After gaining independence in 1962, Algeria had a
single-party state dominated by the country's military leadership and supported
by the bureaucracy and the National Liberation Front (FLN). The FLN's rule ended
in 1992 with the resignation of President Chadli Benjedid and the dissolution of
the FLN-dominated Parliament.
President Liamine Zeroual, a former general, was elected
in November 1995 to a 5-year term. Zeroual had previously served as president of
a transition government established by the army in 1994. The President controls
defense and foreign policy, appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister and
cabinet ministers, and may dissolve the legislature. The presidential election
was competitive. Three opposition candidates had some access to state-controlled
television and radio and also received heavy coverage in the independent press.
Zeroual received 61 percent of the votes according to government figures; losing
candidates claimed that there were instances of fraud but did not contest
Zeroual's victory. Algeria has not had an elected parliament since January 1992.
In 1994 the military-backed Government appointed a National Transition Council
as a surrogate parliament. The President pledged to hold new parliamentary
elections in the first half of 1997.
Under the 1989 Constitution, there was to be a transition
to a pluralist republic with a strong president. The democratization process was
suspended in 1992 when the Army forced the President to resign, canceled the
second round of parliamentary elections which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS)
was poised to win, and installed a ruling five-man High State Committee, which
banned the FIS and jailed more of its leaders. The cancellation of the elections
in 1992 escalated fighting between the security forces and armed Islamist groups
seeking to overthrow the Government and impose an Islamic state.
In May the President began reviewing with legal opposition
parties a memorandum containing his ideas on how to develop a political system.
These included amending the Constitution to define acceptable political
practices and to establish a second parliamentary chamber (a senate). The
President also insisted the electoral and political party laws be changed. In
September several important opposition political parties joined with the
President to sign a national charter encompassing these ideas. In November the
Government obtained approval of proposed changes to the Constitution, including
provision of a second parliamentary chamber and greater presidential authority,
in a flawed popular referendum.
The Government's security apparatus is composed of the
army, air force, navy, the national gendarmerie, the national police, communal
guards (a local police), and local self-defense forces. All of these elements
are involved incounterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. The security
forces were responsible for numerous serious human rights abuses.
The economy is slowly developing from a centrally planned
system to a more market-oriented system, in the wake of stabilization policies
and structural reforms undertaken in 1994 and 1995. The pace of structural
reform slowed in 1996. Uncompetitive and unprofitable state enteprises
constituted the bulk of the industrial sector. The state-owned petroleum
sector's output represented about a quarter of national income and about 95
percent of export earnings in 1996. Algeria is a middle-income country whose
annual per capita income is about $1,700. Unemployment continued to rise in
1996, hitting young people especially hard. About 70 percent of persons under
the age of 30 could not find adequate employment. Some made a living from petty
smuggling or street peddling.
Although the Government's human rights performance
improved somewhat, there were continued serious human rights abuses. The
security forces carried out extrajudicial killings, were responsible for
numerous cases of disappearance, routinely tortured or otherwise abused
detainees, and arbitrarily arrested and held incommunicado many of those
suspected of involvement with armed Islamist groups. Although the Constitution
provides for an independent judiciary, recent executive branch decrees have
restricted some of the judiciary's authority. Poor prison conditions, lengthy
trial delays, illegal searches, and infringements on citizens' privacy rights
also remained problems. The Government heavily censored news about security
incidents and the armed groups. The Government also continued to restrict
freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement. During the November
constitutional referendum, there were no independent observers at the polling
stations during the vote or the ballot counting. Political parties opposing the
constitutional amendments were denied access to the electronic media, and their
activitists suffered occasional government harassment. The Family Code limited
women's civil rights, while domestic violence against women remained a serious
Armed groups and terrorists also committed numerous
serious abuses, killing thousands of civilians. Armed Islamists have conducted a
widespread insurgency since elections were canceled in January 1992. Although
some areas of the country saw less conflict in 1996 that heretofore, acts of
terrorism were still numerous. Islamist groups targeted government officials and
families of security service members. They also assassinated political and
religious figures, businessmen, teachers, journalists, state enterprise workers,
farmers, and children. Armed Islamists targeted women specially; there were
repeated instances of kidnaping and rape. Bombs left in cars, cafes, and markets
killed and maimed people indiscriminately. By year's end, most commonly accepted
casualty estimates were that 60,000 people had been killed during 5 years of
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person,
Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing.
There were fewer credible reports that security forces
killed persons suspected to be members or sympathizers of armed groups.
According to an Algerian human rights organization, in August a group of
self-defense force members killed 21 civilians outside of Boufarik. An Algerian
human rights organization credibly reported that in September a communal guard
killed the parents of a suspected terrorist in Draa Ben Khedda after the guard's
father was murdered. There was also a credible report that security forces
killed a dozen members of an armed group trying to surrender in a western
Algerian province in June.
Human rights activists also stated that many persons
arrested by police died in custody. For example, police took a young man from
his Algiers home in January; his family learned that his body was at the Algiers
morgue the following day. Neither the police nor other government authorities
have explained how he died.
