IMEACHTAÍ AN CHOMHCHOISTE
PROCEEDINGS OF THE JOINT COMMITTEE
AN COMHCHOISTE UM GHNÓTHAÍ EACHTRACHTA
JOINT COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Dé Céadaoin, 8 Aibreán 1998.
Wednesday, 8 April 1998.
The Joint Committee met at 11.50 a.m.
* In substitution for Deputy M. Kitt.
In attendance: Deputy J. Connor; Mr. N. Andrews, MEP; Mr. J. Fitzsimons, MEP; Mr. P. Gallagher, MEP and Ms B. Malone, MEP.
DEPUTY D. O’MALLEY in the Chair.
Chairman: This is the fourth time in recent months that Algeria has appeared on the committee’s agenda for consideration. This is an indication of the committee’s interest and concern over developments in that country. I welcome the former Prime Minister of Algeria, Professor Brahimi and Ms Mary Lawlor, director and press officer of the Irish section of Amnesty International to our meeting. I would ask them to make a presentation lasting not more than 15 minutes which will be followed by a question and answer session.
Professor Abdelhamid Brahimi: I thank the committee for this opportunity to discuss the current situation in Algeria. The Algerian authorities claim the political crisis existing since the annulment of the parliamentary election in January 1992 is the result of an Islamic threat which threatens the country and its institutions. They would have people believe that it is only the crisis which is stopping the rise to power by the Islamic Salvation Front or FIS. I am not a member FIS but I am still a member of FLN since 1955 which was the start of our revolution.
The situation in Algeria is very serious and complex. There are now two alternatives for the country today. First, the government can carry on its policy of eradicating Islamic practices from Algeria. This was introduced in January 1992 following the coup d’état organised by the generals, former officers in the French army before our independence. Promotion from sergeant to general takes only two years in Mobutu in Zaire, who have just gained independence. The régime in Algeria since 1992 has meant that it took former officers in the French army 30 years to reach the rank of general in the Algerian army. Evidence of French involvement is clear.
Chairman: Your presentation has been circulated to Members.
Professor Abdelhamid Brahimi: The economic, political and social situation has deteriorated dramatically since 1992. In 1995, the Algerian government realised it was isolated internally and externally. It tried to start a new policy by returning to a simulacrum of democracy to improve its image. That is why the presidential elections took place in November 1995. The President promised to deliver peace but failed to do so.
The majority in the national elections in June 1997 was very low. The actual figure was less than 50 per cent, not the 65 per cent indicated by the Government. In the capital Algiers, the actual figure was 17 per cent as opposed to the 43 per cent figure officially indicated. People cannot trust the regime any more.
Many foreign observers pointed to the turbulent nature of the elections in which massive fraud was involved with the rigging of ballot boxes and so on in various regions. The current regime does not believe in democracy. Human rights are being violated on a broad scale, people are being kidnapped, killed and tortured on a daily basis and massacres are being carried out on a weekly basis. The regime has attempted to attract a greater level of support from France and other western countries alleging that it is fighting both terrorists and Islamists.
The regime is carrying out a policy of terror and has set up a militia in which there are more than 200,000 soldiers in addition to the 160,000 in the established army. Military expenditure increased by 45 per cent in 1994 and by 144 per cent in 1995 up to a point where $2 billion was expended in 1996. Military expenditure has doubled this year.
Algeria imports 90 per cent of its food requirements at a cost of $3 billion per annum. The budget expended on arms and weapons imports for the 160,000 soldiers in the army and the 200,000 militia members is greater than that expended on food imports. The civil war is not a civil war in the classic sense because one segment of the population is not at war with another. The main problem is that some people voted for FIS. Such people have become the victims of the massacres which occurred mainly in the poorer regions of the big cities. The GIA, which has been established by the army, is being manipulated.
The economic crisis in Algeria is quite dramatic; the GDP per head of population dropped from $2,500 in the early 1990s to $1,300 last year. Overall GDP has decreased from $50 billion in 1993 to $45 billion last year. The industrial sector, public and private, is operating at less than 25 per cent of its capacity. Unemployment levels have increased dramatically from 1,300,000 in 1992 to three million last year. This figure will increase by 260,000 each year. Inflation, which averages between 40 per cent in 1994 and 35 per cent in 1995 has soared to levels which have not been experienced since Algeria gained independence. Food prices for essential food products such as bread have risen by 120 per cent per annum and there has been a sevenfold increase over the course of five years.
Algeria is viewed as a private property, a cake to be shared out among the army, the militia and some civilians. No attention is being given to the increasing levels of poverty in Algeria. People who are calling for peace are being punished for doing so. I was threatened with violence both from the state and from the army when I and other political personalties called for peace and a general dialogue between the regime and the main Algerian opposition parties. We were treated as traitors for doing so.
