U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell should raise pressing human rights concerns in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco during his visit to North Africa on December 2 and 3, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a letter to the secretary of state, Human Rights Watch said that his trip will be an early indication of whether President Bush's November 6 speech advocating democracy and human rights in the region represents U.S. policy on the ground.

"Colin Powell should declare publicly in Algiers, Tunis and Rabat that the fight against terror must not be waged at the expense of human rights," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch said that Morocco's substantial progress on human rights over the past decade is being eroded by suspicious deaths of suspected militants during detention. Some persons remain unaccounted for months after their arrest.

In Algeria, Human Rights Watch urged Powell to press the government to address fully the thousands of cases of "disappearances" carried out with impunity, mostly by the security forces, during the 1990s. The commission recently established by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika needs real powers of investigation to provide truth and justice to the victims and their families.

Tunisian President Ben Ali must end the systematic harassment and repression of all those who criticize the government. Rapid improvements are also needed in punitively harsh prison conditions, which are well below international standards, for hundreds of political prisoners.

"Powell's trip is an opportunity to demonstrate to people in the Middle East and North Africa that the Bush administration means what the president said about human rights in the region on November 6," said Malinowski.

Human Rights Watch, noting serious constraints on press freedom in each North African country, also urged Powell to seek the release of imprisoned journalists Hassan Bourras of Algeria, Ali Mrabet of Morocco, and Abdullah Zouari of Tunisia.