The Government maintains that the security forces resort
to lethal force only in the context of armed clashes with terrorists. The
Government also contends that as a matter of policy disciplinary action is taken
against soldiers or policemen who are guilty of violating human rights, and this
occurred in some cases. In September the Government put a group of self-defense
force members on trial in Blida on charges of wrongly killing 5 persons in May.
In December a Tipaza court found guilty two policemen for torturing a young man
in Tipaza; the officers received suspended sentences. There were no other
reports of action or serious sanctions taken against security force members for
killings or other human rights abuses.
Armed groups targeted both security force members and
civilians. Terrorists attacked civilians whom they regarded as instruments of
the State or whose lifestyles they considered in conflict with Islamic values.
Sometimes they killed in the course of armed robberies or to enforce local
protection rackets. Some terrorist bombings seemed intended only to create
social disorder by causing a high number of civilian casualties without any
apparent concern for the particular target.
The terrorist Armed Islamic Group (GIA) claimed
responsibility for dozens of murders, including the killing of seven French
monks in June. Terrorist targets included current and former government
officials, businessmen, teachers, doctors, and farmers. An official from the
Hamas Movement, a legal Islamist party, was murdered at Ksar Al-Boukhari in
January, while an official from the former Communist Party was killed in May.
Three men murdered a French-language teacher in a classroom in front of her
students in Blida in March. Also in March terrorists killed six textile plant
workers near Tizi Ouzou because the workers' villages had organized local
defense groups. Armed men shot and killed a popular singer in Constantine in
September. There also were instances throughout the year of terrorists stopping
buses and cars and murdering civilian passengers. In some cases the victims
apparently were murdered merely because they were young men of draft age
eligible for military service. In April an armed group assaulted the village of
Larbaatache east of Algiers and reportedly killed 60 persons, including women
and children. There were a series of massacres in Blida, Tipaza, and Boumerdes
provinces during November and December.
Terrorist bombs also killed hundreds. In some cases, the
terrorists targeted government buildings. In others they sought to retaliate
against the families of members of the security services by exploding car bombs
outside their homes. In January a bomb planted in a mosque in Baraki killed six
persons. Another bomb killed the Bishop of Oran in August. The Algiers region
suffered from a series of cafe bombings during the summer. Terrorists also left
bombs at several street markets during the year; one such bomb in Boufarik
killed 17 persons in September. Since 1993 at least 59 journalists have died in
terrorist attacks; at least 9 were killed during the year. Three of the
journalists killed in 1996 died in a February car bombing of the Main Press
Building in Algiers, along with 12 other persons (see Section 2.a.). Terrorists
also murdered a well-known Algerian news photographer, a reporter for the
national television station, and a broadcaster for Algerian Radio. Many
journalists had to change their addresses every few days to make themselves less
accessible targets. Over 120 foreigners have been killed since 1993.
The government-affiliated National Observatory of Human
Rights (ONDH) received reports of about 50 cases of disappearance in 1996, down
substantially from the 116 received in 1995. The ONDH did receive some responses
to its inquiries about disappearance cases from 1996 and previous years. Some of
these cases involved arrests by security forces, others involved persons
kidnaped by armed groups, and still others involved persons who fled to join
armed groups. These resolved cases represented only a small fraction of the
total number of cases; the great majority remained unresolved. An independent
Algerian human rights group said in December that it had 400 outstanding cases
of persons arrested who have disappeared since 1992.
Independent human rights groups in Algeria had no specific
total for 1996, but they also suggested that there were fewer cases of
disappearance than in previous years. Armed men in uniforms took away an
electrician named Mourad in Algiers in July in a vehicle clearly marked
"security;" the family was unable to verify if or where he was being
held. A man named Hakim was arrested in April by men in uniforms and taken away
in the type of vehicle normally used by Defense Ministry elements, but his
family could obtain no official confirmation of Hakim's detention. An
electrician was arrested and taken from his home in Algiers by men in uniform in
September, but his family could obtain no further information on his
whereabouts. Families of 14 persons arrested by men in uniforms during a
security force sweep of the district of Le Chevalier in March also could not
obtain any news of their relatives. The Government asserted that terrorists
disguised as security forces perpetrated numerous incidents.
Terrorist groups kidnaped hundreds of civilians, including
family members of security service members. Sometimes the mutilated corpses of
such victims were later found. In many other instances, however, the victims
disappeared, and their families could obtain no information about their fate.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
Both the Constitution and legislation ban torture and
other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. However, according to human rights
groups and lawyers, the police regularly resort to torture when interrogating
persons suspected of involvement in or of having sympathies with armed Islamists.
There were several credible reports of torture at the Algiers police facility
called Chateau Neuf. Rachid Mesli, a defense lawyer for the FIS was detained in
August; he had severe bruises on his face and arms when he appeared for his
first Algiers court hearing. There also were credible reports that an Islamist
party activist and his wife were arrested and tortured in Setif in March.
Security forces reportedly tortured residents from the town of Belaoudi during
interrogations in the midst of a sweep for armed groups in July.
There were repeated reports that police applied to
prisoners a technique called "Le Chiffon," in which a cloth soaked in
noxious fluid was put in the victim's mouth. There were also reports that the
police applied electric shocks to sensitive body parts. Police beatings of
detainees appeared to be common.
