Algeria is a multiparty republic based upon a constitution and a
presidential form of government. The head of state is elected by popular,
secret vote to a 5-year term. The president has the constitutional authority
to appoint and dismiss cabinet members, as well as the Prime minister who acts
as the head of government. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was last elected in
1999, running unopposed after the other candidates withdrew on the eve of the
election citing voting fraud. Bouteflika is not formally affiliated with any
political party. The next presidential elections are scheduled for April 2004.
The country has a bicameral parliament consisting of the National People's
Assembly (lower house) and the Council of the Nation (upper house). All
members of the Assembly are elected by popular vote, while two-thirds of the
Council is elected by the local (state) assemblies and the remaining one-third
are appointed by the President. Elections were held for the Assembly in May
2002, followed by indirect elections in December for the Council of the Nation
that saw six Islamists elected for the first time. The military influences
defense and foreign policy and is widely believed to have influenced the
outcome of the 1999 presidential elections. In June, the military publicly
professed that it will remain politically neutral in the 2004 presidential
elections and new electoral reforms have eliminated military voting in the
barracks. Although the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, it
continued to be restricted by executive influence and internal inefficiencies.
The security apparatus comprises the army,
consisting of ground, naval, and air defense forces; the national gendarmerie;
the national police; communal guards; and local self-defense forces. All of
these elements were involved in counterinsurgency and counter terrorism
operations. The Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Interior oversee
the maintenance of order within the country. While the Government generally
maintained effective control of the security forces, there were some instances
in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government
authority. Some members of the security forces committed serious human rights
The country is transitioning from a
state-administered to open market economy. The country had a total population of
approximately 31.5 million. The hydrocarbons sector was the backbone of the
economy, accounting for approximately 60 percent of budget revenues, 46 percent
of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and over 95 percent of export earnings.
Unemployment was estimated at 30 percent, with even higher levels of
unemployment in the 20 to 30-year-old age bracket.
The Government's human rights record
remained poor and worsened in a few areas; however, important progress was made
in some areas. Aspects of the State of Emergency continued to restrict citizens'
right to change their government. There were fewer reports of security force
abuses. However, there continued to be problems with excessive use of force and
the failure to account for past disappearances. Short-term disappearances of
prisoners deemed "threats to national security" reportedly increased.
The incidence and severity of torture declined markedly; however, new
allegations continued. Security forces carried out extra-judicial killings and
civilian and military police arbitrarily detained persons. Arbitrary arrests and
incommunicado detention continued; most of these cases were committed in the
context of the Government's continuing battle with terrorism. The Government
routinely denied defendants fair and expeditious trials, and interference with
privacy rights remained a problem. Despite judicial reforms, prolonged pre-trial
detention and lengthy trial delays were problems. Defendants' rights to due
process, illegal searches, and infringements on citizens' privacy rights also
remained problems. The Government imposed new restrictions on freedom of
expression, and an increased willingness to implement them. The Government did
not always punish abuses, and official impunity remains a problem. Defamation
laws and government actions restricted the relative freedom of the print media;
however, the media continued to openly and regularly criticize the Government,
despite government reprisals. The Government continued to restrict, in varying
degrees, freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement during
the year. The Government also placed some restrictions on freedom of religion.
Domestic violence against women, the Family Code's limits on women's civil
rights, and societal discrimination against women remained serious problems.
Child abuse was a problem. Although the Government recognized the Amazigh
language as a national language, Tamazight ethnic, cultural, and linguistic
rights were the objects of demonstrations and riots and remained an undercurrent
of the political scene throughout the year. Child labor was a problem in some
sectors. The Government continued to restrict workers' rights by not officially
recognizing some unions.
The country is gradually emerging from
over a decade of civil strife between proponents and opponents of an Islamic
state. During that decade, actions by government authorities, insurgents and
terrorist groups, some of which have ties to al-Qa'ida, deprived citizens of
their fundamental right to security, created serious human rights problems, and
set back the country's transition toward a democratic system. Fighting during
the 1990s resulted in 100,000-150,000 estimated deaths. Fighting between
government forces and terrorist groups continued in some rural and mountainous
areas and the country formally remains in a State of Emergency status. However,
daily violence has declined and the situation in the country has improved since
the 1990s when persons regularly disappeared and were brutally killed.
Terrorist groups committed numerous
serious abuses and killed hundreds of civilians, including infants. Terrorists
continued their campaign of insurgency, targeting government officials, families
of security force members, and civilians. The killing of civilians often was the
result of rivalry between terrorist groups or to facilitate the theft of goods
needed to support their operations. Terrorist groups used violence to extort
money, food, and medical supplies. Terrorists left bombs in cars, cafes, and
markets, which killed and injured indiscriminately. Some killings, including
massacres, also were attributed to revenge, banditry, and land grabs. Press
reports estimated that approximately 1,162 civilians, terrorists, and security
force members died during the year, a 61 percent decrease in violent deaths from
2002. Official government statistics indicated that fewer than 900 persons were
killed. The violence occurred primarily in the countryside, as the security
forces largely forced the terrorists out of the cities.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of
Security forces committed extra-judicial
killings, mostly during clashes with armed terrorist groups. The Government
maintained that security forces resorted to lethal force only in the context of
armed clashes with terrorists. During the year, the press and the Algerian
League for Human Rights (LADH) a local non-governmental organization (NGO)
reported that security forces killed 31 civilians. The Government stated that,
as a matter of policy, disciplinary action is taken against soldiers or
policemen who are guilty of violating human rights, and that some disciplinary
action was taken during the year. In September, Ali Tounsi, the head of security
forces, announced that 2,269 gendarmes and 211 policemen had been dismissed over
the last 2 years for abuse of authority (see Section 1.d.). However, the
Government did not routinely release specific information regarding punishments
of military and security force personnel.
During 2001 and 2002, the majority of
civilian deaths at the hands of security forces occurred during protests in and
around the Kabylie region.
The gendarme responsible for the death of
a Kabylie youth that sparked the Black Spring rioting was tried in September
2002 by a military tribunal and sentenced to two years in prison for involuntary
homicide (See Section 1.d). Security forces kept a minimal presence in the
Kabylie region; however, unlike in previous years, there were no reported deaths
attributed to the security forces.
No action was taken in the March 2002 case
where hundreds of persons died in riots between gendarmes and protestors and the
April 2002 case in which numerous persons were injured and killed during street
battles between Kabylie protestors and riot police.
The National Assembly Commission released
during the year its report on the April 2001 demonstrations and riots in which
security forces killed as many as 80 persons. The report differed little from
the original account of the incident given by security forces. In reaction to
the National Assembly report's release, the Government issued financial
indemnities to the families of victims and detainees in addition to a
proclamation ordering the "draw down" of gendarmes during the year.
Both uniformed and civilian clothes police were deployed to minimize tension in
During the year, security forces killed
numerous suspected terrorists. On January 19, security forces killed 40 in an
operation designed to find the perpetrators of the Batna convoy attack (see
Terrorists targeted both security forces
and civilians. Civilian deaths attributed to terrorists decreased from 1,375
deaths in 2002 to 258 during the year. In many cases, terrorists randomly
targeted civilians in an apparent attempt to create social disorder. In other
cases, violent reprisals were reportedly taken against those who failed to pay a
"tax" to the terrorists. Terrorists killed numerous civilians,
including infants, in massacres and with small bombs (see Section 1.g.). Other
tactics included creating false roadblocks outside the cities, often by using
stolen police uniforms, weapons, and equipment. Some killings, including
massacres, also were attributed to revenge, banditry, and land grabs.
Press reports estimated that approximately
1,162 civilians, terrorists, and security force members died during the year as
a result of the ongoing violence, a decrease of 61 percent from the previous
year. The violence appears to have occurred primarily in the countryside, as the
security forces largely forced the terrorists out of the cities.
On February 25, terrorists killed 12
civilians and injured 7 at a false roadblock set up near Tipaza, west of
Algiers. The press reported it as one of the deadliest incidents in the country
since the start of the year. On June 5, armed terrorists killed 12 persons and
injured 2 near Khemis Miliana, west of Algiers, when the bus they were traveling
in stopped at a false roadblock. On May 27, in Ain Soltane, terrorists killed a
family of 14, including a 6-month-old baby, as they slept, after mistaking their
home for a police officer's residence.
