Algeria: New amnesty law will ensure atrocities go unpunished

Marieme Hélie-Lucas
The following release by four mainstream human rights organizations focuses as usual on crimes committed by the state in Algeria. Crimes by non-state actors - Islamic Armed Groups (GIA), Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) etc - are only mentioned in passing.
In view of the proposed blanket amnesty that has been decided by President Bouteflika, their main worry is that crimes committed by the army and the police will not be investigated. As for the disappeared, it is taken for granted that they disappeared at the hands of the state armed forces - official or unofficial.
The democratic opposition in Algeria, who was the main target of fundamentalist armed groups throughout the nineties and constitute the bulk of victims during the same period, has repeatedly expressed its opposition to any attempt of legally burying without investigation all crimes committed during this period, - not just those committed by agents of the state, referred to as " the security forces and seemingly also to state-armed militias" by the signatories of the release. Human rights organizations persist in turning a blind eye to the families that have seen their members disappear at the hands of GIA, to villagers survivors of massacres that want the truth to be heard about what their family members have suffered before being slaughtered by GIA, to girls and women kidnapped and forcibly taken to the GIA camps to be used as domestic and sexual slaves, etc...

Mainstream human rights organisations have exclusively supported, given visibility, invited to their functions, given a political platform, etc... to the Algerian organisation of families of disappeared at the hands of the state - to the exclusion of others. Failing to be heard, the families of those disappeared at the hands of fundamentalists finally set up a separate organisation for their defence, which was neither supported nor given recognition, let alone visibility, by mainstream human rights organisations.

Regarding the isolated peasants who attempted to organize for the defence of their families against massacres of villages committed by GIA, mainstream human rights organisations all lump them together and brand them: " the so-called 'Legitimate Self-Defense Groups' ", which one presumes are the above mentioned "state-armed militias". Beyond the few groups that were working under the orders of the army to help in locating GIA, where are the numerous villagers that resisted total eradication by GIA, using scarce armament occasionally distributed by the army, old fashioned hunting arms, hand main weapons, batons, hammers, axes, etc... in total abandonment by mainstream human rights organisations: are they not 'legitimate' in their 'self defence' in the eyes of such organisations? are they 'state armed militia' too?

By picking and choosing among the victims those they wanted to support because they were victims of the state, and by ignoring the victims of non state actors - by far the more numerous at this period of time - mainstream human rights organisations failed to abide by human rights values such as the defence of all victims, and played a dirty political role that they still refuse to acknowledge.

They also played a very negative role in putting an enormous pressure on the Algerian government to negotiate at all costs with fundamentalist organisations that were responsible for the many crimes committed against the population. A pressure that indeed led to the very blanket amnesty that the same main stream human rights organisations are now criticizing.

Yes this law is a terrible political and human rights mistake, that will fuel revenge in future and allow trauma to remain alive in the next generations. The Algerian government has not understood yet that, however bad and manipulated as we have seen that they could be in other countries coming out of similar situations, some sort of 'truth and reconciliation commissions' have to come to existence prior to pardon being granted.

The democratic opposition in Algeria, with women's organisations at the forefront, fought against such an amnesty, and refused to consider it as the only way to ensure the end of massacres and a 'civil concordia'; the democratic opposition demanded the truth on all crimes committed, whether by state or by non state armed forces, before these crimes could be amnestied. Their commitment to human rights for all should be a model for mainstream human rights organisations which shamelessly failed to take such a principled position throughout the armed conflict in Algeria, and an incitation to stop playing an unacknowledged political role that is far beyond their mandate.

Marieme Hélie-Lucas