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Algeria: Human Rights Groups Fault UN Report

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 17 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Algeria's Government has welcomed a United Nations report released yesterday that recommends international support for the country' efforts to combat the militant Islamic terrorist violence which has killed more than 65,000 people in the past six years. But the report has also been severely criticized by independent human-rights groups, notably Amnesty International, which called it "a whitewash" of the Government's own violations.

The report was the work of a high-level, six-member panel appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that visited Algeria for two weeks this summer. The group was headed by former Portuguese President Mario Suarez, and included two former prime ministers (India's I.K. Gurjal and Jordan's Abdul Karim-al-Kabariti), former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Donald McHenry, French parliamentarian and former minister Simone Weil, and Kenya's Attorney-General Amos Wako. Some press reports indicated that there were strong disagreements among the six about the contents and tone of their report, a suggestion that McHenry downplayed but did not deny to a (New York Times) reporter yesterday.

As handed over to Annan and the Algerian Government, the report rebuked Algeria for abuses by it army, police and judiciary, but said the country deserved the world's support in its struggle against Islamic extremism and violence. The panel said that Algeria needs what it called a "change in mentality' in its judiciary, police and army as well as in the institutions responsible for safeguarding human rights.

The panel also said it was convinced there was no political rationale for the terrorism that has plagued the country since 1992, when alg-unthe military annulled elections that seemed likely to end with a victory by Islamic parties which have since been banned from political life. This view is one that the Algerian Government has long sought to foster in an effort to separate the murderous terrorism of recent years from the canceled 1992 elections.

In Algiers yesterday, Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf told reporters his Government was satisfied with the report. He cited the panel's appeal to the international community to help Algeria in its anti-terrorist fight and in its planned economic and social reforms. He also said the panel had clarified what he described "as the security situation and those who are behind the massacres."

That was a reference to numerous reports that Government para-military groups have also been involved in some of the terrorist massacres in recent years. The Government has long denied this, although human-rights groups abroad have called for investigations of the para-military groups' conduct. The UN panel's report did not express any opinion on the matter, but it did cite "numerous cases of arbitrary detention, torture...extra-judicial executions and lack of protection by the judiciary."

In London, Amnesty International accused the UN panel of failing to address important human-right abuses by the Government. It faulted the group for failing to address conclusions by the UN's own Human Rights Commission, which has condemned gave violations by Algerian Government forces, including torture, disappearances and extra-judicial executions. Amnesty also spoke of "the report's tendency to repeat the Government's analysis of 'terrorism' (which) further undermines its credibility." Finally, Amnesty noted, "in a country where close to 20,000 people are detained on terrorism charges, the panel only met one prisoner accused of terrorism and focused its visit on prisoners accused of economic crimes."

The New-York based Human Rights Watch group also lambasted the report. It called on the Algerian Government to allow the UN to conduct a full-scale investigation into the killings in the country by UN human-rights experts. The Government has said it will never allow such an inquiry because it would constitute intervention in the nation's domestic affairs.

Meanwhile, two reports from Algiers in the past few days demonstrate that the country's deep and murderous divisions, and its pervasive despair, continue to take their toll. One report on Tuesday said that up to 38 people had been killed the day before in the worst massacre in months at a village 130 kilometers southwest of Algiers. Algeria's "Le Matin" daily said that "most of the victims had either been burned to death or had their throats cut." In Algiers itself yesterday, 200 relatives of missing persons protested outside the officers of the Government's National Observer Commission for Human Rights. The demonstrators, women as well as men, accused the state of responsibility for the kidnapping of their fathers, husbands and sons, and demanded to know what had become of them.

Earlier this week, the Government conceded more than 700 hundred cases of missing persons. But its own Rights Commission says that only 23 persons have been detained by security forces, of which 12 have been officially listed as dead. Clearly, the fate of the others will not be easy to determine.