Many victims of torture hesitate to make public
allegations due to fear of government retaliation. The Interior Ministry in 1992
said that it would punish those who violated the law and practiced torture, but
it has never revealed whether any of those responsible for torture have been
punished. In its 1996 report, the ONDH stated that there had been complaints of
torture in the Government's campaign against terrorism. It also pointed to a
connection between incommunicado detention and allegations of torture. The ONDH
called on the Government to put an end to torture of detainees, noting that such
practice hurt the credibility of the State.
Armed groups also committed abuses, including frequent
beheadings and dismemberment of their victims. There were frequent reports of
young women being abducted and repeatedly raped, often for weeks at a time. The
terrorists sought to justify this sexual abuse by referring to it as
"temporary marriage," but all other observers, including Islamic
scholars, uniformly condemned the practice as rape.
Prison conditions are poor and prisons are very
overcrowded. According to human rights activists, cells often contain several
times the number of prisoners for which they originally were designed. Medical
treatment for prisoners is also severely limited. The Government does not permit
independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers by groups such as the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or Amnesty International (AI).
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention.
It stipulates that incommunicado detention in criminal cases prior to
arraignment may not exceed 48 hours, after which the suspect must be charged or
released. According to the Antiterrorist Law of 1992, the police may hold
suspects in prearraignment detention for up to 12 days; they also must inform
suspects of the charges against them.
However, the security forces routinely exceed the lawful
detention limit in practice. The 1996 ONDH report noted that detainees
frequently are held incommunicado much longer than allowed by law. In the
spring, there were credible reports from three villages in Jijel province that
Communal Guard forces arrested persons suspected of sympathies with armed groups
and detained them at Guard barracks.
The most prominent case involving a prisoner held
incommunicado was FIS vice-president Ali Benhadj; his family has heard nothing
about him since mid-1995 despite repeated approaches to the Justice Ministry by
The ONDH report and human rights activists also stated
that court judges could not exercise effective control over the police to ensure
that the law was applied consistently.
The Antiterrorist Law of 1992 suspended the requirement
that the police obtain warrants in order to make an arrest. During the year, the
police made a few broad nighttime sweeps of neighborhoods in the Algiers suburbs
in search of suspected terrorists and often detained suspects without
identifying themselves. In some cases, they purposely arrested close relatives
of suspected terrorists in order to force those suspects to surrender. In June
the police arrested a 69-year old woman named Daouia in Constantine in order to
compel her son, wanted for involvement in an armed group, to surrender. As of
late fall, the family was unable to determine where the woman was being held.
According to the ONDH, there are several hundred persons
awaiting trial on security-related charges. Other human rights groups allege
that the number is much higher. The 1996 ONDH report stated that 12,000 persons
were serving prison sentences after being convicted of security-related
offenses; an independent Algerian human rights monitoring group put the number
at 40,000. In both estimates, however, many--if not most--of those being held
were allegedly involved in acts of violence. There were cases, however, which
clearly appeared political. For example, Abdelkader Hachani, a senior FIS
official, has been imprisoned since January 1992 without trial. Similarly,
lawyer Ali Zouita has been held since 1993 despite a court's acquitting him in
1993 of aiding a terrorist group; he has never been tried on other charges.
Persons accused of crimes sometimes did not receive
expeditious trials. During the year, the Government arrested hundreds of state
enterprise officials on charges of corruption. Only a few have received a trial.
The rest remained in detention. Mid-level officials from an Annaba State
Enterprise accused of corruption staged a hunger strike in August to protest
their 6 months of detention without trial.
Under the state of emergency, the Minister of Interior is
authorized to detain suspects in special camps administered by the army. The
Government closed the last camp in November 1995, and announced that it had
released the 641 prisoners there, although there were subsequent reports that
some were rearrested later. The Government and other sources contended that some
persons released from this prison had joined armed groups.
Exile is not a legal form of punishment and is not known
to be practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. In
practice, however, the Government does not always respect the independence of
the judicial system.
The National Judges Syndicate publicly charged several
times during the year that the executive branch was interfering in matters that
properly belong to the judicial system. It cited a Justice Ministry order of
March that denied judges the right to release provisionally those accused of
corruption without approval from the Ministry. The Government did not retaliate
openly against the National Syndicate after it made these charges. However, the
authorities prevented the Syndicates's leadership from convening a syndicate
meeting in Algiers in December and reportedly encouraged the emergence of new
The judiciary is composed of the civil courts, which try
misdemeanors and felonies, and military courts, which have tried civilians for
security and terrorism offenses. There also is a Constitutional Council which
reviews the constitutionality of treaties, laws, and regulations. Although the
Council is not part of the judiciary, it has the authority to nullify laws found
The Government in 1995 abolished the Special Security
Courts which human rights observers had contended did not provide defendents
fair trials. Regular criminal courts now try those accused of security-related
offenses, but there have been very few actual trials.
According to the Constitution, defendants are presumed
innocent until proven guilty. They have the right to confront their accusers and
may appeal the conviction. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to
legal counsel. However, the authorities do not always respect all legal
provisions regarding defendants' rights. Lawyers defending state enterprise
managers accused of corruption in Annaba withdrew from the case after the
Interior Ministry refused to share the evidence gathered against the managers as
the law stipulates. Some lawyers would not accept cases of those accused of
security-related offenses, due to fear of retribution from the security forces.
