Human Rights Watch urged the government of Algeria to set up a credible independent investigation into the massacres that have killed thousands of women, men, and children in recent years.In a repot , Algeria's Human Rights Crisis Human Rights Watch disputed the government's claim that Algeria’s crisis is solely "a terrorist phenomenon."

In a report released today, Human Rights Watch disputed the government's claim that Algeria's crisis is solely "a terrorist phenomenon." "On the one hand, ordinary civilians have been brutally slaughtered by armed groups, which have waged a campaign of terror and sexual violence against women and girls in particular," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the organization's Middle East and North Africa division. "On the other hand, security forces have been implicated in torture, forced ‘disappearances,’ arbitrary killings, and extrajudicial executions on a scale that can only be characterized as systematic."

The report endorsed the recent findings of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, an expert body which concluded that allegations of involvement or collusion by the security forces themselves in the mass atrocities were widespread and persistent enough to require independent investigation. The U.N. experts made their findings public in early August, after examining the government’s fifty-five page report on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and following two days of meetings with Algerian officials. The findings constitute the most severe indictment by any U.N. body of the government’s practices since civil strife escalated in Algeria in 1992.

"Credible investigations are critical to ensure that the perpetrators of atrocities and human rights abuses do not enjoy impunity, and the victims are not compelled to live in perpetual fear," said Megally. Human Rights Watch called on President Liamine Zeroual to give the investigation "the power to question government officials and security forces at all levels."

The Algerian authorities have steadfastly refused to cooperate with U.N. human rights bodies, such as the special rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial executions and arbitrary killings, which have sought to visit Algeria. The government did invite a "panel of eminent persons" appointed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to visit from July 22 to August 4. The panel, headed by former Portuguese president Mario Soares, was asked to "gather information on the situation in Algeria" and to prepare a report which the secretary general would then make public. "Although the special panel does not have an expressly human rights mandate," said Megally, "the Human Rights Committee’s findings will focus greater attention on its handling of Algeria’s human rights crisis, a crisis the government insists does not exist. But the diplomats’ visit is no substitute for an in-country investigation by U.N. human rights experts."

Human Rights Watch, together with other independent human rights groups, publicly called for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in October 1997 to initiate an international investigation with respect to massacres and gross abuses.

In this latest report, Human Rights Watch also called on Algeria to investigate and prosecute officials responsible for forced "disappearances" and for practicing or condoning the torture of detainees. The report released today includes the review of Algeria’s human rights record that Human Rights Watch submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Committee and the full text of the committee’s "Concluding Observations." It is available in French and Arabic as well as in English, and on the Internet.