Algeria continues to impede the work of organizations and agencies whose work includes monitoring of “disappearances.”
The U.N. Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), the chief mechanism within the U.N. system dealing with the phenomenon, has been requesting access to the country since August 2000, without success. Meanwhile, in response to the continuing requests by the WGEID for information on specific cases, the government periodically furnishes stock answers that provide no evidence of serious investigations.
On June 17, 2003, the WGEID informed the Collective of Families of the Disappeared in Algeria of the government’s reply to eight cases that the CFDA had submitted in the past. The responses were not enlightening. In seven of the eight cases, the response was that “the person was the subject of a search and was not found.” In the eighth case, the answer was, “the person is currently the subject of investigation and a search.”
In a letter dated June 17, 2003 to the Europe-based human rights organization Algeria Watch (www.algeria-watch.org), the WGEID transmitted replies received from the Algerian government in nine cases. In six cases, the answer was “the person was the subject of a search and was not found.” In two cases, the answer was “the person is currently the subject of investigation and a search.” In one case, the answer was “the person was released after being held for investigation.”
These responses do not square with the evidence compiled by human rights organizations based on interviews with family members. For example, Abdelhalim Abbane is among those whom authorities state they searched for but could not find. According to Algeria Watch, he was arrested along with his wife at their home in Algiers on February 4, 1997, by agents of Military Security. His wife, who was released three days later, was reportedly forced to watch him being tortured. Two youths later stated that they had been incarcerated with Abbane at Châteauneuf, a military detention center.37
Amad Amari and Belkacim Benabidwere also “searched for but not found,” according to authorities. But according to Algeria Watch, Amari, a father of four, was arrested by plainclothes police on June 7, 1997, inDar el-Beïda, near Algiers, along with two brothers. The brothers were freed one day later.38 Benabid, a physician and father of four, had been elected vice-president of the city council of Setif as a member of the Islamic Salvation Front, before that party was banned. On November 14, 1994, three armed men in plainclothes forced him into the back of his own automobile in front of his medical office, before the eyes of his nurse and patients. He was driven away and reportedly held initially at a Setif police station before all traces of him were lost.39
In its report on its work during 2002, the WGEID referred to 1,089 outstanding cases in Algeria. It said it received replies during the year from the government on twelve of the cases. Again, the answers were formulaic replies that denied government responsibility while providing no verifiable information about the person’s whereabouts. According to the WGEID, the government replies fell into the following categories: “in 8 cases, investigations had been carried out but the persons concerned were not located; in 3 cases, the persons concerned were sought by security services for involvement in acts of terrorism; and in 1 other case, the person was released after investigations.”40
Inside Algeria, authorities continue to deny legal recognition to the organization SOS Disparus. During 2003, officials at the Prefecture of Algiers on more than one occasion refused to accept SOS Disparus’ application for legal status as a regional organization. Although SOS continues to function openly, the lack of recognition has been an administrative burden, forcing it to rent its Algiers office and conduct public events under the auspices of a legally recognized organization, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights.
Human Rights Watch has been permitted access to Algeria only sporadically for the last decade to conduct research. As noted above, it has not been issued visas to visit Algeria during 2003 despite formally requesting visas beginning on January 9. The only reply to its repeated requests came in a letter dated May 28, 2003, in which Driss Jazairy, ambassador to the United States, wrote that in view of the destructive earthquakes that had just occurred east of Algiers, it was “not an appropriate time for anything other than rescue and emergency assistance visits from abroad.” Subsequent letters from Human Rights Watch have gone unanswered.
Algerian authorities have not commented publicly concerning the report issued by Human Rights Watch in February 2003 charging a systematic pattern of “disappearances” in Algeria during the 1990s. Numerous efforts by Human Rights Watch to solicit information and to meet with officials prior to issuing the report met with no response. Similarly, no official comment of any kind was delivered in response to the report on “disappearances” published by Human Rights Watch in 1998.
37 http://www.algeria-watch.org/mrv/2002/1000_disparitions/1000_disparitions_A.htm (retrieved November 20, 2003).
38 http://www.algeria-watch.org/mrv/2002/1000_disparitions/1000_disparitions_A.htm (retrieved November 20, 2003).
39 http://www.algeria-watch.org/mrv/2002/1000_disparitions/1000_disparitions_B.htm (retrieved November 20, 2003).
40 Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, E/CN.4/2003/70* January 21, 2003, online at www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/fa6dfcaaa997fe9dc1256ce80054e3a5/$FILE/G0311318.pdf (retrieved October 30, 2003).