Defense lawyers for members of the FIS have suffered harassment, death threats,
and arrest (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.).
There are no credible estimates of the number of political
prisoners. An unknown number of persons who may be considered political
prisoners were serving prison sentences or detained without charge because of
their Islamist sympathies and membership in FIS (see Section 1.d.).
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the
home, but the State of Emergency authorizes provincial governors to issue
exceptional search warrants at any time. Security forces often entered
residences without warrants. The security services also deployed an extensive
network of secret informers against both terrorist targets and political
opponents. The Government monitored telephones and sometimes disconnected
service to political opponents (see Section 3). Security forces detained
relatives of suspects to try to compel the suspects to surrender (see Section
There were credible reports that people had to leave their
homes due to the Government's antiterrorist operations. In the spring, communal
guards forced the evacuation of at least one small village in Jijel province in
the midst of a security sweep. There were additional reports that Communal Guard
forces blocked the supply of food and water to several villages in Jijel until
they agreed to form self-defense forces. During the summer, gendarmerie forces
compelled the residents of a village near Larbaa to abandon their homes when
they refused to organize a self-defense force.
Armed Islamists routinely entered private homes either to
kill or kidnap residents or to steal weapons, valuables, or food. In early 1996,
armed groups kidnaped all of the daughters of several families in Jijel
province. Armed Islamist groups consistently used threats of violence to extort
money from businesses and families across Algeria.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for the freedom of speech, but a
1990 law specifies that such speech must respect "individual dignity, the
imperatives of foreign policy, and the national defense." The state of
emergency decree gave the Government broad authority to restrict these freedoms
and to take legal action against what it considered to be threats to the State
or public order. In March 1994, the Government issued an interministerial decree
that independent newspapers could print security information only from official
government bulletins carried by the government press service APS.
In February the Interior Ministry reminded newspapers of
the existing requirement that only APS bulletins about security incidents and
the armed groups could be published. In September President Zeroual reiterated
that the Government would restrict information about security incidents.
Compliance with the Government directive varied among
independent newspapers, but they rarely reported information about security
force losses. The Government seized some newspapers for reporting what it
considered sensitive information. For example, in April an issue of Al-Watan was
seized at the printers when it carried an unauthorized story about a massacre at
Larbaatache. Similarly, the Interior Ministry blocked two issues of Al-Acil,
printed in eastern Algeria, in June, for allegedly trying to publish information
about security incidents.
The Government's definition of security information often
extended beyond purely military matters to encompass broader political affairs.
The Interior Ministry blocked publication of the weekly La Nation three times in
February and March for articles which, it alleged, justified terrorism. However,
one issue's articles were reprints of articles about human rights already
printed in the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique. The Interior Ministry
seized an issue of the weekly Al-Houriya in March when it tried to publish an
article about the history of political assassination in Algeria. In May the
Interior Ministry briefly jailed two journalists from the weekly political
satire Al-Mesmar and then banned the paper permanently. In June the Interior
Ministry brought charges of defamation against an Al-Watan journalist after she
wrote about corruption at the Oran Customs Administration; the Oran court
convicted her. The Government closed the independent daily La Tribune in July
after the paper carried a cartoon that the Government alleged defamed the
Algerian flag; an Algiers court decision in September suspended the newspaper
for 6 months. The Government also revoked the credentials of the Spanish
correspondent of the Madrid daily El Pais because of its dissatisfaction with
his analysis of the security situation. In December the Government again seized
an issue of Al-Houriya, although it never explained why. Al-Houriya's editor
presumed the seizure stemmed from his effort to publish a story about a book
published in France about Algeria's human rights situation.
The Interior Ministry cautioned newspapers to avoid
printing interviews with officials from the banned FIS. In 1995 FIS officials
who had been freed from detention in 1994 received direct orders from the
Justice Ministry to make no further public statements. This ban remains in
Journalists at independent newspapers often avoided
printing stories about the security situation and Islamist groups in order to
avoid difficulties with the Government. The Government frequently sanctioned
journalists who wrote offending articles by putting them under judicial control.
This required them to check in regularly with the local police. It also
prevented them from leaving the country. The ONDH stated in February that the
Government should apply this measure less routinely.
The independent press remained free to criticize economic
and social policy broadly, but the Interior Ministry and the courts often
retaliated against newspapers that accused specific officials of policy failures
or crimes. The editor in chief of Al-Watan was convicted and fined for defaming
the Health Minister in March after the newspaper alleged that he did not control
wasteful spending by the Ministry. The editor of El-Kilaa was jailed briefly in
May after his newspaper pointed out that the governor of Tebessa did not attend
a local province ceremony as expected. The Interior Ministry charged journalists
from La Nation and its fellow weekly Ach-Chourouq with defamation after they
wrote exposes about the internal maneuverings of the National Liberation Front
in May. In general, journalists exercised self-censorship by not publishing
specific criticism of specific officials.
President Zeroual in a September press conference said
that the problems confronting the press resulted from market forces, not
censorship. However, the Government maintained an effective monopoly of printing
companies and newsprint imports and blocked a UNESCO grant to establish a
private printing press.
