President Liamine Zeroual, a former general, was
elected in November 1995 to a 5-year term. Zeroual previously had served
as president of a transition government established by the army in 1994,
which included a National Transition Council (CNT) as a surrogate
parliament. 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. According to
government figures, Zeroual received 61 percent of the votes; losing
candidates claimed that there were instances of fraud but did not
contest Zeroual's victory. In a flawed referendum in November 1996, the
Government obtained approval of proposed changes to the Constitution,
including the provision of a second parliamentary chamber and greater
presidential authority. In June 1997, Algeria held its first
parliamentary elections since January 1992 and elected the first
multiparty Parliament in Algerian history. The cancellation of the 1992
elections, which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win,
suspended the democratization process and a transition to a pluralistic
republic, and escalated fighting, which still continues, between the
security forces and armed Islamist groups seeking to overthrow the
Government and impose an Islamic state. Provincial and municipal
elections also were held in 1997. The election campaigns were marked by
increased openness; however, international observers and political
parties pointed out numerous problems with the conduct of the elections.
Although President Zeroual was scheduled to remain in office until 2000,
on September 11 he announced publicly that he would resign upon
completion of multiparty elections to be held before the end of April
1999. The Government does not always respect the independence of the
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 in counterinsurgency and
counterterrorism operations and are under the control of the Government.
The security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses.
The economy is slowly developing from a
state-administered to a market-oriented system. The Government has
implemented successfully stabilization policies and structural reforms.
However, privatization of state enterprises and the restructuring of the
banking and housing construction sectors have just begun. Uncompetitive
and unprofitable state enterprises constitute 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
1998. The agricultural sector, which produces grains, fruit, cattle,
fibers, vegetables, and poultry, makes up 10 to 12 percent of the
economy. Algeria is a middle-income country; annual per capita income is
approximately $1,600. Officially, about 28 percent of the working-age
population is unemployed, and about 70 percent of persons under the age
of 30 can not find adequate employment. Some made a living from petty
smuggling or street peddling.
The Government's human rights record remained poor;
although there were improvements in some areas, serious problems remain.
Citizens do not yet have the effective right to change their government
peacefully. The security forces committed extrajudicial killings, were
responsible for numerous disappearances, routinely tortured or otherwise
abused detainees, and arbitrarily arrested and detained or held
incommunicado many individuals suspected of involvement with armed
Islamist groups. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that on some
occasions, from late 1997 continuing into January 1998, security forces
failed to intervene to prevent or halt massacres of civilians. HRW
claims that there were questions raised about security forces'
indifference to, or complicity in, civilian deaths. Prison conditions
are poor. Prolonged pretrial detention and lengthy trial delays are
problems. Although the Constitution provides for an independent
judiciary, executive branch decrees restrict some of the judiciary's
authority. Illegal searches and infringements on citizens' privacy
rights also remained problems. The Government censored news about
security information and the armed groups. The Government also continued
to restrict freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and
movement. During the 1997 legislative, municipal, and provincial
elections, there were credible reports of irregularities such as
government harassment of opposition party observers and fraud in
vote-tally procedures. The independent press commented openly and
regularly on the upcoming 1999 elections. The Family Code limited
women's civil rights, and domestic violence against women remained a
serious problem. Child abuse is a problem. In July the Government passed
a law that made Arabic the official language, leading to concern among
the Berber ethnic minority. Child labor is a problem.
Although the number of security incidents involving
armed groups and terrorists decreased significantly and became more
localized when compared with previous years, these opposition forces
committed numerous serious abuses and killed thousands of civilians.
Armed Islamists continued their widespread campaign of insurgency,
targeting government officials and families of security members, as well
as persons whose lifestyles they consider to be in conflict with Islamic
Armed groups continued to kill numerous civilians,
including infants, by massacres and small bombs. Armed Islamists
particularly targeted women; there were numerous instances of kidnaping
and rape. Bombs left in cars, cafes, and markets killed and maimed
persons indiscriminately. Some killings were also attributed to revenge,
banditry, and land grabs. There were estimates that as many as 7,000
civilians, terrorists, and security forces died during the year in
domestic turmoil, and that as many as 77,000 persons have been killed
during the past 7 years.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person,
Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were credible reports that security forces were
responsible for extrajudicial killings. In February Kamel Nachef, who
was being held in Tizi Ouzou on charges of supporting terrorism, died
while in police custody. In October the press reported that 27 prisoners
died of asphyxiation while being transported in a police vehicle from
one jail to another. 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. In April the Government claimed to
have investigated and arrested suspects in 128 separate cases of alleged
abuse by members of the security forces. However, the local press
reported that all but 7 of the 120 officers detained ultimately were
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that on some
occasions, from late 1997 continuing into January 1998, security forces
failed to intervene to prevent or halt massacres of civilians. HRW
claims that there were questions raised about security forces'
indifference to, or complicity in, civilian deaths.