Other similar incidents took place during
the year and from 1991-2002.
During the year, there were no
substantiated reports of disappearances in which the security forces were
implicated. However, local NGOs reported a trend of prolonged detention ranging
from 8 to 18 months that was frequently reported as a disappearance until the
person in question was returned to his or her family. These "new"
disappearances at the hands of security forces often differed in duration and
outcome from the disappearances that remain unresolved and that occurred in the
country during the first half of the 1990s. These incidents remained contrary to
the legal procedures stipulated in the country's Penal Code and its
During the year, Human Rights Watch (HRW)
reported two cases or persons who disappeared after being taken into custody by
the security forces. HRW reported that Kamel Boudahri remained unaccounted for
more than one year after he and his brother Mohamed were arrested in the city of
Mostaghanem on November 13, 2002.
HRW also reported that Abdelkader
Mezouar's whereabouts have been a mystery since July 2, 2002, when he was seized
by four men in plainclothes who came in an unmarked vehicle to the mechanic's
garage where he lives and works. Authorities have not acknowledged arresting
Mezouar. There were no developments in either case at year's end.
There have been credible reports of
thousands of disappearances occurring over a period of several years in the
mid-1990s, many of which involved the security forces. A Ministry of Interior
office in each district accepts cases from resident families of those reported
missing. Credible sources state that the offices provided little useful
information to the families of those who disappeared. The government did not use
DNA testing to identify victims, take appropriate measures to safeguard the
available evidence, or establish a satisfactory system for exhuming remains and
On March 31, the National Consultative
Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (CNCPPDH)
recommended the creation of an investigative Committee of Inquiry and a social
welfare network for families of the "disappeared." On September 20,
Farouk Ksentini, Director of the CNCPDDH, was named head of the Government's
newly created Ad Hoc Mechanism to deal solely with this issue, and as part of
the growing governmental acknowledgement for some responsibility in cases of
those who have disappeared. In subsequent public interviews, Ksentini described
the Mechanism as an interface between the Government and victims' families with
the authority to request information from governmental bodies in the course of
researching claims by family members concerning the disappearance of their
relatives, and possibly determine if compensation would be awarded to families.
Some local NGO groups that deal with the
issue of the disappeared severely criticized the Mechanism. They were not
invited to give any input related to its creation and claimed it could not
provide any guarantee of its independence and impartiality, and that it would
not determine responsibility for disappearances. HRW welcomed the Mechanism's
mandate to verify disappearances and compensate families; however, HRW noted
that it fell short of holding perpetrators accountable and bringing them to
justice. Ksentini stated that the Mechanism would forward any evidence of
responsibility to the judiciary for prosecution.
In 2001, the Minister of Interior told the
National Assembly that the Ministry had agreed to investigate 4,880 cases of
citizens reported disappeared. The Ministry reported that it provided
information to the families in 3,000 cases. In 1,600 of the cases, families
requested administrative action to obtain death certificates for their missing
relatives. There were no reported prosecutions of security force personnel
stemming from these cases. Families of the missing persons, defense attorneys,
and local human rights groups insisted that the Government could do more to
solve the outstanding cases. The Government asserted that the majority of
reported cases of disappearances either were committed by terrorists disguised
as security forces or involved former armed Islamist supporters who went
underground to avoid terrorist reprisals. In February, Ksentini stated in a
radio interview that if security forces had played a role in the disappearances,
it was due to "actions of individuals operating outside the scope of their
superior's orders," and not any one state institution.
The total number of disappeared in the
country continued to be debated. Officially, the Government has estimated that
approximately 7,200 persons were missing, or disappeared, as a result of
government actions and approximately 10,000 persons as a result of terrorist
kidnappings and murders. Local NGOs reported figures of the total number of
disappeared closer to 8,000. Amnesty International (AI) stated in its 2003
report that 4,000 men and women disappeared after arrest by members of the
security forces or state-armed militias between 1993 and 2000. On January 18,
during a national conference on the Disappeared sponsored by local NGOs, human
rights attorney Ali Yahia Abdenour placed the combined number of missing from
both categories, based on the testimony of family members, at 18,000, which is
similar to the official government estimation. On September 20, Ksentini stated
on national radio that he believed all the disappeared are dead. Some local
human rights NGOs continue to reject this claim.
The Government continued to threaten the
President of the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADH) with arrest after his
publication of witness-based information on security-force related
disappearances. Furthermore, the Government provided no information on whether
it would repeal the in-absentia death sentence of human rights activist
Sallahdine Sidhoum, imposed after his publication of more than 2,000 names of
the Disappeared on the Internet (see Section 4).
Terrorist groups continued to kidnap
scores of civilians. In many instances, the victims disappeared, and the
families were unable to obtain information about their fate.
During the year, four mass gravesites were
found in Sidi-Moussa, Tizi-Ouzou, Boufarik, and Relizane. In the first two
cases, the positioning of bodies and method of burial led government observers,
as well as the local NGO SOMOUD, to conclude that they were burial sites dug by
terrorist groups for deceased members of their respective organizations.
The Boufarik site was discovered in May
when water-pipes were being laid in the ground. According to the independent
press, the local fire chief responsible for the exhumation, said that the
remains of seven people were discovered, but dated back forty years ago.
On November 13, a suspected mass grave
site was discovered in Relizane and the personal effects of El Hadj Abed Saidane,
who disappeared in 1996, were identified. The family of Saidane accused and
formally filed a suit against Mohamed Fergane, the former mayor of the local
town and the head of a self-defense militia during Saidane's disappearance.
Fergane had previously been accused of being responsible for 212 forced
disappearances between 1994-97 by families of the disappeared. The Relizane
prosecutor's office agreed to conduct an investigation into this case.
In February, the GSPC kidnapped 38 foreign
tourists, releasing them after crossing into Mali 6 months later. The media
reported that one of the hostages died from exposure.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Both the Constitution and legislation
prohibit such practices; however, according to local human rights groups and
defense lawyers, police at times resorted to torture when interrogating persons.
The Penal Code provides that state agents using torture to obtain confessions
may face a prison sentence of up to 3 years. There continued to be reports of
police torture and other abuse of detainees during the year. AI and local NGOs
have stated that some persons died in custody from torture or were executed. The
U.N. Special Rapporteur for Torture noted that he received information alleging
a large number of persons continued to be tortured or ill-treated by security
forces. AI stated that it had received "dozens" of reports of torture
from former prisoners or those detained by security forces. The International
Red Cross noted a decrease in incidents of torture and that the severity of such
acts diminished, although it did not have access to military prisons. Local
human rights lawyers have also stated that the incidence and severity of torture
had diminished due to the overall decrease in terrorism nationwide, but not due
to a change in practice within the security forces.
The Government severely criticized the AI
report at the U.N., and it denied the veracity of reports of torture brought
before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights on the basis that formal complaints
had not been filed. The Special Rapporteur reminded the Government that it has a
responsibility to investigate all allegations of torture, even without a formal
complaint. Many victims of torture hesitate to make public such allegations due
to fear of government retaliation and a lack of physical evidence. Human rights
attorneys maintain that torture still occurs in military prisons, more
frequently on those arrested on "security grounds." Independent press
reports, AI, and local human rights groups report that the preferred method of
torture used by security forces includes beatings with fists, batons, belts,
iron bars and rifle butts, whipping, cutting with sharp objects, soldering irons
or cigarette butts applied to bare skin, attempted strangulation, and electric
shock. In April, the independent press reported that the chiffon method of
torture was a preferred method because it left no physical traces of assault. In
September, AI reported an increased number of reports detailing the usage of the
According to AI, in March a 42-year-old
restaurant manager from Bouira was tortured for 10 days at the military security
center in the Ben Aknoun quarter of Algiers, and forced to sign a statement,
while under duress, in which he "admitted" having links to armed
groups. Upon receipt of this document, the examining magistrate remanded him
into pre-trial detention. He is still awaiting trial, charged with belonging to
a terrorist group and "failing to denounce murderers."