The Government also tightened controls over vital
newspaper advertising revenues, centralizing in April all state companies'
advertising decisions in a single state agency called ANEP. (This advertising is
crucial in an economy in which state companies' output and government services
still represent approximately two-thirds of national income.) ANEP provided
significant amounts of advertising to particular publications with an anti-Islamist
editorial line and that did not undertake investigations of corruption. Other
newspapers with different editorial policies received very little or no
advertising, even though they had a larger national readership and sometimes
even offered cheaper advertising prices. For example, the anti-Islamist
newspapers L'Authentique and Le Matin received much more advertising than did
L'Opinion or El Al-Alem As-Siyasi newspapers, even though the latter two
newspapers had about the same circulation and cheaper advertising prices.
Radio and television remained under government control,
with coverage biased in favor of the Government's policies. Opposition political
parties occasionally were able to present their points of view, but these
appearances represented only a small fraction of the total radio and television
broadcast time. Satellite dish antennas are widespread, and millions of citizens
have access to European and Middle Eastern broadcasting.
Armed groups continued to target journalists of both the
government-controlled and independent media. The February bombing against the
Main Press Building was the most visible
incident, but at least 9 journalists were murdered during
the year (see Section l.a.).
Many artists, intellectuals, and university educators fled
Algeria after widespread violence began in 1992 being especially fearful of
Islamist terror. Few returned in 1996. As a result, there were few academic
seminars and colloquia, although there appeared to be more in 1996 than in 1995.
The Government did not interfere with nonpolitical seminars; it did sometimes
with those that were more political in content. For example, it banned seminars
that an Algerian youth group sought to hold to discuss human rights (see Section
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the rights of assembly and
association, but the 1992 Emergency Law sharply curtails these freedoms.
Citizens and organizations must obtain a permit from the appointed local
governor before holding public meetings.
The Government had a mixed record of permiting public
meetings during the year. The local Algiers authorities refused permission for a
labor union in March to protest wage cuts in February. They also banned a sit-in
by a nongovernmental organization called The Children of War Martyrs to protest
social conditions. Another nongovernmental organization, The Rally for Youth
Action, sought permission to hold seminars on human rights in June and on
democracy in October, but both were denied. The Algiers authorities did permit a
rally in front of the Main Press Building in support of freedom of the press in
July, however. In addition the Socialist Forces Front obtained approval for a
public rally in downtown Algiers in September. In December political parties and
a coalition group called the "Call for Peace" sought permission to
hold marches and meetings, but all requests were refused.
The authorities' record outside Algiers also was mixed.
During the first half of the year, some legal Islamic parties could not obtain
approval to hold public meetings in the provinces of Setif, Khenchala, and
Tebessa. During the second half of the year, however, the local authorities
granted permission to these same parties. The legal Islamist party An-Nahda
could not obtain authorization for a rally in Algiers during the autumn. The
Socialist Forces Front also sometimes could not obtain authorization for party
rallies during the year. At various times throughout the year Interior Ministry
officials sought to gather names of political party activists, and sometimes
they summoned activists briefly to police stations to question them about their
The Rally for Youth Action was able to hold human rights
conferences in western Algeria and in the Kabylie region east of Algiers, but
police later detained its activists in Oran and Bejaia temporarily.
The Interior Ministry licenses all nongovernmental
associations, and regards all associations as illegal unless they have licenses.
It may deny a license to, or dissolve, any group regarded as a threat to the
existing political order. After the Government suspended the parliamentary
election in 1992, it banned the FIS as a political party, and the social and
charitable groups connected to it. Membership in the FIS is illegal.
According to a 1989 law, all citizens except judges, army,
and security service personnel, and members of the Constitutional Council have
the right to join political organizations. The Government was rewriting this law
late in the year to bar some other government employees in positions of
authority from joining political organizations. There were several political
groups, including some centrist Islamist parties, such as Hamas and Al-Nahdah,
which were able to conduct political activities, though not with complete
freedom. Other associations include specialized groups such as human rights and
women's rights groups, social welfare groups, and regionally-based cultural
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution declares Islam to be the state religion
but prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. The Government respects
this right in practice. It permits the small Christian and Jewish populations to
practice their faiths without interference.
The Government appoints preachers to mosques and gives
general guidance on sermons. The Government monitors activities in mosques for
possible security-related offenses.
Conversions from Islam to other religions are rare.
Because of security worries and potential legal and social problems, Muslim
converts practice their new faith clandestinely. The Family Code prohibits
Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although this is not always enforced.
The Code does not restrict Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women.
In 1994 the GIA declared its intention to eliminate Jews,
Christians, and polytheists from Algeria. The Christian community, composed
mostly of foreigners, curtailed its activities. Some church workers left the
country because of GIA threats. During 1996 the GIA kidnaped and killed seven
Roman Catholic monks in central Algeria. The Catholic Bishop of Oran also was
murdered at his home.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel,
Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for freedom of domestic and foreign
travel and freedom to emigrate. The Government generally respects these
provisions. It lifted the remaining nighttime curfew in
10 provinces in February. It has, however, placed some
journalists under "judicial control" that does not allow them to leave
the country (see Section 2.a.). In addition the Government does not allow
foreign travel by senior officials from the banned FIS. The Government also does
not permit young men who are eligible for the draft and have not yet completed
their military service to leave the country if they do not have special
authorization; this authorization can be granted to students and to those with
special family circumstances. The Family Code does not permit women under 19
years of age and boys under the age of 18 to travel abroad without their
husband's or father's permission.