According to press reports, in early January
government troops killed 35 civilians during a manhunt for the killers
of more than 400 villagers. There were also press reports that police
killed one rioter during protests after the killing of popular singer
Lounes Matoub by Islamic rebels.
Progovernment militias also killed civilians during
the year. In April the Government arrested the mayors of two
municipalities in the province of Relizane, along with several other
officials, on charges that they were responsible for the deaths of as
many as 77 villagers over a 5-year period. The mayors were given
suspended sentences and placed under "judicial control," a
practice that requires them to check in regularly with the local police.
In June the criminal court of Tizi Ouzou announced
the verdict in the case of a group of communal guards, tried on charges
ranging from arson to premeditated murder, for an August 1997 raid
against the homes of villagers known to be family members of terrorists.
Three villagers were killed, and several houses were burned during the
raid. The sentences ranged from 10 years' imprisonment to capital
punishment in absentia.
Armed groups targeted both security force members and
civilians. In many cases, terrorists randomly targeted civilians in an
apparent attempt to create social disorder. They carried out massacres
in numerous towns and villages and also massacred civilians at
roadblocks. They also used bombs to kill civilians and create panic. For
example, in August a bomb exploded in a neighborhood of Algiers, killing
19 persons and injuring 61 (also see Section 1.g.). In other incidents,
terrorists specifically targeted their victims as instruments of the
State or as individuals whose lifestyles they considered in conflict
with Islamic values. During January armed terrorists killed hundreds of
citizens. Among the worst instances were the massacres in the village of
Sidi Hammad and in a number of villages in the western province of
Relizane, in which it is estimated that as many as 126 civilians were
killed and 76 were wounded. In Sidi Hamad, many of the victims
apparently were killed when a bomb exploded in a room where a large
group was watching a video. In the village of Haouche Sahroui, persons
reportedly were killed as they left a mosque.
There were numerous massacres committed by rebel
forces. For example, in March attackers slit the throats of six persons,
including four blind women, in the village of Haouche Mean, south of
Algiers. In April 16 persons were killed--many of them in their
sleep--near Medea, 60 miles south of Algiers, and M'sila, 125 miles
southeast of the capital. At the end of the month, 40 persons were
massacred in a village in Medea province. In mid-May, suspected Muslim
rebels cut the throats of 22 persons, including 3 children, in Oran. On
May 27, rebels killed 11 persons, including 7 children, and wounded 5
others, in Melouane, Blida province. On June 25, Lounes Matoub, a
popular singer and supporter of the Berber cause, was killed at a false
roadblock on Beni Douala Road, southeast of Tizi Ouzou. The Armed
Islamic Group (GIA) claimed responsibility for the killing. The killing
occurred hours after another group slit the throats of 17 persons in an
isolated village. The death of Matoub led to protests and riots in
several cities. According to press reports, nearly 1,000 youths in Tizi
Ouzou stoned police; police responded with clubs and tear gas. Police
shot and killed one demonstrator and injured three others. In October
the Government announced the capture of five suspects alleged to be
members of the terrorist group GIA and responsible for Lounes' death. In
mid-October, Muslim rebels slashed the throats of nine persons in the
village of Hamma Bouziane. In late November, the press reported that up
to 200 skeletons, believed to be those of the victims of Islamic
guerrillas, were unearthed from mass graves in two wells 12 miles
southwest of Algiers. In early December, Muslim rebels slashed the
throats of eight villagers in Les Eucalyptus, 55 miles east of Algiers.
On December 10, an armed band killed 45 persons in Tadjena, about 125
miles west of Algiers. In mid-December, Muslim militants slashed the
throats of four villagers in Ahmer el Ain, about 35 miles west of
Algiers. At the end of December, 40 armed men killed 15 persons in the
village of Ain N'sour; most were stabbed to death.
During the year, no journalists or foreigners died in
A series of brutal massacres during Ramadan prompted
a request in February from the European Parliament for an investigation
by a U.N. Special Rapporteur. Claiming that the issue was one of
terrorism and not human rights, the Government refused the request on
grounds of national sovereignty.
In their final report, a six-member U.N. panel of
eminent persons noted that the Government had permitted it visits to
different regions of the country during its 2-week stay, including to
some sites where massacres had occurred. However, the panel was not
permitted to go to the area of Blida where a massacre had occurred 2
days before the panel's arrival.