No action was taken in the 2002 case in
which security forces allegedly tortured a shopkeeper in Surcouf or in which
security forces tortured four members of the political party Rally for
Democratic Culture (RCD) and their families.
In September, the director of the security
forces stated that 2,269 gendarmes and 211 policemen had been dismissed over the
last 2 years for abuse of authority, including arbitrary arrests (see Section
1.d.). On July 27, the Chief of the Gendarmerie Brigade of Ouled Rechache in the
wilaya of Khenchela slapped a citizen in the face for not leaving enough room
for the gendarmerie car to park. Demonstrations ensued next to condemn the abuse
of power, and the National Gendarmerie Command subsequently dismissed the
abusive officer the following week.
Security forces beat protestors during the
year (see Section 2.b.).
Prison conditions were spartan, but
generally met international standards. A local human rights activist noted that
the condition of prisons throughout the country were a result of overcrowding,
more than programmed or state-sponsored neglect. Poor medical standards for
prisoners received press coverage in October 2002, 6 months after nationwide
prison protests. However, the provision of medical treatment remained limited.
The media reported there was 1 doctor for every 300 prisoners. An international
NGO noted that the Government continued to improve prison conditions. Prisoners
generally were found to be in good health and benefited from adequate food and
expanded visitation rights.
On September 30, 40 prisoners in Serkadji
Prison in Algiers launched a hunger strike protesting the length of their
detention before trial.
On November 22, President Bouteflika
issued a presidential pardon to 3,080 prisoners on the occasion of the religious
holiday, 'Eid El-Fitr. Prisoners condemned for terrorism, rape, incest,
embezzlement, corruption, or drug trafficking did not benefit from the pardon.
Unlike in previous years, there were no
large scale prison riots that resulted in numerous deaths and injuries. In
general, the Government does not permit independent monitoring of prisons or
detention centers outside of programmed visits by the International Committee of
the Red Cross (ICRC). Limited monitoring consisted of pre-selected detainees,
chosen by the Government, being granted access to and meeting with various
international human rights groups. ICRC estimates it has visited one third of
the country's prison population. The ICRC did not visit FIS leaders or other
political leaders in prison or under house arrest.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary
arrest and detention; however, the security forces continued arbitrarily to
arrest and detain citizens, although reportedly less frequently than in previous
years. In a press conference held in September, Ali Tounsi, head of the security
forces, announced that 2,269 gendarmes and 211 policemen had been dismissed over
the last two years for abuse of authority, to include arbitrary arrests (see
Police are not required to obtain warrants
to make an arrest in accordance with the 1992 Antiterrorist Law or State of
Emergency. The Ministries of Justice and Interior told AI in April that at least
23 gendarmes had been prosecuted and sentenced in military tribunals for
"abusive use of firearms." However, the CNCPPDH told the AI delegation
that only one gendarme had been sentenced. The Government has not provided an
explanation for this discrepancy.
The Constitution provides that
incommunicado detention in criminal cases prior to arraignment may not exceed 48
hours, after which the suspect must be charged or released. However, the State
of Emergency allows the police to hold suspects in pre-arraignment detention for
up to 12 days, although police must inform suspects of the charges against them.
In practice the security forces generally adhered to the 48-hour limit in
Prolonged pre-trial detention remained a
problem. The law extended the period of pre-trial detention (a status assigned
to individuals after the examining magistrate has concluded that the case is
sufficiently strong to warrant court proceedings). Individuals accused of crimes
punishable by prison sentences of at least 20 years can legally be held in
detention while the Government continues its investigation. Additionally, the
State of Emergency provides for legal framework under which those accused of
"crimes considered terrorist or subversive acts" can be held for 36
months; and those charged of a "transnational crime" can be held in
prison for as many as 60 months while they await trial.
Hundreds of state enterprise officials who
were arrested on charges of corruption in 1996 remained in detention.
In 2002, Arouch Citizen's Movement members
Belaid Abrika, Mouloud Chebheb, Mohamed Nekkah, Mahklouf Lyes, Allik Tahar, and
Rachid Allouache were arrested and detained while attempting to follow the court
proceedings of Kabylie residents arrested during riots protesting the lack of
Government reparations for and resolution to the 2001 Kabylie Black Spring (see
Sections 1.e., 1.g., and 3). In October 2002, Abrika was charged with inciting
violence and held on a 4 month renewable basis until his trial. In December
2002, he and others began a 42-day hunger strike to protest their detention. In
August, six individuals and eight other Citizens' Movement activists were
released from pre-trial detention on "provisional liberty" as a part
of the Government's sporadic efforts to broker a dialogue with the Arouch
Citizen's Movement following the 2001 Kabylie Black Spring (see Section 1.g.).
On December 29, the public prosecutor's office ordered the lifting of movement
restrictions against those found guilty of rioting during the Black Spring of
2001. Accused individuals no longer need permission to leave the province
boundaries nor report in to a local police station on a weekly basis.
In August, 60 Kabylie-based political
activists were released from pre-trial detention after serving months in prison
on public order charges. Released on provisional liberty, they continued to
await a trial date at year's end.
During the year, the Government did not
respond to a 2002 formal complaint lodged by RCD members for the 3-day detention
of a party member without formal charges.
On July 2, Abassi Madani, President of the
banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) party, released from prison in 1997, was
granted provisional liberty after 6 years of house arrest. The Government issued
him a passport in late August and Madani was allowed to travel abroad in early
September. A condition of his provisional liberty precludes him from making
media statements; he has done so frequently while under house arrest and from
abroad with little or no government retaliation.
On July 2, the Government granted jailed
oppositionist and FIS vice president Ali Belhadj provisional liberty and
released him from prison despite his refusal to sign a statement of
understanding agreeing to restrict his freedom of expression, ability to seek
public office, and right to vote. Belhadj has made statements to foreign press
entities since his release and delivered public sermons. He has been summoned to
the Kouba police precinct after each occurrence, and interrogated by security
forces and local police.
Police and communal guards frequently
detained persons at checkpoints. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports
of police arresting close relatives of suspected terrorists in order to force
the suspects to surrender. Reports of such occurrences remained difficult to
verify. There were no further developments in the 2000 case of 73-year-old El-Hadj
M'lik, who remains missing.
Neither the Constitution nor the law
provides for forced exile and it was not known to occur. However, numerous cases
of self-imposed exile involved former FIS members or persons who maintained that
they have been accused falsely of terrorism as punishment for openly criticizing
government policies. The UNCHR also noted an increase in human rights defenders
seeking international protection from reprisals by security forces or local
militia groups accused of committing human rights abuses.
In April, officials in the Ministry of
Justice and the President of CNCPPDH gave AI conflicting reports of the number
of gendarmes tried for human rights abuses related to the 2001 Kabylie Black
Spring. The number of gendarmes reportedly facing charges ranged from 1 to 24. A
military tribunal sentenced the gendarme responsible for killing Guermah
Massinissa, an event which sparked the 2001 Kabylie riots, to 2 years for
involuntary homicide. The Penal Code allows for individuals taken into police
custody to serve a maximum period of 12-days in detention before they are
granted an audience with an examining magistrate. Detainees must be informed of
their right to communicate immediately with family members, receive visitors,
and be examined by a doctor of their choice at the end of their detention in the
"garde a vue" (equivalent to a pre-trial holding cell). However, there
have been frequent reports of these rights not being extended to detainees, and
in some cases, local NGOs and human rights attorneys noted that the detention
period extended beyond the legal limit, in one instance for 23 days (see Section
Local judges are required to grade the
performance of Police Judiciaire (PJ) officers operating in their jurisdiction
to ensure that the officers comply with the law in their treatment of suspects.