Under the state of emergency, the Interior Minister and
the provincial governors may deny residency in certain districts to persons
regarded as threats to public order. The Government also restricts travel into
four southern provinces where much of the hydrocarbons industry and many foreign
workers are located in order to enhance security in those areas.
The police and the communal guards operate checkpoints
throughout Algeria. They routinely stop vehicles to inspect identification
papers and search for evidence of terrorist activity. They sometimes detain
persons at these checkpoints.
The GIA in February warned young Algerians of draft age
not to travel across the country on pain of death for collaboration with the
Government. Armed groups establish temporary roadblocks in various regions,
including the capital, to rob travelers of cash and vehicles or to kill them.
According to credible reports, they sometimes massacred groups of civilian
passengers at these roadblocks (see Section l.a.).
The Constitution provides for the right of political
asylum, and the Government occasionally grants asylum. The Government cooperates
with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and
other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. It also provided first
asylum. For example, it cooperates with the UNHCR on programs to help refugee
Sahrawis, the former residents of the Western Sahara who left that territory
after Morocco took control of it in the 1970's. The Government also has worked
with international organizations helping the Tuaregs, a nomadic people of
southern Algeria and neighboring countries. Some refugees came from Mali to
escape fighting in the northern part of that country. There were no reports of
forced expulsion of persons to a country where they feared persecution.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of
Citizens to Change Their Government
President Zeroual was elected in a November 1995
presidential election, officially winning 61 percent of the votes cast; there is
no elected legislature. The presidential campaign was generally freely
contested. Three opposition candidates representing a spectrum of viewpoints had
access to both the independent press and the government-controlled media,
including radio and television. Their parties were permitted to hold rallies
across the country, and they had authorization to send observers to polling
stations. There was an independent election commission to supervise the election
process, but the opposition parties complained that it did not carefully review
complaints it received about the conduct of the election.
Legislative elections have been announced for the first
half of 1997. The now-banned FIS and the Socialist Forces Front won a majority
of votes cast in the first round of the last legislative election in December
1991. In 1992 the Army forced the President to resign, canceled the second round
of parliamentary elections which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to
win, and installed a ruling five-man High State Committee, which banned the FIS
and jailed more of its leaders. In 1994 the military-backed High Council of
State appointed delegates to a National Transition Council, which still acts as
a surrogate legislature to ratify legislation proposed by the President. Some
opposition parties have representatives on the Council, but their numbers do not
reflect any proportional electoral base. Several opposition parties rejected the
President's offer to join the Council.
The President called a popular referendum in November to
amend the Constitution, and 79 percent of the voters approved the changes,
according to the Government. There were no independent observers at the polling
stations during the vote or the ballot counting. Political parties opposing the
constitutional amendments suffered occasional harassment by local government
officials and could not obtain access to the electronic media, which is
Under the new Constitution, the President has the
authority to rule by decree in special circumstances. The President must
subsequently submit to the Parliament for approval decrees issued while the
Parliament was not in session. The Parliament will henceforth have a popularly
elected lower chamber and a Senate, two-thirds of whose members will be elected
by municipal councils. The President will appoint the remaining one-third of the
Senate's members. Legislation must have the approval from three-quarters of both
the upper and lower chambers' members to be made law. Laws must originate in the
The President also proposed changing the law regulating
political parties. Under the proposed new law, parties will need official
approval from the Interior Ministry. To obtain approval, they will also have to
have 25 founders from across Algeria. Parties may not seek to utilize religion,
Berberism, or Arabism for political purposes.
The existing political parties represent a wide spectrum
of viewpoints and engage in activities ranging from holding rallies to printing
newspapers. However, they sometimes encounter difficulties when dealing with
local officials who hinder their organizational efforts (see Section 2.b.).
The Government monitored private telephone communications
and sometimes disconnected telephone service to political opponents for extended
periods (see Section 1.f.). Opposition parties have very limited access to
state-controlled television and radio, but the independent press publicizes
their views without difficulty (see Section 2.a.).
There is only one woman in the Cabinet, and there are few
others in senior government positions. There are several women on the National
Transition Council. About 25 percent of the judges are women, and this
percentage has been growing in recent years. Only about 1 percent of the
candidates in the 1991 legislative elections were women, and none of the four
candidates in the 1995 presidential election was a woman. However, a woman heads
a workers' party and a woman was the 1995 presidential campaign spokesperson for
one of the candidates. The major political parties have women's divisions. The
Government changed the electoral law in 1995 to ensure that women cast their own
ballots, rather than to permit their husbands or fathers to vote for them, as
frequently happened in previous elections. Women voted in large numbers in the
1995 presidential election.
