There have been declarations to the press by officials since early 2003 concerning the more than 3,000 Algerians thought to be buried in unidentified graves. An “authorized source” in the armed forces was quoted in Le Monde of January 7, 2003, as putting the number at 3,030, presumably referring to cases related to the internal strife that began in the early 1990s.33 In his speech before the Forum el-Moudjahid on March 29, Ksentini referred to a figure of 3,300 persons buried anonymously, saying that his recommendations to the president would include the use of modern techniques for identifying the dead. “This solution will help to resolve, among other things, the issue of the ‘disappeared’ and permit relatives to mourn for the dead.”34 In a later press interview, Ksentini is quoted as suggesting that conducting DNA testing would help to determine whether or not the anonymously buried persons include the “disappeared.”35
The decree establishing the new commission is tasked with getting the appropriate authorities to “to carry out procedures to identify the bodies that are found.” To date, no government official has to our knowledge clarified the means by which authorities collect, examine, analyze, and preserve the evidence contained in these anonymous graves connected to political killings, nor how they consult and share information with concerned parties.
The issue is of potential interest not only to families of the “disappeared” but also to relatives of persons abducted by armed groups. During the strife of the 1990s, armed groups battling the government kidnapped hundreds if not thousands of Algerians who remain missing. These acts, like the systematic practice of “disappearances,” constitute crimes against humanity.
In a letter to the CNCPPDH, Somoud, an organization that represents families of persons abducted by armed groups and still missing, criticized the failure by the state to employ modern means to identify the corpses found in mass graves.36
It is worth noting that many relatives of the “disappeared” refuse to discuss investigations of gravesites; they presume their loved ones to be alive, perhaps held in secret places of detention, absent any confirmation of their whereabouts after they were seized.
33 Florence Beaugé, “En Algérie, aucun survivant parmi les disparus de la ‘sale guerre,’” Le Monde, January 7, 2003.
34 Nabila K., “La question des disparus est loin de connaître son épilogue: Ksentini propose la création d’une commission judiciaire, “ Le Jeune Indépendant, 30 mars 2003.
35 “Me. Farouk Ksentini à l’Authentique: ‘3,300 personnes enterrées sous X subiront des tests ADN,’” l’Authentique, May 10, 2003.
36 Somoud press release, undated, from March 2003.