In addition, any suspect held in preventative detention is to undergo a medical
examination at the end of the detention, whether the suspect requests it or not.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an
independent judiciary; however, executive branch decrees restricted the
judiciary's authority. The Minister of Justice appoints judges who serve 10-year
terms. The Minister of Justice may, according to the Constitution, remove judges
for violations of the law or if they are involved in a situation that
jeopardizes the reputation of justice. In 2000, the President massively
reorganized the judiciary by reassigning large numbers of judges to different
courts. The Government sought international technical assistance with the reform
of its judiciary during the year, in many instances funded in full by the
Government. The legislature undertook significant legislative reforms to revise
the role and power of the judiciary, granting more authority, for instance to
prosecutors; a reorganization of the courts to provide more specialized courts
like a police, administrative, and commercial court; a top to bottom review of
the civil and penal codes; and establishing penitentiary reforms that focus on
The judiciary is composed of the civil
courts, which tried cases involving civilians, and the military courts, which
have tried civilians on security and terrorism charges. There is also 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 unconstitutional, confirms the results of any
type of election, and is the final arbiter of amendments that pass both chambers
of the parliament before becoming law. The Council has nine members: three of
the members (including the council president) are appointed by the President;
two are elected by the upper house of the Parliament; two are elected by the
lower house of the Parliament; one is elected by the Supreme Court; and one is
elected by the Council of State. Regular criminal courts try those persons
accused of security-related offenses. Long-term detentions of suspects awaiting
trial again appeared to increase from the previous year (see Section 1.d.).
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 did not always respect all
legal provisions regarding defendants' rights, and continued to deny due
process. Accused terrorists were tried in absentia on at least two occasions
during the year. Some lawyers did not accept cases of defendants' accused of
security-related offenses, due to fear of retribution from the security forces.
Defense lawyers for members of the banned FIS suffered harassment, death
threats, and arrest. An unknown number of persons who could be considered
political prisoners were serving prison sentences because of their sympathies
with Islamist groups and membership in the FIS. International human rights
groups did not request visits with political prisoners during the year;
therefore it was unclear whether the Government would permit such organizations
to visit political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy,
Family, Home or Correspondence
The Constitution provides for the
inviolability of the home; however, authorities frequently infringed on
citizens' privacy rights. The State of Emergency authorizes provincial governors
to issue exceptional warrants at any time. Security forces also entered
residences without warrants in accordance with the 1992 State of Emergency.
According to defense attorneys, police who executed searches without a warrant
routinely failed to identify themselves as police and abused persons who asked
Security forces deployed an extensive
network of secret informers against both terrorist targets and political
opponents. The Government actively monitored the telephone lines of political
opponents, journalists, and human rights groups (see Section 4). There were no
reports that police arrested close relatives of suspected terrorists to force
the suspects to surrender.
Some local human rights activists and NGOs
claimed that the Government continued to keep some former prisoners under
surveillance and required them to report periodically to police.
Armed terrorists entered private homes either to kill or kidnap residents or to
steal weapons, valuables, or food (see Section 1.a.). After massacres that took
place in their villages, numerous civilians fled their homes. Armed terrorist
groups consistently used threats of violence to extort money from businesses and
families across the country.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties,
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of
speech and press; however, the Government restricted these rights in practice.
The Penal Code imposed high fines and prison terms of up to 24 months for
defamation or "insult" of government figures, including the President,
members of Parliament, judges, members of the military and "any other
authority of public order." Those convicted face prison sentences that
range from 3 to 24 months and fines of $715 to 7,150 (50,000 to 500,000 dinars).
During the year, at least 96 prosecutions occurred under the Penal Code.
The law specifies that freedom of speech
must respect "individual dignity, the imperatives of foreign policy, and
the national defense." The State of Emergency decree gives the Government
broad authority to restrict these freedoms and to take legal action against what
it considers to be threats to the state or public order. These regulations were
applied throughout the year, and in some instances appeared to target specific
media organizations and their staff. The number of independent press
publications prosecuted or fined for reporting on security matters continued to
increase from the previous year. The 2002 proposal to have fledgling newspapers
screened by the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Justice, as opposed to
the Ministry of Communication and Culture remained unimplemented. In general
journalists exercised self-censorship by not publishing criticism of specific
senior military officials, although during the year, the press widely criticized
current and retired military officers. In August, the Government overtly used
its power to halt newspaper publications and actively attempted to curtail local
media criticism of high-ranking government officials, including President
The country's independent media consists
of nearly 40 publications that support or oppose the Government in varying
degrees. Few papers have a circulation that exceeds 15,000, making the degree to
which they are both financially and editorially independent questionable. El
Moudjahid remains the sole state-owned paper. There were no newspapers owned by
political parties, although Liberte, L'Expression, L'Autentique, and El-Borhane
continued to report from an ideological perspective. Many parties, including
legal Islamic political parties, had access to the independent press, in which
they expressed their views without government interference. Opposition parties
also disseminated information via the Internet and in communiqués.
Algerian radio and television were
government owned, with coverage favoring President Bouteflika and the
Government's policies. Opposition candidates were prevented from appearing on
television or radio during the last quarter of the year in anticipation of the
2004 presidential elections.
Satellite-dish antennas were widespread,
and millions of citizens had access to European and Middle Eastern broadcasting.
The Government, on occasion, enforces restrictions on the publication of some
books related to Tamazight and Amazigh culture through an increased reliance on
bureaucratic hurdles. Government-owned radio continued to broadcast Tamazight
language programming and government-owned television broadcasts a nightly news
bulletin in this language.
The law permits the Government to levy
fines and jail time against the press in a manner that restricts press freedom.
However, in practice the existence of such did little to curb independent press
reporting. Journalists were repeatedly subject to harassment, intimidation, or
violence by police. During the past decade, terrorists and in some instances,
security forces, frequently targeted the local media for supporting one side
over the other.
In May, satirical political cartoonist for
Liberte, Ali Dilem, was sentenced to a 6-month suspended jail sentence for
defamation. The Ministry of National Defense sued Dilem, his editor, and the
owner of the French independent daily paper Liberte on behalf of General
Mohammed Lamari, alleging personal insult and defamation. On December 23, Dilem,
received a suspended sentence of 4-months and fined $1,428 (100,000 dinars) for
a cartoon criticizing the army published in April 2002. His publishing director
and editor, Abrous Outoudert and Hacene Ouanndjeli, respectively were both fined
$714 (50,000 dinars).
On December 27, police summoned
anti-corruption writer for Le Soir d'Algeri, Djilali Hadadj, on charges of
In December, a regional court released
journalist Hassan Bouras, an anti-corruption writer who had been sentenced to 2
years on a prison farm and a 5 year ban from working as a journalist on
defamation charges against the El-Bayadh prosecutor, whom he reported was
involved with corruption scandals.
In 2002, two journalists were brought
before the court and censured for reporting on security force tactics used
against terrorists in mountainous areas. A television journalist with National
Radio and Television (RTN) was refused accreditation without explanation and
barred from covering the October 2002 local elections. Despite inquiries on his
behalf by RTN and other interested parties, the grounds of the refusal were not
made public. There was no update in his case at year's end.
The Government continued to exercise
pressure on the independent press through the state-owned advertising company
which determined which independent newspapers could benefit from advertisements
placed by state-owned companies. Advertising companies tended to provide
significant amounts of advertising to publications with a strong anti-Islamist
editorial line and to withhold advertising from newspapers on political grounds,
even if such newspapers had large readerships or offered inexpensive advertising
Despite a Government printing ban that
targeted six papers during the summer, the independent press continued to
comment regularly and openly, and expressed a wide range of views on significant
issues such as presidential policies, political developments, terrorist
violence, and surrenders under the amnesty program. However, some elements of
the news media practiced self-censorship.
According to a 1994 inter-ministerial
decree, independent newspapers may print security information only from official
government bulletins carried by the government-controlled Algerian Press Service
(APS). However, independent newspapers openly ignored the directive, and the
trend toward increased openness on security force activities continued. The
Government provided the press with more information about the security situation
than in the past through increased communiqués. During the year, the Army also
began to issue more communiqués to the press and occasionally invited
journalists to the sites of confrontations with terrorists. The
government-controlled press reported on terrorism in an increasingly
straightforward and factual manner.
Most independent newspapers, continued to
rely on the Government for printing presses and newsprint. On August 18, the
government printing press refused to print five newspapers and supply newsprint
stock to one other on the grounds of overdue debts. The Government called in the
debts of French independent dailies Le Matin, Liberte, El Watan, and
L'Expression and Arabic independent dailies Errai and El Khabar after the close
of business and at the close of the work-week, announcing that each newspaper
had 48 hours to pay delinquent bills. The majority of the targeted papers
remained closed for 15 days. All resumed publishing by September 5, except the
Arabic-language daily Errai.