There are credible reports of disappearances
occurring over a period of several years, many of which involved the
security forces. In September the Ministry of Interior established an
office in each district to accept cases from resident families of those
reported missing. By year's end, the Ministry had agreed to investigate
1,735 cases of reports of alleged disappearances at the hands of the
security forces. Families of the missing, defense attorneys, and local
human rights groups insist that the Government could do more to solve
the outstanding cases. The Government asserts that the majority of
reported cases of disappearances involve either terrorists disguised as
security forces or former armed Islamist supporters who went underground
to avoid terrorists' reprisals.
Terrorist groups kidnaped hundreds of civilians,
including family members of the security forces. Sometimes the mutilated
corpses of such victims were found later. However, in many other
instances the victims disappeared, and their families could not obtain
information about their fate. Armed Islamist groups reportedly kidnaped
young women and kept them as sex slaves (see Section 1.c.).
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
local human rights groups and defense lawyers, the police regularly
resort to torture when interrogating persons suspected of being involved
with, or having sympathies for, armed Islamists. There were several
credible reports of torture at the Algiers police facility called
There were reports that the police applied electric
shocks to sensitive body parts and sexually molested female prisoners.
There were no reports of the use of the torture technique "le
chiffon" during the year. Police beatings of detainees continue to
be a common practice. Many victims of torture hesitate to make public
allegations due to fear of government retaliation. The Interior Ministry
and the government-funded National Observatory for Human Rights (ONDH)
have stated publicly that the Government would punish those persons who
violated the law and practiced torture, but they have never revealed
whether any individuals accused of torture have been investigated and
The Government used force to break up several
demonstrations (see Section 2.b.).
There were unconfirmed reports that security forces
personnel were responsible for several rapes.
Armed Islamic groups also committed numerous abuses
such as beheading, mutilating, disemboweling, and dismembering their
victims, including infants, children, and pregnant women. These
terrorists also committed dozens of rapes of female victims, many of
whom were murdered thereafter. There were also frequent reports of other
young women being abducted, raped for weeks at a time, and effectively
held as sex slaves for the use of leaders and members of the group.
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 available, but is severely
In general, the Government does not permit
independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers. However, in
November the Government received a delegation from the International
Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC). Talks between ICRC representatives
and the Government resulted in agreement to conduct prison visits after
the 1999 elections. However, the Government refused the ICRC access to
military prisons and to several jailed FIS leaders. The Government
allowed the visiting members of a U.N. panel of eminent persons to visit
a prison in August, but denied them access to jailed leaders of the
outlawed FIS party (see Section 4).
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and
detention; however, the security forces continued to arrest arbitrarily
and detain citizens. The Constitution 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. In practice the security forces
regularly ignore this 12-day limit.
The chairman of the Government's human rights body,
the ONDH, confirmed to the press in May that the ONDH has proof that
some detainees are in a secret place of detention in the country. FIS
president Abassi Madani, who was released from prison in 1997, remains
under house arrest and is allowed to receive visits only from members of
his family (see Section 2.d.). The press reported that jailed
oppositionist and FIS vice president Ali Benhadj, who had been held
incommunicado since 1992, was permitted a family visit in October. A
number of lawyers who had defended suspects in security cases were held
in incommunicado detention during the year.
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, the police purposely arrested close relatives of suspected
terrorists in order to force those suspects to surrender (see Section
1.f.). Police and communal guards sometimes detain persons at
checkpoints (see Section 2.d.).
Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem. Persons
accused of crimes sometimes did not receive expeditious trials. Hundreds
of state enterprise officials arrested on charges of corruption in 1996
remained in detention.
Under the state of emergency, the Minister of
Interior is authorized to detain suspects in special camps administered
by the army. In 1995 the Government announced that it had closed the
last camp and released the 641 prisoners there. However, there were
subsequent allegations the camp still exists and that some of the
prisoners were re-arrested later.
Forced exile is not a legal form of punishment and is
not known to be practiced. However, there are numerous cases of
self-imposed exile involving former FIS members or individuals who
maintain that they have been accused falsely of terrorism as punishment
for openly criticizing government policies. One such case involves Ali
Bensaad, a professor at the University of Constantine, who remains in
exile in Germany after he was sentenced to death in absentia by the
courts for allegedly being a party to a terrorist act.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent
judiciary; however, in practice the Government does not always respect
the independence of the judicial system.
The judiciary is composed of the civil courts, which
try misdemeanors and felonies, and the military courts, which have tried
civilians for security and terrorism offenses. There is also a
Constitutional Council that 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 unconstitutional.
Regular criminal courts try those individuals accused of
security-related offenses, but there have been very few actual trials.
Some observers maintain that, as a result of the 1995 abolition of the
special security courts, long-term detentions without trial have
increased, as the security forces are reluctant to release suspects to
ordinary criminal judges.