The situation in Algeria is very dramatic in every respect. The only way to improve the current situation is for a genuine dialogue to take place between members of the regime and the main opposition parties in order to encourage a return to a democratic process. The Algerian people believe in democracy and freedom and we hope that one day we will be able to live in peace and renewed stability. That can only be achieved through fair elections. The people are the source of sovereignty and their verdict should be respected.
Chairman: Before I call on Ms Lawlor, I would like to allow some of the members to express views on the matter because a number of them have to leave shortly.
Senator Connor: I visited your country when you were Prime Minister in 1987. What might have happened in 1992 had the military not interfered in the situation and had the FIS taken over the government of Algeria?
Professor Brahimi: The putchist generals, when they took over in January 1992, said that if the FIS came to power they would ruin the country politically and economically. They would not respect the constitution and the law of the republic. What happened? It is the regime, the Algerian Government, who do not respect the constitution, Algerian law and the 26 international human rights treaties signed by Algeria. The economic and social situation has deteriorated dramatically. In my opinion, as an economist and former member of the Algerian Government, no party, FIS or otherwise, if they came to power would have done worse than the generals have done since 1992. I am sure of this because no Algerian can believe their countrymen could kill other Algerians for ethnic or religious reasons, but it happened.
The RCD Party call themselves democratic, they are democrats on the surface, they do not believe in democracy. They are the agents of the military secret services, as well as former Hamas members. They are linked to the military secret services and manipulated by them.
Mr. Andrews, MEP: You are very welcome here and it is a privilege to meet you on a one to one basis.
The history of Algeria since independence has been very turbulent. Algerian democracy was never based on any model other than the Islamic. We accept that and that is partly why Algeria has developed the situation in which it now finds itself.
You were Prime Minister from 1984 until 1988. I am not terribly familiar with your period in office but if we compare the governments which have been in place, and most of the governments, including your own, were legitimised by the electorate.
The delegation from the European Parliament to Algeria reported that they were upset by the human rights abuses taking place there. They did not at any stage oppose an investigation, as Amnesty International has suggested. Amnesty International is saying that the European delegation which went to Algeria opposed an international investigation into human abuses in Algeria. On the contrary, the European Parliament have called time and again for an investigation to take place. From my point of view the situation in Algeria is horrific; the genocide being carried out by whatever side is a product of the impoverishment of the country since independence and the corruption which exists.
I wish to assure the Prime Minister that whatever support we can give in setting up an independent international delegation, we will give. The Prime Minster knows that is not something which can take place without the permission of the government in situ in Algeria presently. It is not that we have not sought to send a delegation, we have sought to send one. One of the members of the delegation from the European Parliament is an expert on Islam. As a French member she has supported the view that an independent international investigation should take place.
There are statements in your report which could be examined. You talk about “eradicators” and “reconciliators”. This seems to me to be rather strong language to use in the context of such a delicate situation.
Professor Brahimi: I was Prime Minister for five years and I know what happened in my country at that time and I know the reply made to the European delegation on human rights by the President of Algeria, but there are two things which you should know.
First, in the FLN there are some leaders who are against at the violations of human rights, myself included. We are a minority in the regime at this time. The majority in the army and the secret service is behind the violation of human rights or is opposed to any international investigation.
Second, the recession of the 1980s has nothing to do with the situation today. It is a pity and unjust. In the 1980s there was a maximum of 100 political detainees. Currently hundreds are being killed each day - it is horrible. Even if there was a failure of democracy in the past, the horrible things happening in Algeria are not justified. I know different people in the army, some for more than 40 years and some generals for at least 30 years. I do not think they will be able to oppose a decision of the UN calling for an international commission of inquiry: They cannot do so because they are weak. Evidently they are backed by France. Last week I was told by Joe Stoek, an American activist in charge of Human Rights Watch in America who was in Geneva last week, that France is lobbying the human rights commission to oppose any resolution condemning the Algerian Government in the context of human rights. Something can be done and if a decision is taken by the high commission of the UN, it will be implemented. They are very weak and cannot oppose any such international decision.
The military and politicians, such as those belonging to the RCD Party and others who have militia support, try to eradicate Islam from Algeria. This is very dangerous. Nobody would disagree except themselves who represent the minority in Algeria. The overwhelming majority of Algerians wish to live in peace and have national reconciliation. Politicians who are struggling to achieve this and to return to the democratic process are called reconcilers as they call for peace and national reconciliation.
Chairman: We have the report of the ad-hoc delegation of the EU Parliament which visited Algeria between 8 and 12 February. I have read the report and find it difficult to find any suggestion or request by the delegation for an international investigation. I am somewhat surprised by the tone of the report. A number of members of the EU Parliament are present. The report has been circulated to Members. It is worth examining as much for what it does not contain as for what it does contain. It is not a very forceful document. For example, it suggests the Algerian Government should submit a report to the UNHRC which could be included in an inter-parliamentary dialogue between Europe and Algeria. I thought a report submitted to the UN commission might come from an independent body rather than the Algerian Government.
