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In March, the government invited four international human rights organizations to visit the country after having barred visits by the groups for several years. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), and RSF visited the country in separate ten-day missions in May and June. Amnesty International and RSF subsequently said that they had been able to move around thecountry without restriction. The FIDH, however, "strongly deplored" the "continuous tight surveillance" it said it had experienced and the "misinformation and unfounded attacks" of "certain organs of the so-called `independent' private media." The Human Rights Watch delegation was able to travel freely and meet with officials, lawyers, nongovernmental organizations, and victims and families of victims of abuses by the government and by armed groups.

The government ignored requests by the U.N. special rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions to visit the country. Foreign ministry officials and ONDH head Rezzag-Bara told Human Rights Watch that Algeria considered the rapporteurs as "secondary mechanisms." They contended that official reports to the U.N. Human Rights Committee and other treaty bodies, and cooperation with international human rights organizations, adequately discharged the country's obligations with regard to U.N. human rights mechanisms.

Several lawyers and other human rights defenders continued to document abuses, and women's and victim's rights organizations were active. The government imposed limits on the activities of some groups (see above), however, and activists complained to Human Rights Watch that the authorities were often unresponsive when they requested investigations or information on cases. On May 27, security forces detained Mohamed Smain, head of the Relizane office of the LADDH, after he attempted to document evidence at a grave site connected with the case of the two former mayors implicated in mass killings in the area (see above). He was released the next day but authorities confiscated his videotape of the site. Rachid Mesli, a human rights lawyer who had been released from prison in July 1999 after serving all but a few days of a three year sentence on trumped up charges, was stopped at the airport and questioned in June after returning from Geneva after attending a meeting about the future of Algeria. Mesli left Algeria with his family in August and requested political asylum in Switzerland. He told Human Rights Watch that following his return from Geneva surveillance of his activities had intensified and that a prison acquaintance had been tortured in an effort to elicit, among other things, damaging information about Mesli, leading him to fear that he would be arrested and returned to prison.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, after a seven-year absence, conducted prison visits in October-November 1999 and March-May 2000, in which they visited seventeen places of detention administered by the Ministry of Justice and interviewed 763 prisoners of their choosing. They did not, however, have access to persons who may have been held in military barracks or police facilities.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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