Algeria: Justice for women in Hassi Messaoud

We have received a request for IMMEDIATE pressure to be applied on the Algerian Government to ensure justice in a case that comes up for hearing on 28 December 2004. The trial is to take place in Biskra.
The case is on behalf of working women in the Saharan city Hassi Messaoud who were brutally attacked in July 2001 by a mob of three-hundred men apparently following a sermon given in the local mosque by islamist imam Amar Taleb.

The Algerian Government has refused to acknowledge the significance of this attack and has repeatedly delayed this process. Pressure is needed to ensure the case proceeds rapidly and with justice.

The overwhelming silence of the international media on the pogrom in Hassi Messaoud and other cities speaks for itself: these events simply do not fit into the simplistic representation that they have given of the Algerian situation, hence they do not exist and cannot be reported.

In solidarity,
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
For background information in English regarding the case, please see the following article on the WLUML website - Algeria: Attacks on women in Hassi Messaoud.

Please also see the following appeal by women’s groups in Algeria:

Action Alert: Justice for women in Hassi Messaoud

The appeal trial of criminals of Hassi Messaoud started on December 15 2004. One needs to recall facts: about thirty women were attacked, raped, lynched, stabbed with knives and buried alive by a mob of their neighbours in the neighbourhood of El Haïcha.

The first judgement given by the Court was so scandalously appalling that the prosecutor himself appealed against it. Today, in order to prevent any local influence, the trial will take place in another city.

This trial should be a model of justice. Why?

This crime was preceded by a series of similar crimes: attacks and violence against women living on their own in Ouargla, Remchi, Bordj, Tebessa, which remain unpunished.

No violence can be left in impunity and above all no violence can be given any justification:

Neither by the status of victims: women in Hassi Messaoud were said to be prostitutes.

Neither by the status of the perpetrators: they were said to be good fathers and husbands.

Neither with the reasons that have been put forward: it was said that the aim was to "purify the walls".

These reasons account for the silence of society as well as institutions with regard to specific violence against women. It is because such reasons are being accepted that there is no rule of law.

Impunity of all past attacks, and future attacks, if the state does not put an end to it, precisely lie in this lax attitude.

Although none of the women have withdrawn their complaints, only a handful of the victims were present in court on December 15. Why?

Several reasons for this:
  • families of perpetrators put pressure on and sent threats to the victims, publicly and clearly. They even offered money to the victims in order to induce them to withdraw their complaint;
  • the attitude of authorities was initially to minimize the gravity of the event, and even worse, to try and induce victims to demand reparation;
  • there were social pressure on victims demanding silence on their part and even suggesting that by so doing they were 'guilty' of destroying the families of their rapists;
  • terror has been so great that some of them preferred to run away from the place and to lock themselves into their pain;
  • some of them, reduced to desperation by the obstacles on their way, do not believe in justice anymore;
  • and there are all the difficulties of travel and housing for women workers with a precarious work status.

Who can afford to pursue one's quest for justice if one is not supported?

Indeed the support of women's organisations has not been constant, public, and repeated enough; this is due to various reasons among which lack of information and lack of means. But what is more problematic is the virtually total silence of political parties which do not seem concerned with the constitutional right of any citizen to be protected by the State against any form of violence and specifically organized violence.

What happened in Hassi Messaoud is a pogrom. This trial is the last chance for society to redeem itself. This is why it should be a model of justice and why it should give dignity back to these women.


Afepec: Association des femmes pour la citoyenneté (association of women for citizenship)
AEF: Association pour l’émancipation des femmes(association for women's emancipation)
ADPDF: Association de Défense et de promotion des droits des femmes (association of defence and promotion of women's rights)
Bnet Fatma N’Soumer
Commission Femmes Travailleuses de l’UGTA (committee of women workers, national union of Algerian workers)
Rafd (Algerian Assembly of women for democracy)
Réseau Wassila (Wassila network)
SOS femmes en détresse (SOS Women in distress)
Association Vie (association Life)
Des moudjahidate (women veterans from the liberation struggle of Algeria)

El watan, December 16, 2004. News.
Court case of women violated in Hassi Messaoud
El Haicha, the trial of shame

The crime of El Haicha, this neighborhood of shame where women, most of them mothers were savagely attacked, mutilated, raped and some of them buried alive on July 13, 2001, was to come yesterday before the appeal court in Biskra.