The Government imposed restrictions on the
international media's coverage of issues relating to "national security and
terrorism." Over the course of 3 days in July, the Government deported four
journalists for their coverage "outside of their hotel rooms" of
released political prisoners Ali Belhadj and Abassi Madani. The Government
threatened similar action against others who violated the guidelines of the
Ministry of Communication communiqué forbidding media coverage of the
prisoners' release (see Section 1.d.).
Unlike in previous years, the independent
press reported openly about the Government's use of wiretaps, allegations of
torture, government corruption, and human rights abuses related to the Kabylie
region. There also was significant coverage of NGO activity aimed at publicizing
government abuses committed in the past.
The Government continued a 2002
administrative ban, throughout the Ministries of Energy, Interior, Labor,
Finance, and Justice, on the distribution of the newspapers Liberte, Le Matin,
Le Soir, and El -Youm, for being critical of the Government.
The Government's definition of security
information often extended beyond purely military matters to encompass broader
political affairs. A 1995 ban barring FIS officials from making public
statements remained in force at year's end.
The Government did not restrict academic
freedom. Many artists, intellectuals, and university educators fled the country
after widespread violence began in 1992; however, during the year, some
continued to return. A growing number of academic seminars and colloquiums
occurred without governmental interference. There were extensive visa issuance
delays to international participants and refusal to allow international experts
into the country (see Section 4).
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and
The Constitution provides for the right of
assembly; however, the Emergency Law and government practice sharply curtailed
this right. Citizens and organizations were required to obtain permits from the
appointed local governor before holding public meetings. The Government
frequently granted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold
indoor rallies, although licenses were frequently granted days before events
were to take place, often impeding event publicity and outreach.
A 2-year old decree continued to ban
demonstrations in Algiers. On March 13, members of the political party, Movement
for a Peaceful Society (MSP), attempted a march towards the Presidency building
in protest over the Government's lack of support for the Iraqi people. The
police used force to break up the march.
However, the Government tolerated numerous
marches, protests, and demonstrations during the year in other parts of the
country. Gatherings occurred without government interference on the dual
anniversary of the 2001 Kabylie Black Spring and 1980 Amazigh Spring and during
the war in Iraq. However, in other instances, security forces used force to
curtail or suppress public demonstrations, although the severity of force used
declined significantly from 2001. The 2002 ban on public demonstrations in the
communes on the outskirts of Tizi Ouzou remained in place.
In January, security forces utilized
armored personnel carriers to disperse revelers celebrating the Berber New Year
on the streets of Tizi Ouzou.
Between March 8 and April 19, security
forces, consisting of plains-clothed police officers, local police forces, and
gendarmerie, used force to curtail demonstrations protesting war in Iraq.
Demonstrators were arrested, journalists had video and recording equipment
confiscated, and protesters sustained numerous serious injuries due attributed
to police tactics.
No action was taken against security
forces who used excessive force to disperse demonstrators in 2002 and 2001.
The Constitution provides for the right of
association; however, the Emergency Law and government practice severely
restricted it. The Interior Ministry must approve all political parties before
they may be established (see Section 3). The Government restricted the
registration of certain NGOs, associations, and political parties on
"security grounds," but refused to provide evidence or legal grounds
for its refusal to authorize other organizations that could not be disqualified
under articles pertaining to national security. The Government frequently failed
to grant official national recognition to NGOs, associations, and political
parties in an expeditious fashion. Some NGOs reported that local registration
was more easily attained. Some groups continue to be active without official or
legal recognition, but bureaucratic delays hindered their freedom of association
and assembly (see Section 3). The Government issued licenses to domestic NGOs.
The Interior Ministry regarded those unable to attain government licensure as
illegal. Domestic NGOs were prohibited from receiving funding from abroad,
although this was subjectively enforced. The Ministry may deny a license to, or
dissolve, any group regarded as a threat to the Government's authority, or to
the security or public order of the State. After the Government suspended the
parliamentary election in 1992, it banned the FIS as a political party, and the
social and charitable groups associated with it (see Section 3).
Membership in the FIS remained illegal,
although at least one former FIS leader announced publicly in 2002 that he
intended to form a cultural youth group. Some unlicensed groups operated openly,
including groups dedicated to the cause of persons who have disappeared. Such
groups continued to hold regular demonstrations outside government buildings
during the year, with minimal government interference.
In mid-July in Oran, supporters and
members of the human rights NGO SOS Disparus were forcibly dispersed during a
protest seeking government redress of the question of the disappeared. Sixty
persons were arrested, and police injured numerous individuals, including many
women over the age of 40.
On September 17, police forces in Algiers
arrested and physically assaulted Arouch delegate, Belaid Abrika, during the
breakup of a public rally before the Court of Algiers held to protest government
actions against the independent press (see Sections 2.a. and 2.b.). Abrika was
taken into custody and after refusing to state his name, beaten so severely that
upon release, doctors at Mustapha Hospital ordered him to undergo 21 days of bed
rest. At the same rally, police detained a noted human rights attorney. Credible
sources report that three police officers had to be pulled off of the individual
once witnessing officers recognized him.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution prohibits discrimination
based on religious belief and the Government generally respected this right in
practice; however, there were some restrictions. The Constitution declares Islam
to be the state religion and the law limits the practice of other faiths;
however, the Government in practice seldom interferes with the religious
activities of non-Muslims.
The law prohibits public assembly for
purposes of practicing a faith other than Islam. However, Roman Catholic
churches, including a cathedral in Algiers (the seat of the Archbishop),
conducted services without government interference, as does a Protestant church.
There were only a few smaller churches and other places of worship; non-Muslims
usually congregated in private homes for religious services.
The study of Islam is a strict requirement
in public schools, which are regulated by the Ministry of Education and the
Ministry of Religious Affairs. The Government monitored activities in mosques
for possible security-related offenses, barred their use as public meeting
places outside of regular prayer hours, and convoked imams to the Ministry of
Religious Affairs for "disciplinary action" when deemed appropriate.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs provided financial support to mosques and has
limited control over the training of imams. The Ministry of Religious Affairs
frequently appointed selected imams to mosques throughout the country, and by
law is allowed to pre-screen religious sermons before they are delivered
publicly. In practice, while the Government frequently reviewed sermons, the
press reported that mosques supplanted government-appointed imams with those
that hold views more closely aligned to the sentiments of each mosques'
The Penal Code provides prison sentences
and fines for preaching in a mosque by persons who have not been recognized by
the Government as imams. Persons (including imams recognized by the Government)
were prohibited from speaking out during prayers at the mosque in a manner that
was "contrary to the noble nature of the mosque or likely to offend the
cohesion of society or serve as an apology for such actions." The
Government sanctioned a number of imams for inflammatory sermons following the
May 21 earthquake.
While Islamic law and tradition prohibit
conversion to other faiths at any age, the Constitution's provisions concerning
freedom of religion bar any Government sanction against conversion, though
conversions from Islam to other religions were rare. Because of safety concerns
and potential legal and social problems, Muslim converts practiced their new
faith clandestinely. Non-Islamic proselytizing is illegal, and the Government
restricted the importation of non-Islamic religious literature for widespread
distribution, although not for personal use. Non-Islamic religious texts and
music and video selections no longer were difficult to locate for purchase.
However, restrictions on the importation of Arabic and Tamazight-language
translations of non-Islamic texts were periodically enforced. The
government-owned radio station provided broadcast time to a Protestant radio
broadcast. The Government prohibits the dissemination of any literature
portraying violence as a legitimate precept of Islam.
The country's 11-year history has pitted
self-proclaimed radical Muslims against the general Islamic population.
Self-proclaimed "Islamists," or religious extremists issued public
threats against all "infidels" in the country, both foreigners and
citizens, and used terrorism to kill both Muslims and non-Muslims, including
missionaries. The majority of these individuals did not, as a rule,
differentiate between religious and political killings.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2003
International Religious Freedom Report.
