Human Rights and Algeria's Presidential Elections Arabic Translation  En Français

(Washington, DC, April 9, 1999) -- Human Rights Watch issued a call today for human rights issues to occupy a central role in Algeria's presidential elections and in the post-election period. In a briefing paper released today, Human Rights Watch condemned the fact that no foreign election monitors have been authorized to observe the elections and that foreign journalists are either denied visas or restricted in their movements while in the country. The backgrounder also surveys the political violence that has claimed an estimated 77,000 lives since 1992, as well as the abductions and "disappearances" of thousands of Algerians, and government policies toward access to information that have dramatically limited independent monitoring of human rights conditions.

Political Violence.
Although the numbers of Algerians reported killed declined in 1999 compared with previous years, it remains at an appalling level. Armed groups calling themselves Islamist, active especially in the rural Mitidja region south of Algiers, continue to target civilians for slaughter and abduct young women and girls. Some of those abducted in the past have been subject to sexual slavery.

Press accounts of the discovery of mass graves over recent months—said to contain scores of victims—have heightened the anguish of families of abducted persons. According to victim advocacy groups, the government has provided little or no information about its efforts to unearth and identify the bodies found. No investigation is known to have been carried out into circumstances of their death. The failure to inform the public about these gruesome discoveries illustrates the government's policy of restricting access to information on all aspects of the internal security situation.

A grassroots campaign of families of the "disappeared"—persons believed to be in the unacknowledged custody of government forces—has put the issue of the missing relatives on the domestic and international agenda. The movement has documented over 3,000 such cases, the vast majority of whom have been missing for at least three years. The Interior Ministry last year responded to the pressure by opening offices to handle complaints, but according to advocates for the "disappeared," authorities have resisted providing concrete information about the missing persons.

Access by foreign press and non-governmental organizations.
Lack of access to Algeria continues to hamper independent monitoring of human rights conditions. Along with the rejection of foreign election monitors, the government continues to issue press visas selectively, denying entry to some key members of the media who follow the country closely. Those who do receive visas find their ability to collect information impeded by the armed escorts assigned to them, ostensibly for their safety. Since 1997, the government has barred major international human rights organizations from entering the country to assess conditions, and has ignored visit requests from the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Extrajudicial Executions. Visits to detainees by the International Committee of the Red Cross were suspended in 1992, although a resumption of such visits is now under negotiation.

As the elections approach, Human Rights Watch recommended that the present and incoming government of Algeria:

  • Conduct credible and transparent investigations into massacres and other arbitrary killings, and lift restrictions on investigations into these events by independent parties.
  • Respect the public's right to be informed about the traumatic events affecting public welfare and safety.
  • Release immediately and unconditionally all persons arbitrarily detained, and ensure compliance by the security forces with international standards for the prevention of "disappearances."
  • Communicate to all military, intelligence and security forces, as well as judicial authorities that torture and the use of excessive force will not be tolerated, and that officials who order or condone such actions will be prosecuted and, if convicted, punished in accordance with the gravity of these crimes.
  • Reverse current policy by lifting all restrictions on access to the country by foreign journalists and nongovernmental organizations and allow in the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Extrajudicial Executions, both of whom have requested visits.
  • Ensure that appropriate medical care, including psychological counseling, is provided to rape survivors.
Human Rights Watch also again urges all armed groups to halt deliberate attacks on civilians; to end indiscriminate attacks imperiling civilians; to unconditionally release all civilians in their custody; and to cease all gender-based abuses, especially the abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of women and girls.

For further information, contact:
In New York, Hanny Megally (Arabic, English): 212 216-1230
In Brussels, Jean-Paul Marthoz(French, English):3 22 736-7838
In Washington, Eric Goldstein (French, English): April 10-11, 301 891-1299
After April 11, 202 612-4321
Related Material

Human Rights and Algeria's Presidential Elections
A HRW Background Paper, April 1999