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,
and continue to violate due process. Some lawyers do not accept cases of
individuals accused of security-related offenses, due to fear of
retribution from the security forces. Defense lawyers for members of the
banned FIS have suffered harassment, death threats, and arrest.
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 because of their
Islamist sympathies and membership in the FIS.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home,
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of
the home, but the state of emergency authorizes provincial governors to
issue exceptional warrants at any time. Security forces often entered
residences without warrants. Security forces also deployed an extensive
network of secret informers against both terrorist targets and political
opponents. The Government monitors telephones and sometimes disconnects
service to political opponents and journalists. Security forces detained
relatives of suspects to attempt to compel the suspects to surrender
(see Section 1.d.).
Armed Islamists occasionally entered private homes
either to kill or kidnap residents or to steal weapons, valuables, or
food. After massacres that took place in their villages, numerous
civilians fled their homes. Armed Islamist groups consistently used
threats of violence to extort money from businesses and families across
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of
Armed groups were responsible for numerous,
indiscriminate, nonselective killings. Terrorists left bombs at several
markets and other public places during the year, killing and injuring
dozens of persons. In rural areas, terrorists continued to plant bombs
and mines, often to prevent security forces from pursuing them following
an attack. For example, in February one bomb killed 18 persons and
wounded 25 others on a train south of Algiers, and another killed at
least 10 persons and wounded 16 on a bus south of the capital. Also in
February, one bomb in a café in Algiers killed at least three persons
and injured eight. In May a bomb killed at least 16 persons and wounded
61 in the Boumaati outdoor market in El-Harrach, a suburb of Algiers.
Also in May, a bomb concealed in a cow's carcass exploded in a market in
Khemis Miliana, 70 miles south of Algiers, killing seven persons. In
early July, a car bomb exploded in a market in Bab Ezzouar, a suburb of
Algiers, killing one person and injuring several others. Also in July,
another bomb exploded at a crowded market in a suburb of Algiers,
killing at least 10 persons and injuring 21 others. In August a bomb
exploded in downtown Algiers, killing 19 persons and injuring 61. In
September a bomb in Khemis killed at least 4 persons and wounded 15
others. In early December, a bomb in Ein Delfa, 80 miles west of
Algiers, killed 14 persons and injured 23 others. In mid-December, a
bomb exploded at a market in the town of Aflou, killing one person. At
the end of December, mortar shells and bombs hit the town of Khemis
Miliana, killing 15 persons and injuring 40 others.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech;
however, the Government restricts this right in practice. A 1990 law
specifies that freedom of 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. However, the
Government did not strictly enforce these regulations, and the
independent press reported regularly on security matters without
penalty. Reporting by government-controlled press organs frequently
included deflated numbers of civilians and government forces killed and
inflated terrorist casualty counts. In late 1997, the Government issued
a directive for the 1998 session of Parliament to take up debate on
proposed revisions to the law that would lift some restrictions on
journalists. However, Parliament had not completed its review by year's
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- controlled press service, APS. Compliance with the
government directive varied among independent newspapers, but there was
a trend during the year toward increased openness about security force
losses, and the Government provided the press with more information than
in the past about the security situation. The Ministry of Health
continued to forbid medical personnel from speaking to journalists. The
Government's definition of security information often extended beyond
purely military matters to encompass broader political affairs. 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 force.
Journalists at independent newspapers at times
avoided printing stories about the security situation and Islamist
groups in order to avoid difficulties with the Government.
There were no reports during the year that the
Government put journalists under "judicial control." In
previous years, the Government used this practice to harass journalists
who wrote offending articles by requiring the journalists to check in
regularly with the local police and preventing them from leaving the
country. The Government harassed journalists through the regular use of
criminal defamation statutes to prosecute newspapers for their
publications of news and opinions. In July journalist Kadi Ihsan was
arrested on his way to a human rights conference in Geneva. He was given
a 4-month suspended sentence for allegedly "threatening and
insulting" the editor of a progovernment newspaper. In October the
editor of Le Matin was given a 4-month suspended sentence and fined for
publishing articles that were critical of senior officials. In general,
journalists exercised self-censorship by not publishing criticism of
There are no Islamist newspapers in print due to
government pressure; however, legal Islamic political parties have
access to the existing independent press, in which they express their
The Government maintains an effective monopoly over
printing companies and newsprint imports. In October the Government
suspended several independent newspapers' access to the
government-controlled national printing press pending payment of costs
for newsprint and labor. The suspended newspapers, together with other
independent editors who joined them in a solidarity strike, ceased
publishing for several weeks. The Government insisted that the issue was
a commercial dispute. The independent press maintained that the
suspension was politically motivated and intended to obstruct
publications that were highly critical of specific officials.