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
restricted these rights. Abassi Madani, the former head of the banned FIS party,
was allowed to travel internationally for the first time since he was placed
under house arrest in 1997 (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; such authorization may be granted to students and to those
persons with special family circumstances. The Government prevented certain
members of the Arouch Citizen's Movement from traveling into Tunisia, and its
use of "provisional liberty" against recently released Arouch-detainees
and the editor of French-language independent daily Le Matin significantly
curbed these individuals rights to travel freely, in circumvention of domestic
law. However, movement restrictions placed on the Arouch were lifted as part of
a government-Kabylie dialogue to overcome the political tensions in that region
(see Section 1.d.).
The Family Code does not permit married
females less than 18 years of age to travel abroad without their husband's
permission; however, this provision generally was not enforced in practice (see
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 restricted
travel into four southern provinces, where much of the hydrocarbon industry and
many foreign workers were located, to enhance security in those areas.
The police and the communal guards
operated checkpoints throughout the country. They routinely stopped vehicles to
inspect identification papers and to search for evidence of terrorist activity.
They sometimes detained persons at these checkpoints.
Armed groups intercepted citizens at
roadblocks, often using stolen police uniforms and equipment in various regions
to rob them of their cash and vehicles. On occasion, armed groups killed groups
of civilian passengers at these roadblocks (see Section 1.a.).
The law provides for the granting of
refugee status or asylum to persons who meet the definition in the 1951 U.N.
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. In
practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement and granted
refugee status and asylum. There were no reports of the forced return of persons
to a country where they feared persecution. The country also hosts an estimated
5,000 Palestinian refugees, most of whom no longer require international
assistance. During the year, the Government provided temporary protection to
approximately 165,000 refugee Sahrawis, former residents of the Western Sahara
who left that territory after Morocco took control of it in the 1970s. UNHCR,
the World Food Program (WFP), the Algerian Red Crescent, and other organizations
assisted Sahrawi refugees. The Government cooperates with the office of the U.N.
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights:
The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with
the right to change their Government; however, there are limitations to this
right in practice. Although factors such as voter distrust and apathy
underscored continuing problems in the area of governance, the situation
continued to improve. The application of broad executive powers, supported by
the entrenched power of the military and the bureaucracy, inhibited citizens
from exercising this right. The Constitution requires presidential elections
every 5 years, though this was not necessarily the case in the 1990s due to
resignation, assassination, and domestic instability.
President Bouteflika was elected in an
April 1999 presidential election that was seriously flawed by the withdrawal 1
day before the election of all other candidates, who charged that the military
already had begun to implement plans to produce a fraudulent Bouteflika victory.
Until those allegations surfaced, the campaign was conducted fairly, with all
candidates widely covered in both state-owned and private media. One potential
candidate was denied the ability to run because the electoral commission
determined that he could not prove that his participation in the country's war
of independence against France, a legal requirement for candidates for President
born before July 1942. With the withdrawal of the other candidates and the
absence of foreign observers, it was difficult to make an accurate determination
of election turnout. Although it apparently was as low as 30 percent, the
Government claimed a 60 percent turnout.
A 2002 electoral law allowed the
Government to remove candidates from party lists for "security"
reasons. Election observers noted that, during the 2002 parliamentary and local
elections, those selected for removal were more frequently from Islamic parties.
Independent observers further questioned the Government's removal, for
"security" reasons, of the names of a sitting judge and a professor
assigned to a national military academy from candidates lists.
In May 2002, the country held its second
round of multi-party parliamentary elections since 1992. The elections were
regarded as free and fair, although not problem-free. Candidates representing 23
political parties participated, along with several independent candidates.
The 2002 elections put the FLN back in
control of the National Popular Assembly after an 11-year absence from power. It
more than tripled its number of seats in the 389-seat parliament, securing 199
seats in total. Two conservative Islamic parties, El Islah and Movement of the
Society for Peace (MSP) share control of 81 seats, the second largest bloc in
the governing body. The Kabylie-based RCD and Socialist Forces Front (FFS)
boycotted the vote to protest government inaction to address the problems of the
Kabylie Black Spring, and urged loyalists to support their contention that the
election was an outright sham.
Voter turnout of 46 percent was the lowest since the country's independence.
Problems were reported by credible sources at some polling stations, notably
ballot envelopes filled with positive votes for the FLN. The Kabylie region
launched a sometimes violently enforced boycott to protest the lack of
transparency, increased corruption, and overt discrimination against Amazigh
parties and candidates, successfully limiting the vote to 15 percent in some
regions and 7 percent in Tizi Ouzou. Residents in the Kabylie region boycotted
local elections in October 2002, with many protests leading to violent
confrontations with the police, who used excessive force to quell protests.
In December, indirect elections for
one-third of the Council of the Nation (upper house) were held. According to the
Constitution, the Council is comprised of 144 seats; two-thirds of the members
are indirectly elected by members of their regional assemblies - the Popular
Communal Assemblies and the Popular State Assemblies. The remaining one-third
are appointed by the President. Seats for half of the elected members are voted
on every three years to serve six-year terms. In the December elections, the
National Democratic Rally (RND) won 17 seats, and the National Liberation Front
(FLN) won 22 seats (split evenly amongst Benflis and Bouteflika supporters). The
two conservative Islamic parties, MSP and El Islah won four and two seats
respectively. One independent member was also elected. This was the first time
Islamist Council members have been elected. Members of the regional assemblies
in the Kabylie wilayats of Tizi-Ouzou and Bejaia did not participate due to
their longstanding boycott of national elections.
Throughout the last quarter of the year,
the Army high command and the Army Chief of Staff General Mohamed Lamari,
publicly professed the military's neutrality in the electoral process for the
April 2004 presidential election. In December, the parliament passed an
electoral reform law prohibiting the questionable practice of soldiers voting in
the barracks 24 hours in advance of the general election as a step towards a
more transparent electoral process.
The Constitution provides the President
authority to rule by decree in special circumstances. The President subsequently
must submit to the Parliament for approval decrees issued while the Parliament
is not in session. The President did not exercise such authority during the
year. The Parliament has a popularly elected lower chamber, the National Popular
Assembly 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 chamber.
The law requires that potential political
parties receive official approval from the Interior Ministry before they may be
established. To obtain approval, a party must have 25 founders from across the
country whose names must be registered with the Interior Ministry. The
Government has refused to register two parties: Wafa and Front Democratique. No
party may use religion, Amazigh heritage, or Arab heritage as a basis of
organizing for political purposes. The law also bans political party ties to
nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting
The more than 30 existing political
parties represent a wide spectrum of viewpoints and are engaged in activities
that ranged from holding rallies to issuing communiqués. The Government
continued to ban the FIS as a political party. The Front Democratique's
application for recognition remained pending at year's end. With the exception
the formerly governing National Democratic Rally (RND), political parties
sometimes encountered difficulties with local officials who hindered their
organizational efforts to have access to public venues and to attain permits for
On December 30, the Algiers Administrative
Court invalidated the FLN's 8th Party Congress, held in March, for not
respecting FLN party rules. The media and local political class widely
criticized the ruling as a clearly inappropriate use of executive influence to
create bureaucratic hurdles for the candidacy of Ali Benflis, the FLN
Secretary-General and former Prime Minister dismissed by Bouteflika, who wanted
to run for the upcoming 2004 presidential election.
The new Cabinet, appointed on October 2,
has five women members. The Cabinet underwent three shuffles this year, one
following the appointment in May of RND party leader Ahmed Ouyahia's appointment
as Prime Minister, a second on September 6. While the RND has a majority in the
upper house of the parliament, the lower house, from which the Prime Minister is
appointed, is controlled by the FLN. Twenty-four of the 389 members of the lower
house of Parliament are women. The upper house had seven female members. This
was an increase of 45 percent and 14 percent respectively, from the previous
year. During both sets of the elections that occurred this year, women
candidates could be found on the top tiers of lists; this remained true for both
RND and the Islamic-leaning party of Islah. A woman led the Workers' Party, and
all the major political parties except one had women's divisions headed by
The ethnic Amazigh minority of about 9
million centered in the Kabylie region participated freely and actively in the
political process; however, Amazigh protests and boycotts surrounding the May
and October elections underscored the economic and social neglect felt by many
in this community, which made up nearly one third of the overall population.