The Government does not ban political participation by any
ethnic minority group. The Berbers, an ethnic minority centered in the Kabylie
region of Algeria, participate freely and actively in the political process. The
Berber-populated region of Algeria has given birth to two political parties, the
Socialist Forces Front and the Rally for Culture and Democracy. These two
Berber-based parties will have to conform with changes in the new party law that
stipulate that political parties have 25 founders from across Algeria.
Independent Berber associations tried in vain to obtain
approval to hold conferences about the Berber language in Batna in July and in
Ain Beinan in September. The local governor in the Berber city of Bejaia,
however, allowed a major rally in September (see Section 2.b.). The Tuaregs, a
people of Berber origin, do not play as important a role in politics, due in
large part to their small numbers, estimated in the tens
of thousands, and their nomadic existence.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding
International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human
The most active independent human rights group is the
Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) which has members
throughout Algeria. The LADDH president is a lawyer who speaks out publicly
about the general human rights situation. In 1996 the LADDH brought some cases
to the attention of the authorities without effect. The LADDH is not allowed
access to the authorities or to prisons beyond the normal consultations allowed
between a lawyer and client. Members of the LADDH have suffered harassment.
Telephone service of their President, for example, was intermittently disrupted,
and he and other LADDH activists received death threats from unidentified
There are two other human rights groups in Algeria. The
Algerian League for Human Rights (LADH), an independent organization based in
Constantine, is less active. The LADH has members throughout Algeria who follow
individual cases. It issued a report on the human rights situation in April. The
other organization, the National Observatory for Human Rights (ONDH), is a
government-affiliated body which was established by the Government in 1992. The
ONDH is mandated to report human rights violations to the authorities. It
prepares an annual report with recommendations to the Government. The 1996
report highlighted murders committed by terrorist groups but made no mention of
killings by government forces. It did, however, recognize violations of the law
regarding detention of prisoners. It also recommended that the Government reduce
the frequency with which it places journalists under judicial control (see
There is an Amnesty International (AI) chapter in Algeria,
but it does not work on cases in Algeria. An AI team of foreign human rights
monitors came to Algeria during the year. The team moved around freely; however,
it was not allowed to visit prisons. The Government has extended an invitation
to the U.N. Human Rights Commission Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial,
Summary, or Arbitrary Executions.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on birth,
race, sex, belief, or any other personal or social condition. However, women
continue to face legal and social discrimination.
Women's rights advocates assert that spousal violence is
common, but there are no reliable studies regarding its extent. There are no
laws to protect women from spousal rape or abuse. Battered women must obtain
medical certification of the physical effects of the attack before they lodge a
complaint with the police. According to women's rights advocates, fewer than
half of the women attacked visit doctors for such certification. They also
assert that the police and courts are lenient with men accused of beating their
wives. Women's rights groups had great difficulty drawing attention to spousal
abuse as an important social problem.
Some aspects of the law, and many traditional social
practices, discriminate against women. The 1984 Family Code, based in large part
on Islamic law or Shari'a, treats women as minors under the legal guardianship
of a husband or male relative. A woman must obtain a father's approval to marry,
for example. Divorce is difficult to obtain except in cases of abandonment or
the husband's conviction of a serious crime. Husbands generally obtain the right
to the family home in the case of divorce. Custody of the children normally goes
to the mother, but she cannot enroll them in a particular school or take them
out of the country without the father's authorization.
The Family Code also confirms the Islamic practice of
allowing a man to marry four wives--a rare occurence. However, a wife may sue
for divorce if her husband does not inform her of his intent to marry another
wife prior to the marriage. Only males are able to confer citizenship on their
Women suffer from discrimination in inheritance laws; in
accordance with Shari'a they are entitled to a smaller portion of an estate than
male children or even a deceased husband's brothers. Women under 19 years of age
cannot travel abroad without their husband's or father's permission (see Section
Social pressure against women pursuing higher education or
a career is strong. Women comprise only 8 percent of the work force.
Nonetheless, women may own businesses and enter into contracts; they pursue
opportunities in government, medicine, law, education, the media, and even the
armed forces. The 1990 Labor Law bans sexual discrimination in the workplace,
but Labor Ministry inspectors do little to enforce this law.
During the year, Islamic extremists often specifically
targeted women. For example, they killed wives of members of security forces and
female French language teachers (see Section 1.a.). Armed Islamist groups
reportedly kidnaped some young women in remote areas and kept them as sex slaves
for group leaders (see Section 1.c.).
There are numerous small women's rights groups. Their main
goals are to foster women's economic welfare and to amend aspects of the Family
Law. No such amendments have yet been passed.
The Government is committed in principle to protecting
children's human rights. It provides free education for children 6 to 15 years
of age and free medical care for all citizens--albeit in often rudimentary
facilities. The Ministry of Youth and Sports has programs for children, but
these face serious funding problems. Legal experts maintain that the Penal and
Family Codes do not offer children sufficient protection. Hospitals treat dozens
of cases of child abuse every year, but many cases are unreported. Laws against
child abuse have not led to notable prosecutions against offenders.
People with Disabilities
The Government does not mandate accessibility to buildings
or government services for people with disabilities. Public enterprises,
downsizing the work force, generally ignore a law that requires that they
reserve 1 percent of their jobs for people with disabilities. Social Security
provides for payments for orthopedic equipment, and some nongovernmental
organizations do receive limited government financial support. The Government
also tries to finance specialized training, but this remains rudimentary.