The Government continued to exercise pressure on the
independent press through the state-owned advertising company, ANEP,
which was created in 1996. All state-owned companies that wish to place
advertisements in a newspaper must submit the item to ANEP, which then
decides in which newspapers to place it. In an economy in which state
companies' output and government services still represent approximately
two-thirds of national income, ANEP-provided advertising constitutes a
significant source of advertising revenue for the country's newspapers.
However, ANEP tends to provide significant amounts of advertising to
publications with a strong anti-Islamist editorial line and to withhold
advertising from those newspapers that undertake investigations of
corruption. This ANEP policy even applies to those newspapers that have
large readerships and may offer cheaper advertising rates.
Since 1995 the Brussels-based International
Federation of Journalists (FIJ), a nongovernmental organization (NGO)
concerned with press freedom, has maintained an office in Algiers. In
November the FIJ received government authorization to function
officially in the country for the first time. In March the World
Association of Newspapers (WAN) visited for 4 days to examine the
working conditions of the press. In October the Government permitted a
first-time visit by members of the Committee for the Protection of
Journalists and allowed them broad access to local journalists and
Radio and television remained under government
control, with coverage biased in favor of the Government's policies and
its party, the National Democratic Rally (RND). Parliamentary debates
are televised live. Satellite dish antennas are widespread, and millions
of citizens have access to European and Middle Eastern broadcasting.
Many artists, intellectuals, and university educators
fled Algeria after widespread violence began in 1992. Few returned
during the year. As a result, there were few academic seminars and
colloquiums, although there appeared to be many more in 1998 than in
1997. The Government did not interfere with nonpolitical seminars; it
did sometimes interfere with seminars that were more political in
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the right of assembly,
but the 1992 Emergency Law and government practice sharply curtail it.
Citizens and organizations must obtain a permit from the appointed local
governor before holding public meetings. In February the Government used
force to break up an unauthorized march against terrorism sponsored by
the Socialist Forces Front (FFS). In June the Government used force to
end a mass demonstration in downtown Algiers by the Rally for Culture
and Democracy (RCD) party to protest the death of Berber singer Matoub
Lounes (see Section 1.a.). In August the Government refused to grant
permission to the families of missing persons to stage a march through
downtown Algiers. However, the group assembled on a daily basis
thereafter for more than a week outside the headquarters of the ONDH
without government interference. In December the Government refused the
Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) authorization to
hold a public commemoration ceremony marking the 50th
anniversary of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights. The
Government has refused meeting requests by various public interest
groups, such as the Association of Victims of Terrorism, the National
Syndicate of Magistrates, and the Independent Syndicate of University
Professors. In October the Interior Ministry prohibited one of the large
youth associations from holding a national conference.
The Constitution provides for the right of
association, but the 1992 Emergency Law and government practice severely
restrict it. 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 with it.
Membership in the FIS is illegal.
According to a 1989 law, all citizens except judges,
army and security personnel, and members of the Constitutional Council
have the right to join political organizations. In 1997 the appointed
legislature changed the law regulating political parties, banning
political party ties to nonpolitical associations. The Government
permits some specialized groups to function such as human rights and
women's rights groups, social welfare groups, youth associations, and
regionally-based cultural organizations.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution declares Islam to be the state
religion but prohibits discrimination based on religious belief, and the
Government respects this right in practice. The small Christian and
Jewish populations in the country practice their faiths without
The Government appoints preachers to mosques and
gives general guidance on sermons. The Government monitors activities in
mosques for possible security-related offenses. The Ministry of
Religious Affairs provides some financial support to mosques and limited
control over the training of imams.
Conversions from Islam to other religions are rare.
Because of safety concerns and potential legal and social problems,
Muslim converts practice their new faith clandestinely. The Shari'a-based
Family Code prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although
this regulation 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 GIA has not yet
retracted that declaration, and, as a result, the mainly foreign
Christian community tends to curtail its public activities.
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; however, the Government at times
restricts these rights. The Government retains the policy of placing
journalists and others under "judicial control," which
prevents them from leaving the country (see Section 2.a.). On at least
two occasions, the Government prohibited groups of children who were
disadvantaged economically or the victims of terrorism from traveling
abroad for recreational purposes under NGO-sponsorship. The Government
claimed that the children would be exploited by the foreign media. Human
rights groups countered that the Government did not want the children
exposed to questions regarding government involvement in security
The Government does not allow foreign travel by
senior officials from the banned FIS. FIS president Abassi Madani, who
was released from prison in 1997, remains under house arrest (see
Section 1.d.). The Government also does not permit young men who are
eligible for the draft and who 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 individuals
with special family circumstances. The Family Code does not permit
married females under 19 years of age to travel abroad without their
husband's permission. The code also prohibits unmarried females below
the age of 19 or males below the age of 18 to travel abroad without
their 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
hydrocarbon industry and many foreign workers are located, in order to
enhance security in those areas.