The Tuaregs, a nomadic people of Amazigh
origin, played an important role in politics despite their small numbers,
particularly in the South and along the border regions where they remained the
dominant ethnic group. During the year, President Bouteflika appointed a Tuareg
to the Council of the Nation.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude
Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international
human rights groups operated without government interference, investigating and
publishing their findings on human rights cases. However, the Government
continued to harass local NGOs. Some NGOs continued to experience visa delays or
refusals, but more visas were issued than in the past. The most active
independent human rights group was the Algerian League for the Defense of Human
Rights (LADDH), an independent organization that had members throughout the
country. The LADDH was not permitted access to government officials for human
rights and advocacy or research purposes, or to prisons, except as under the
normal consultations allowed between a lawyer and a client. The less active LADH
was an independent organization based in Constantine. The LADH had members
throughout the country who followed individual cases. Human rights groups
reported harassment by government authorities in the form of obvious
surveillance and monitoring of telephone service, arbitrary detention,
questionable and repeated police summonses, and false arrest (see Section 1.f.).
Domestic NGOs must be licensed by the Government and are prohibited from
receiving funding from abroad, although they may receive in-kind donations. Some
unlicensed NGOs operated openly.
On September 13, Mohamed Smain, President
of LADH, was summoned to the local police precinct and arrested without charge.
The presiding judge dismissed the court case the following day. Smain had been
sentenced to 1 year in prison for the defamation of the mayor of Relizane and
eight members of its local self-defense force. He alleged in a published report
on human rights abuses that his nine accusers had participated in the abduction,
torture, killing, and disappearance of dozens of people. Smain was granted
"provisional liberty" while the Supreme Court reviewed his case.
In May 2002, unknown assailants beat an
RCD human rights attorney outside of the El Aurassi Hotel. RCD officials alleged
that "aspects of the Government" were involved in the attack.
Monitoring by international NGOs trips has occurred at the invitation of the
Government and independently when the Government chose to issue visas. While the
majority of groups were allowed to move about freely, many reported obvious
During the year, AI was allowed to visit
the country from February 15 to March 3, its first visit since 2000. A local AI
chapter has been active since 1999, but has been largely inoperable due to
government interference. HRW, Freedom House, and the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace have encountered visa difficulties following the issuing of
reports perceived to be critical of the Government. HRW made several visa
requests throughout the year to no avail, and was forced to send an affiliated
Tunisian lawyer, to observe the trial of Salaheddine Sidhoum and meet with local
NGO groups. Carnegie was able to visit in March. After several requests, Freedom
House was issued visas in October and visited the country in December. The ICRC
established a permanent office in Algiers in 2002. It has full access to
civilian prisons, pre-trial detention centers, and garde-a-vues. ICRC has not
been granted access to the country's military prisons.
The Government did not respond positively
to requests for visits from the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary
Disappearances, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the U.N. Special
Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Executions. However, the UN Rapporteur on the
Freedom of Religion was allowed to visit the country in September 2002.
In 2001, the Government established the
CNCPPDH as the Government's ombudsmen for human rights. The Commission is made
up of 45 members, 22 of whom belong to governmental bodies and 23 of whom come
from civil society and NGOs. The nongovernmental members include representatives
of Islamic religious organizations, the Red Crescent Society, and women's rights
advocacy groups. The President approves nominees, and the Commission's budget
and secretariat come from his office. The Commission is mandated to report on
human rights issues, coordinates with police and justice officials, advocates
domestic and international human rights causes, mediates between the Government
and the population, and provides expertise on human rights issues to the
Government. In March, the Commission submitted a report to the president
recommending a special commission to handle the issue of the disappeared. The
report was not made public.
In September, the President announced the
creation of a government commission dedicated to the issue of the disappeared
and named Farouk Ksentini to head the body that would serve as an "ad hoc
mechanism" between the families of the victims of the disappeared and the
Government (see Section 1.b.).
Some of the country's most contentious
human rights issues, notably the issue of the disappeared, attract a disparate
group of NGOs. Ideological divisions within the NGO community create an
environment in which the views of some NGOs, particularly on the issue of the
disappeared, are often perceived by other groups as serving as apologists for
the Government. The government maintains that the majority of the disappeared
have joined terrorists groups, left the country for economic reasons, or have
been kidnapped and killed by terrorists. Groups arguing that security forces are
the responsible actor occasionally view NGOs that support the latter tendency
with suspicion (see Section 1.b.).
The CNCPPDH meets periodically with SOS
Disparus, ANFD, LADDH, and others to discuss the status of human rights. The
Commission reportedly incorporated the NGOs demands into its report on the
Disappeared. President Bouteflika rejected their recommendations with the
creation of an "ad hoc interface mechanism," rather than an
investigative Committee of Inquiry (see Section 1.b.).
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race,
Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution prohibits discrimination
based on birth, race, sex, belief, or any other personal or social condition;
however, women continued to face legal and social discrimination.
Women's rights advocates assert that
spousal abuse was common, but there were no reliable statistics regarding its
extent. Spousal abuse was more frequent in rural than urban areas and among
less-educated persons. Rape also occurred. There are no specific laws against
spousal rape. Rape is illegal, and in principle, a spouse could be charged under
the law. However, there are strong societal pressures against a woman seeking
legal redress against her spouse for rape, and there were no reports of the law
being applied in such cases. Battered women must obtain medical certification of
the physical effects of an assault before they lodge a complaint with the
police. However, because of societal pressures, women frequently were reluctant
to endure this process. There were few facilities offering safe haven for abused
women. Two prominent associations for women that have received recognition by
the Government and international community are SOS Femme en Detresse and SOS
Femme Batus. Women's rights groups experienced difficulty in drawing attention
to spousal abuse as an important social problem, largely due to societal
attitudes. There were several rape-crisis centers run by women's groups, but
they had few resources.
During the year, terrorists sometimes
specifically targeted women. There were incidents of women and girls being
kidnapped by terrorist groups for the purposes of rape and servitude during the
year. One rape crisis center specializes in caring for women who are victims of
rape by terrorists (see Sections 1.b., 6.c., and 6.f.).
In 2002, 10 men were sentenced to terms of
5 months to 3 years in prison for raping women in a shantytown area near the oil
town of Hassi-Messoud in 2001. Several victims dropped their complaints, because
they were threatened by the local townspeople. The law prohibits prostitution;
however, for economic reasons, prostitution was reported to be a growing
A cabinet level position dedicated to
women and children has existed since 2002. The independent press reported that
the Prime Minister stated in August "women's issues were not a priority
before the April presidential elections." Some aspects of the law and many
traditional social practices discriminated against women. The Family Code, which
is based in large part on Shari'a, treats women as minors under the legal
guardianship of a husband or male relative. Under the Family Code Muslim women
are prevented from marrying non-Muslims, although this regulation was not always
enforced. The code does not restrict Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women.
Under both Shari'a and civil law, children born to a Muslim father are Muslim,
regardless of the mother's religion. Divorce is difficult for a wife to obtain.
Husbands generally obtain the right to the family's home in the case of divorce.
Custody of the children normally is awarded to the mother, but she may not
enroll them in a particular school or take them out of the country without the
father's authorization. Only males are able to confer citizenship on their
The Family Code also affirms the Islamic
practice of allowing a man to marry up to four wives, although this rarely
occurs in practice. A wife may sue for divorce if her husband does not inform
her of his intent to marry another woman prior to the marriage.
Women suffered 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.
According to Shari'a, such a distinction is justified because other provisions
require that the husband's income and assets are to be used to support the
family, while the wife's remain, in principle, her own. However, in practice
women do not always have exclusive control over assets that they bring to a
marriage or income that they earn themselves. Married females under 18 years of
age may not travel abroad without their husbands' permission. Women may take out
business loans and use their own financial resources.
Despite legal provisions and regulations
providing equality between men and women, in practice women still face
discrimination in employment resulting from societal stereotypes. Leaders of
women's organizations report that discriminatory violations are common. Labor
Ministry inspectors did little to enforce the law.
