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Time for Reckoning: Enforced Disappearances and Abductions in Algeria

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2003
99 pages
This report presents recommendations for how to address the aftermath of the "disappearances" of more than 7,000 persons in Algeria who were under the control of Algerian security forces and their allies and who remain unaccounted for to this day.
In this paper, "disappearance" is used to connote a case in which state agents or their associates have taken a person into custody and do not acknowledge holding that person, or do not disclose the person's location. Currently, state-sponsored "disappearances" have virtually stopped in Algeria; however, not one person accused of participating in an act of "disappearance" has been charged or brought to trial, and not one family of a "disappeared" person has been provided with concrete, verifiable information about the fate of their relatives. Further, nothing has been done to prevent the security forces from reviving this method. The authorities routinely, and with impunity, flout laws designed to ensure that a person's arrest is recorded and regulated. Families of persons kidnapped by armed groups feel abandoned by the state. They say that no proper criminal investigation of the kidnapping has taken place and that authorities do not consult or inform the families when mass graves are found that might contain the remains of their relatives. The year 2003 may be a pivotal year for Algeria in dealing with this human rights issue. At a time when Algeria wishes to exploit its improved relations with the United States and France, due in part to its professed terrorist-fighting credentials, a presidentially appointed human rights commissioner is publicly urging aid to the families, state admission of culpability, and an amnesty for the perpetrators. Humans Rights Watch believes that the solution must include disclosure of the truth regarding what happened to victims of "disappearances" and accountability for the perpetrators. In keeping with principles of international human rights law, an amnesty, if one is ever enacted, should exclude persons responsible for acts of "disappearance." In deliberating over pardons for perpetrators of "disappearances," the seriousness of that crime should be taken into account. Any response to this issue that lacks attention to truth and accountability plants the seeds for a repetition of "disappearances" and other atrocities. The recommendations presented in this paper pertain to the Government of Algeria, the political parties in Algeria, the armed groups implicated in the abduction of civilians, and the European Union and its member nations. Appended Algerian law that governs illegal arrests and confinement, a letter to Algeria's Minister of Justice, a partial list of "disappeared" whose fate has been clarified, and contradictory information in two cases of "disappearances"