The police and the communal guards operate
checkpoints throughout the country. They routinely stop vehicles to
inspect identification papers and to search for evidence of terrorist
activity. They sometimes detain persons at these checkpoints.
Armed Islamist groups intercept citizens at temporary
roadblocks in various regions to rob them of their cash and vehicles, or
to kill them. According to press reports, armed groups sometimes
massacred groups of civilian passengers at these roadblocks.
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 that help the Tuaregs, a nomadic people of southern
Algeria and neighboring countries. There were no reports of the forced
expulsion of persons to a country where they fear persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right
of Citizens to Change Their Government
Despite recent democratic improvements, citizens do
not yet have the effective ability to change their government
peacefully. The strong prerogatives of the executive branch, supported
by the entrenched power of the military and the bureaucracy, prevent
citizens from exercising this right.
President Zeroual was elected in a November 1995
presidential election, officially winning 61 percent of the votes cast.
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. An independent election commission supervised the
election process, but the opposition parties asserted that the
commission did not carefully review complaints that it received about
the conduct of the election.
Under the Constitution, the President has the
authority to rule by decree in special circumstances. The President
subsequently must submit to the Parliament for approval decrees issued
while the Parliament was not in session. The Parliament has a popularly
elected lower chamber, the National Popular Assembly (APN) and an upper
chamber, the National Council, two-thirds of whose members are elected
by municipal and provincial councils. The President appoints the
remaining one-third of the National Council's members. Legislation must
have the approval of three-quarters of both the upper and lower
chambers' members. Laws must originate in the lower house.
In June 1997, Algeria held its first elections to the
APN since the January 1992 elections were canceled, and elected the
first multiparty Parliament in the country's history. Candidates
representing 39 political parties participated, along with several
independent candidates. All competing parties and candidates were
allowed to campaign actively and had access to radio and television,
although there was some government manipulation of the broadcasts. Under
a system of proportional representation, the government party, the
National Democratic Rally, won 154 seats, followed by the Islamist party
Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP) with 69 seats, the National
Liberation Front (FLN) with 64 seats, the Islamist party An-Nahdah with
34 seats, the Berber-based Socialist Forces Front with 20 seats, and the
Berber-based Rally for Culture and Democracy with 19 seats. Independent
candidates won 11 seats, the Workers' Party won 4 seats, and 3 other
small parties won a combined total of 5 seats. Hundreds of international
observers were present throughout the country. Some observers were
refused access to certain provincial electoral commissions. Most
observers believed that mobile polling stations, about 5 percent of all
polling stations, did not furnish adequate protection of neutrality and
transparency. In their final report, neutral observers stated that, of
1,258 (of the country's 35,000) voting stations that they assessed,
1,169 were satisfactory, 95 were problematic, and 11 unsatisfactory. In
November 1997, the provincial election commissions announced the results
of their adjudication of the appeals filed by various political parties.
The RND lost some seats but remained the overall victor in the June
In 1997 the appointed previous legislature, the
National Transition Council (CNT), changed the law regulating political
parties. Under the controversial new law, parties require official
approval from the Interior Ministry before they can be established. To
obtain approval, a party must have 25 founders from across the country,
whose names must be registered with the Interior Ministry. No party may
seek to utilize religion, Berberism, or Arabism for political purposes.
The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and
regulates party financing and reporting requirements.
The more than 30 existing political parties represent
a wide spectrum of viewpoints and engage in activities from holding
rallies to printing newspapers. The Government continues to ban the FIS
as a political party. With the exception of the Government's party, the
RND, the political parties sometimes encounter difficulties when dealing
with local officials, who hinder their organizational efforts. In June
police summoned then-released Noureddine Boukrouh, leader of the Party
for the Renewal of Algeria (PRN), after 3 hours of questioning about his
criticism of members of the Government. Parties' complaints,
particularly claims of official favoritism toward the RND, increased
during the period leading up to the 1997 elections. 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, although the independent press
publicizes their views without difficulty. However, during the recent
election periods, opposition parties were given much more access to the
Women are underrepresented in government and
politics. There are only 2 women in the Cabinet, and there are few
others in senior government positions. Eleven of the 380 members of the
lower house of Parliament are women. About 25 percent of judges are
women, a percentage that has been growing in recent years. A woman heads
a workers' party, and all the major political parties except one have
women's divisions that are headed by females. Following the 1995
presidential elections, the Government changed the electoral law to
require that women cast their ballots in person rather than give their
proxy to their husbands or fathers.
