this new body weak investigative powers and defines the information it can seek narrowly. While it may take the welcome steps of verifying claims of “disappearance” and proposing compensation to families, it is unlikely to challenge the long-standing refusal of state agencies to divulge how “disappearances” were carried out by their agents and which units and individuals are responsible for them. Unless it embraces a more expansive interpretation of its mandate to investigate and make recommendations, the new body is unlikely to help Algerians turn the page on this national tragedy and end the climate of impunity for human rights abuses.

Since 1999 there have been only very isolated reports of new “disappearances.” However, the state has not implemented legal and institutional safeguards surrounding arrest and detention procedures that would help to prevent the practice in the future.

Police continue to sporadically harass relatives of the “disappeared” who demonstrate regularly to demand to know the fate of their missing. And Algeria, although a member this year of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, has refused since 2000 to grant a request for a visit by the U.N. Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.

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December 2003