Social pressure against women pursuing
higher education or a career was greater in rural areas than in major urban
areas. Women made up more than half of the university student population;
however, women constituted only 10 percent of the work force. Nonetheless, women
may own businesses, enter into contracts, and pursue careers similar to men's
careers. About 25 percent of judges were women, a percentage that has been
growing in recent years. At year's end, women headed 26 courts (see Section
There were numerous women's rights groups,
although the size of individual groups was small. Their main goals were to
foster women's economic welfare and to amend aspects of the Family Code. In
March, women's rights groups launched a coordinated campaign to reform the
Family Code. At year's end, despite the Government hosting two closed-door
conferences to discuss the Code's impact, utility, and cultural significance, no
changes were made.
The Government is generally committed to
the welfare, rights, health and education of children. The Government provides
free education for children through the university system. More than 85 percent
of children completed the ninth grade. Boys and girls generally received the
same treatment in education, although girls were slightly more likely to drop
out for financial reasons in rural areas. The girls were then sent to vocational
training schools deemed more practical for their economic situation.
The Government provided free medical care
for all citizens, albeit in often rudimentary facilities. The Ministry of Youth
and Sports had programs for children, but such programs faced serious funding
Child abuse was a problem. However, a
system for reporting actual or suspected child abuse existed nationwide in the
country's school systems. Hospitals treat numerous child abuse cases every year,
but many cases go unreported. Laws against child abuse have not led to notable
numbers of prosecutions. NGOs that specialized in care of children cited an
increase in domestic violence aimed at children, which they attributed to the
"culture of violence" developed since the civil conflict of the 1990s
and the social dislocations caused by the movement of rural families to the
cities to escape terrorist violence. Children often were the victims of
Economic necessity compelled many children
to resort to informal employment, such as street vending (see Section 6.d.).
Persons with Disabilities
The Government did not mandate
accessibility to buildings or government services for persons with disabilities.
Public enterprises, in downsizing the work force, generally ignored a law that
requires that they reserve 1 percent of their jobs for persons with
disabilities. Social security provided for payments for orthopedic equipment,
and some NGOs received limited government financial support.
Section 6 Workers Rights
a. The Right of Association
About two-thirds of the labor force
belonged to unions. There is an umbrella labor confederation, the General Union
of Algerian Workers (UGTA) and its affiliated entities. The UGTA encompasses
national unions that are specialized by sector. The law on labor unions requires
the Labor Ministry to approve a union application within 30 days and allows for
the creation of autonomous unions, others than those affiliated to UGTA.
However, attempts from new unions to form federations or confederations have
been obstructed by delaying administrative maneuvers. The Autonomous Unions
Confederation (CSA) has attempted since early 1996 to organize the autonomous
unions, but without success. The CSA continued to function without official
Workers are required to obtain government
approval to establish a union, and the Government may invalidate a union's legal
status if its objectives are determined to be contrary to the established
institutional system, public order, good morals or the laws or regulations in
force. There were no legal restrictions on a worker's right to join a union.
Starting on October 14 and lasting through
November, the National Council of Secondary and Technical Education Professors (CNAPEST)
and the Secondary School Council of Algiers (CLA) went on strike over low wages.
Education Minister Boubekeur Benbouzid, backed by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia,
refused to meet with representatives of either union because they were not
officially recognized. Instead, the Government ordered the suspension of more
than 300 teachers and threatened further sanctions. Then, the officially
recognized UGTA affiliate National Federation of Education Workers (FNTE) joined
the strike which involved primary, middle and secondary school teachers as well
as administrative workers. This led to an impasse and subsequent dialogue with
the government. Benbouzid spoke with the CLA and agreed to raise wages. Monthly
wages were $214 (15,000 dinars) and increased by $71 (5,000 dinars). On December
1, the teachers returned to work.
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. Unions may form and join
federations or confederations, affiliate with international labor bodies, and
develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example, the UGTA is a member
of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). However, the
law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and also prohibits
unions from receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts were empowered to
dissolve unions that engaged in illegal activities.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain
The law provides for collective bargaining
for all unions, and the Government permitted this right in practice for
authorized unions. Under the State of Emergency, the Government can require
public and private sector workers to remain at work in the event of an
unauthorized or illegal strike. According to the Law on Industrial Relations,
workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation.
The Government on occasion offered to mediate disputes. The law states that
decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If no agreement is
reached in mediation, 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.
The law provides that all public
demonstrations, protests, and strikes must receive government authorization
prior to commencement. During the year, strikes and gatherings occurred
throughout the year in various sectors including a 2-day general strike all over
the country with no government or security forces retaliations. The 2001 ban on
marches in Algiers remained in effect.
The ILO Committee of Experts requested the
Government to take steps through legislation to ensure that no provisions of
Legislative Decree 92-03 were applied against workers peacefully exercising the
right to strike. The decree defines as subversive acts, or acts of terrorism,
offenses directed against the stability and normal functioning of institutions
through any action taken with the intention of "obstructing the operation
of establishments providing public service" or of "impeding traffic or
freedom of movement in public places." The Government claimed that the
Decree was not directed against the right to strike or the right to organize and
has never been used against workers exercising the right to strike peacefully.
On February 16, 12 national ports were
paralyzed as the result of a strike launched by the port workers' union
protesting against the privatization of the ports and the exclusion of the
workers from the debate.
On February 25, the UGTA called a general
strike, which effectively shut down air and rail transport, banks, and the
educational system. Strikers were demanding a raise in the minimum wage,
currently equivalent to a monthly salary of $105 (7,350 dinars) and pushed for
changes in the pension and healthcare systems. They also protested continuing
unemployment in a society where the official unemployment rate is 30 percent.
According to official estimates, 50 percent of those under the age of 30 are
The Government established an
export-processing zone (EPZ) in Jijel. Workers in the EPZ have the same rights
as other workers in the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor
Forced or bonded labor is prohibited by
the Constitution's provisions on individual rights, and the Penal Code prohibits
compulsory labor, including forced or bonded labor by children; while the
Government generally enforced the ban effectively, armed terrorist groups
reportedly kidnapped young women and girls, and held them captive for weeks at a
time, during which group members raped them and forced them into servitude.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and
Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 16
years. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor supposedly enforced the minimum
employment age by making periodic or unannounced inspection visits to public
sector enterprises. They did not enforce the law effectively in the agricultural
or private sectors. UNICEF reported in 2003 that approximately 3 percent of
children worked in some capacity. There was no child labor reported in the
industrial sector; however, economic necessity compelled many children to resort
to informal employment. Many children work part time or full time in small
workshops, in family farms, and in informal trade.
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 monthly minimum wage is insufficient to provide a decent standard
of living for a worker and family. The minimum wage was approximately $105
(8,000 dinars) per month. Ministry of Labor inspectors were responsible for
ensuring compliance with the minimum wage regulation; however, their enforcement
The standard workweek was 37.5 hours.
Workers who worked beyond the standard workweek received premium pay on a
sliding scale from "time and a half" to "double time,"
depending on whether the overtime was worked on a normal work day, a weekend, or
There were well-developed occupation and
health regulations codified in the law, but government inspectors did not
enforce these regulations effectively. There were no reports of workers being
dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. Because
employment generally was based on very detailed contracts, workers rarely were
subjected to conditions in the workplace about which they were not previously
informed. If workers were subjected to such conditions, they first could attempt
to renegotiate the employment contract and, that failing, resort to the courts;
however, the high demand for employment in the country, gave the advantage to
employers seeking to exploit employees.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not specifically prohibit
trafficking in persons and there were reports that such practices occurred. In
August 2002, the country signed the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Crime
that includes the Protocol on Trafficking in Persons. There were incidents of
women and girls being kidnapped by terrorist groups for the purposes of rape and
servitude during the year and media reports and credible sources detailed the
enslavement of Malian women by Pakistani nationals in the southern city of
Tamanrasset. Illegal immigrants from West and Central Africa travel through the
country and are transited to destinations in Europe. Some may have been forced
into prostitution while awaiting onward travel.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S. State Department, February