The Government does not ban political participation
by any ethnic minority group. The Berbers, an ethnic minority centered
in the Kabylie region, participate freely and actively in the political
process. Two major opposition parties originated in the Berber-populated
region of the country, the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) and the Rally
for Culture and Democracy (RCD). These two Berber-based parties were
required to conform with changes in 1997 to the electoral law that
stipulate that political parties must have 25 founders from across the
The Tuaregs, a people of Berber origin, do not play
an important 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
The most active independent human rights group is the
Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, an independent
organization that has members throughout the country. The LADDH is not
allowed access to the authorities or to prisons beyond the normal
consultations allowed between a lawyer and a client. Members of the
LADDH have suffered harassment. Telephone service to the LADDH
president, for example, was intermittently disrupted, and he and other
LADDH activists received death threats from unidentified callers.
The less active Algerian League for Human Rights (LADH)
is an independent organization based in Constantine. The LADH has
members throughout the country who follow individual cases.
There is an Amnesty International chapter in the
country, but it does not work on cases in Algeria.
In February the Government denied a request from the
European Parliament to investigate a series of massacres on grounds of
national sovereignty (see Section 1.a.).
In August a six-member U.N. panel of eminent persons,
led by former Portuguese President Mario Soares, visited for 2 weeks to
assess the social and security situation in country. The panel traveled
to different regions, including several massacre sites, and visited a
prison. Its members heard from a cross-section of representatives from
the Government, political parties, civil society, human rights and
women's organizations, the media, religious institutions, the families
of victims of terrorism and of persons who had disappeared, and from the
general citizenry. The Government refused to allow any meetings between
the panel members and jailed leaders of the outlawed FIS party.
Among the conclusions in its final report, the U.N.
panel of eminent persons urged international support for Algeria's fight
against terrorism, while simultaneously reminding the Government that
its efforts to fight terrorism must take place "within the
framework of legality, proportionality, and respect for the fundamental
human rights of the Algerian people." The report also called on the
Government to grant more political openness and to strengthen and
invigorate Algerian institutions responsible for the promotion and
protection of human rights. The report further called on the Government
to "examine measures to improve the transparency of their
decisions, the dialogue with and the flow of information to the Algerian
The National Observatory for Human Rights (ONDH) was
established by the Government in 1992 to report human rights violations
to the authorities. It prepares an annual report with recommendations to
In 1995 the Government established a national
ombudsman (see Section 5).
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. The
Government named a national ombudsman in 1995. Provincial
representatives were designated in 1996 and 1997. They have a mandate to
accept individual grievances and to make them known to the authorities.
The ombudsman presents an annual report to the President. The 1997
report indicated that most complaints were about the allocation of
public housing; another common complaint was the bureaucracy's
unresponsiveness. Women continue to face legal and social
Women's rights advocates assert that spousal abuse is
common, but there are no reliable studies regarding its extent. Spousal
abuse is more frequent in rural than urban areas, especially among
less-educated persons. There are no laws to protect women from spousal
rape or abuse. Women's rights groups have experienced difficulty in
drawing attention to spousal abuse as an important social problem.
Battered women must obtain medical certification of the physical effects
of the assault 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. In August the Government released
figures that indicated that by midyear, the whereabouts of 319 women
remained unknown and that there were 24 reports by women of rape. Most
human rights groups believe that the actual figures are much higher. In
October a first-ever rape crisis center was opened in Tipasa province
for women who have been raped by terrorists.
Some aspects of the law, and many traditional social
practices, discriminate against women. The 1984 Family Code, based on
large part on Sunni Islamic law (Shari'a), treats women as minors under
the legal guardianship of a husband or male relative. For example, a
woman must obtain a father's approval to marry. Divorce is difficult to
obtain except in cases of abandonment or the husband's conviction for a
serious crime. Husbands generally obtain the right to the family's 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 affirms the Islamic practice of
allowing a man to marry four wives, although this rarely occurs.
However, a wife may sue for divorce if her husband does not inform her
of his intent to marry another woman prior to the marriage. Only males
are able to confer citizenship on their children. Muslim women are
prohibited from marrying non-Muslims; Muslim men can marry non-Muslim
women (see Section 2.d.).
Women suffer from discrimination in inheritance
claims; in accordance with Shari'a, women are entitled to a smaller
portion of an estate than are male children or a deceased husband's
brothers. Females under 19 years of age cannot travel abroad without
their husbands' or fathers' permission (see Section 2.d.). However,
women may take out business loans and are the sole custodians of their
dowries. Legally, if not always in practice, women have exclusive
control over any income that they earn themselves.