The Berbers are an ethnic minority, centered in the
Kabylie region. Berber nationalists have sought to maintain their own cultural
and linguistic identity while the Government's Arabization program continues. As
part of the National Charter signed in September, the Government and several
major political parties agreed that the Berber culture and language were one of
the components of Algerian identity. The Charter did not meet the demands of
some political groups that Berber be made an official language. In 1995 the
Government established a commission to study how to promote teaching of the
Berber language, and some elementary and high schools in the Kabylie region and
Algiers started teaching it. However, school administrations decided to suspend
these courses in September because they lacked qualified teachers and an
approved curriculum. There are professorships in Berber language and culture at
the University of Tizi Ouzou. The government-owned national television station
began broadcasting a brief, nightly news program in Berber in May. Berbers hold
influential positions in Government, the army, business, and journalism.
The Tuaregs, a people of Berber orgin, live a nomadic
existence and are relatively few in number.
Section 6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers have the right to establish trade unions of their
choice. About two-thirds of the labor force belongs to unions. There is an
umbrella labor confederation, the Union Generale Des Travailleurs Algeriens (UGTA),
which dates from the era of a single political party and its affiliated
entities. The UGTA encompasses national syndicates specialized by sector. There
also are currently some autonomous unions, such as a Syndicate of Air Algerie
Pilots, another for airport technicians, and another for teachers in the Kabylie.
Workers are required to obtain government approval to
establish a union. The 1990 Law on Labor Unions requires the Labor Ministry to
approve a union application within 30 days. Early in 1996 a second labor
confederation, the Autonomous Syndicates Confederation (CSA), tried to organize
the autonomous syndicates, but it did not gain wide support for this effort. It
made its application to the Labor Ministry in September 1995 but had not
received its approval by the end of 1996. It was allowed to function without
The law prohibits unions from associating with political
parties. The law also prohibits unions from receiving funds from foreign
sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal
activities. The labor union organized by the banned FIS, the Syndicate Islamique
Des Travailleurs (SIT), was dissolved in 1992 because it had no license.
Under the state of emergency, the Government is empowered
to require workers in both the public and private sectors to stay at their jobs
in the event of an unauthorized or illegal strike. According to the 1990 Law on
Industrial Relations, workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory
conciliation, mediation, or arbitration. This law states that arbitration
decisions are binding on both parties. If no agreement is reached in
arbitration, the workers may legally strike after they vote by secret ballot to
do so. A minimum of public services must be maintained during public sector
The UGTA staged a 2-day general strike in February to
protest the Government's decision to cut wages. This was the first nationwide
general strike since 1991, but there were approximately 400 local strikes in
1994 and about 200 in 1995. The number of local strikes appeared to decrease
further in 1996, but teachers in the Kabylie region staged a strike in
April, textile workers staged a strike in March, and the
pilots of Air Algerie held a series of strikes in August and September.
University teachers staged a strike that lasted from October through the end of
the year. With the exception of the pilots' and university teachers' strikes,
most work stoppages ended quickly with mediation between company management and
the unions. The Government did not invoke the state of emergency to block
strikes. Some companies, such as Air Algerie, filed injunction appeals in court
to prevent strikes. The courts upheld the companies' motions, and thereby denied
the right to strike in these instances, in apparent contravention of the law.
Air Algerie in September fired several dozen pilots who
went on strike in August. It claimed that it did so for financial reasons. Most
of the pilots' syndicate organizers lost their jobs. Air Algerie later offered
all strikers their jobs again, but only for 1-year contracts, providing much
less security than their previous permanent positions.
Unions may form and join federations or confederations,
affiliate with international labor bodies, and develop relations with foreign
labor groups. The UGTA, for example, has contacts with French unions and the
American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for collective bargaining for all unions.
The Government permits this right to be practiced. The UGTA engaged in several
rounds of negotiation with the Government over wage issues. It won concessions
in February talks over the issue of salary deductions and it represented workers
again in three-way discussions with the Government and business associations in
The law prohibits discrimination by employers against
union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union
complaints of antiunion practices by employers. It also permits unions to
recruit members at the workplace.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is incompatible with the
Constitution's provisions on individual rights. The Penal Code prohibits
compulsory labor, and the Government effectively enforces the ban.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The minimum age for employment is 16 years. Inspectors
from the Ministry of Labor enforce the minimum employment age by making periodic
or unannounced inspection visits to public-sector enterprises. They do not
effectively enforce the law in the agricultural or private sectors. Economic
necessity compels many children to resort to informal employment, such as street
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law defines the overall framework for acceptable
conditions of work but leaves specific agreements on wages, hours, and
conditions of employment to the discretion of employers in consultation with
employees. The Government fixes by decreee a guaranteed monthly minimum wage for
all sectors. The minimum wage is $87 (4,500 dinars) per month. Ministry of Labor
inspectors are responsible for ensuring compliance with the minimum wage
regulations, although their enforcement is inconsistent.
Algeria has a 44 hour workweek and well developed
occupation and health regulations codified in a 1991 decree. Government
inspectors do not enforce these regulations effectively. There were no reports
of workers being dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working
State Department Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996.