Time that passes seems to favor the perpetrators since out of the 39 women victims, only three, Fatiha, Rahmouna and Nadia, were present in court. Lawyers that were supposed to be appointed by the Minister of Solidarity did not show up, and that increased fear among the women who had the courage to come from Sidi Bel Abbes, Hassi Messaoud and Algiers, to come stand to their torturers in Biskra court and to reply to those who demand from them that they pardon that they will never step back in front of injustice.

Exhausted, still traumatized and fearful, it was difficult for them to bear, during nearly four hours, from 8.30 to 12, with the mocking and often provocative looks of their torturers in the box of the accused. Out of 32 that were judged initially, only four of them responded to the court notice. Others, obviously reassured by the compassion of influential local people, including within the institution of justice towards them did not come to the three previous hearings, including the yesterday's hearing. Moreover, the lawyers of two out of the four detained did not turn up. Since the beginning of the trial, the President of the Tribunal observed that the procedure to notify to the accused was only partially followed. He asked their co-accused whether they would agree to the Tribunal organising their defence. After 30 minutes deliberation, the court, rejected the provisional release on bail of the accused, and fixed another date for the trial so that the procedure of notification to the accused could be applied and state appointed defence lawyers could be present for those of the accused who were present but did not have a lawyer, a relief for the three victims and their lawyers M° Houhou and M° Benhocine. Despite this decision, that the lawyers of the victims see as 'positive', Fatiha, Rahmouna and Nadia have expressed their fear to see this trial go astray. "I am under the impression that I am the perpetrator and they are the victims. The way their families look at us is hard to bare with. Each time they come and put pressure on us so that we withdraw our complaint. There is no way we are going to let those who raped us, sodomize us and mutilated us, escape justice" said Fatiha. Rahmouna, mother of three, very affected by this tragedy of July 13, 2001, is unable to recover: "sometimes I have destructive ideas that push me to go blow myself like a kamikaze at the Tribunal of Hassi Messaoud. Anyhow these criminals have murdered in me any hope of life. All is left for me is death and taking with me in death all those who participated into inocenting my torturers, because they bear a huge responsibility in the drama I live with my children. I roam around from city to city with my children like a hobo. Why does justice not want to repair this injustice? Since the first verdict I do not look at myself as an Algerian citizen" said she with tears in her eyes. She repeats again and again that the coming and going that she has to do in order to be present in court are 'of no use'. In her views, "justice is made by men and for men." Fatiha remains the most perseverant of the victims. She left her baby with her in-laws in order to come from a western city 'if only to show them that it is for the perpetrators to be full of shame, not to me'. She says "How could I pardon someone who sodomized me with a broom stick and who cut my breasts? How can Nadia accept to pardon the man who tortured then raped her? How can Rhamouna forget that the youngsters, the same age as her children, cut her sex and her tights? These are testimonies that everyone has to listen to so that it will never happen to other women again."

Fatiha has called on all authorities in order to succeed. She encouraged other women to sign with her a letter addressed to the president of the republic last June, demanding that he intervene to speed up the judicial procedure against those who broke her life and the life of 39 other women in El Haicha. A letter that unfortunately remained without answer. "If the women from Rachda were not here to support us with housing facilities and getting a lawyer, we will never have even reached this stage. Lawyers are very expensive. The first woman lawyer dropped the case, may be because of pressure in Biskra, and we do not know if the two lawyers that we have now will not be submitted to pressure too" said Fatiha, before regretting the silence of all those who did express solidarity and support in the days following the attack in El Haicha. A remark that painfully remind the absence of solidarity of social movements, and notably the women's movement with regard to a case that has to do with rights to citizenship and to dignity.Nadia concluded saying that what happened in El Haicha is a shame for Algeria and points at the status of in which women are confined in Algeria.

Salima Tlemçani