While social pressure against women pursuing higher
education or a career exists throughout the country, it is much stronger
in rural areas than in major urban areas. Women constitute only 8
percent of the work force. Nonetheless, women may own businesses, enter
into contracts, and pursue opportunities in government, medicine, law,
education, the media, and the armed forces. Although the 1990 Labor Law
bans sexual discrimination in the workplace, the leaders of women's
organizations report that violations are commonplace. Labor Ministry
inspectors do little to enforce the law.
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 Code, although no such amendments have been passed yet.
During the year, Islamic extremists often
specifically targeted women. There were numerous instances of women
being killed and mutilated in massacres. As many as 80 percent of the
victims of massacres were women and children. Armed Islamist groups
reportedly kidnaped young women and kept them as sex slaves for group
leaders and members (see Section l.c.).
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 numerous child
abuse cases every year, but many cases go 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, in downsizing the work force, generally ignore a law that
requires that they reserve 1 percent of their jobs for the disabled.
Social security provides for payments for orthopedic equipment, and some
nongovernment organizations receive limited government financial
support. The Government also tries to finance specialized training, but
this initiative 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 1996, the
Government and several major political parties agreed that the Berber
culture and language, Amazigh, were major political components of the
Algerian identity. In July the Government passed a law that made Arabic
the official language of Algeria and required, on pain of fines, that
all official government business be conducted in Arabic. The law also
requires that Arabic be used for all broadcasts on national television
and radio, for dubbing or subtitling all non-Arabic films, for medical
prescriptions, and for communications equipment. The law triggered
widespread protests in early July in Berber regions, including the
closing of shops and a call by the Berber Cultural Movement for Berbers
to stay indoors in protest.
There are professorships in Amazigh and Berber
culture at the University of Tizi Ouzou, and in September the University
started offering for the first time a degree in Amazigh and Berber
culture. The government-owned national television station began
broadcasting a brief nightly news program in Amazigh in 1996. Berbers
hold influential positions in government, the army, business, and
In June Matoub Lounes, a popular Berber singer and
outspoken advocate of the Berber language and culture, was killed when
his car was stopped under suspicious circumstances on a road in the
Kabylie region (see Section 1.a.). His death triggered massive riots by
Berbers who demanded the Government acknowledge Berber ethnic concerns.
The Tuaregs, a people of Berber origin, live an
isolated, 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 General Union of Algerian
Workers (UGTA) and its affiliated entities, which dates from the era of
a single political party. The UGTA encompasses national syndicates
specialized by sector. There are also some autonomous unions, such as
syndicates for Air Algeria Pilots (SPLA), airport technicians (SNTMA),
and teachers (CNES).
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. The Autonomous
Syndicates Confederation (CSA) has tried since early 1996 to organize
the autonomous syndicates, but without success. The application that the
CSA filed with the Labor Ministry still was pending at year's end,
although the CSA continues to function without official status. The law
prohibits unions from associating with political parties and 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 Islamic Syndicate of
Workers (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 strike
legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. A minimum level of
public services must be maintained during public sector service strikes.
In July the Journalists' National Union went on a
21-day hunger strike to protest relocation of their
government-subsidized office space from a downtown hotel to one well
outside of Algiers. The Union and the Government reportedly found a
mutually satisfactory solution to the problem. In October there was a
12-day strike by Air Algeria Pilots, which was joined by the UGTA and
the SNTMA. Other separate strike actions during the year involved
university teachers (CNES), telecommunications workers (PTT), and
Unions may form and join federations or
confederations, affiliate with international labor bodies, and develop
relations with foreign labor groups. For example, the UGTA has contacts
with French unions.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for collective bargaining for all
unions, and the Government permits this right in practice. 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.
The Government has established an export processing
zone in Jijel.
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, including by children, and the Government generally
enforces the ban effectively. However, armed Islamist groups reportedly
kidnap young women and keep then as sex slaves (see Sections 1.b., 1.c.,
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age
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 enforce the law effectively in the agricultural
or private sectors. Economic necessity compels many children to resort
to informal employment, such as street vending. The Government prohibits
forced and bonded labor by children and generally enforces this
prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.).
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 decree a monthly minimum wage
for all sectors; however, this is not sufficient to provide a decent
standard of living for a worker and family. On January 1, the minimum
wage was raised to $93 (5,400 dinars) per month. Ministry of Labor
inspectors are responsible for ensuring compliance with the minimum wage
regulation, however, their enforcement is inconsistent.
The standard workweek is 40 hours. There are
well-developed occupation and health regulations codified in a 1991
decree, but government inspectors do not enforce these regulations
effectively. There were no reports of workers being dismissed for
removing themselves from hazardous working conditions.
Source: U.S. State Department.