Mr. Andrews (MEP): Subsequent to the delegation’s return from Algeria - there was some controversy concerning the press conference which took place there - there were a number of meetings and clarification was sought on the issue of an independent inquiry team visiting Algeria in the context of human rights. This has been rejected by the Algerian Government. There have been constant debates before and since the delegation visited the country. As Mary Lawlor will probably clarify, there have been subsequent calls in the EU Parliament for an independent investigation into human rights abuses. The problem rests with the Algerian Government in the context of getting access and permission to send such a delegation. It is not the policy of the EU Parliament to be unsupportive of a visit by an independent delegation.
Chairman: The delegation in its report did not call for it. It might find things in Algeria to be somewhat different than the assessment of others.
Senator Lanigan: There is great need for an international commission to examine human rights abuses. It would appear from what Professor Brahimi said that all the abuses are on one side - he has not mentioned the massive abuses by opponents of the government. It cannot be gainsaid that there have been such abuses. There is no point in pretending that the anti-government forces are lily white: they have committed ferocious atrocities. In the west it would appear these atrocities have been committed in the name of Islam. However, the atrocities have nothing to do with Islam as it would not allow such things to happen. There is no doubt that France is involved with the government. The international intervention is aiding the anti-government forces. Weapons are entering the country from Europe. Much aid is also coming from so-called Islamic sources.
Professor Brahimi: Generally speaking, from my knowledge of the facts in Algeria, 80 per cent of massacres are carried out by the government. The remainder concern Islamic groups and others. GIA are infiltrated.
Deputy G. Mitchell: As a parliamentary committee we are trying to find the facts and not get opinions. The subcommittee has already recommended that the rapporteurs on extra-judicial killing and torture be admitted and that an international independent examination be carried out. I have no agenda and support this approach. I am happy to note that the EU has proposed a resolution to the 54th Session of the UNHCR calling for Algeria. Having listened to the professor’s comments might I ask a couple of questions? The committee has given a lot of time to this matter and I have had frank exchanges myself with the Algerian ambassador when I pressed him on some matters and he pressed me on issues we had decided without meeting him.
The FIS won 188 seats out of 220 in the first round in December 1991. If there was such a result here there would be great surprise. Were those elections free and fair or was there wrongdoing? What was the state of democracy during the professor’s term as prime minister? Were there human rights abuses? Did the regime enjoy public support or a democratic mandate?
What is the relationship between gas exports and the problems in Algeria? I read the editorial in the Irish Independent on 7 January which indicated that early in January a meeting of ministers from 20 Arab countries agreed on draft proposals to fight Islamic militants, including tightening border controls and making extradition easier. What view does the Arab world take of what is happening in Algeria? There seems to be an impression that the fault is on the army’s side and it appears that incidents take place within sight or sound of the army. Is that the case?
Professor Brahimi: For the national elections of 1991 the then prime minister, Ahmed Ghazali, stated publicly that the elections were fair. There was a coup d’état two weeks later, unfortunately. From what I learned from people in Algeria at that time they were happy. They considered it the first time that Algeria had fair, free multi-party elections.
I have been a member of the FLN for more than 40 years. The FLN comprises genuine and honest leaders and members, but also some corrupt people. However, it has nothing to hide. There were some violations of human rights under previous regimes. However, the scale of the violations bears no comparison with what has happened since 1992. The escalation of violence in Algeria since 1995-96 is unconscionable. It cannot be justified by the lack of democracy in a previous period when there was stability and made much progress, even if there were negative events. However, for six years there have only been negatives in the economy, society and politics of Algeria.
Deputy G. Mitchell: What is the Arab world’s view?
Professor Brahimi: The Arab countries are the same. Is there one example of a purely democratic Arab country? There are some monarchies. Our neighbour Tunisia is well known as an oppressive regime and the situations of Libya and Iraq are well known. They find themselves with similar problems to the Algerian regime. The state is mainly responsible for the terrorism and violence in Algeria - the state more than the Islamists. There has been a truce from the armed wing of the FIS since last October, but there is still violence. The main party is FIS and its army declared the truce last October. There are still some so-called Islamic groups who are not acting against the Government responsible for the cancellation of the elections. They are killing poor people who voted for FIS. They are not Islamists.
The Arab countries have some solidarity with the Algerian Government because they because they have repressive policies. There has been a state of emergency in Egypt since 1970 and that cannot be justified.
Chairman: Did you say that you considered the election in 1991-2 as fair and the first such election in Algeria?
Professor Brahimi: Yes.
Senator Connor: There have been elections since then in Algeria which were conducted successfully. Does the professor consider them to have been free and fair?
Professor Brahimi: No. We have proof to that end. The legislative elections in June 1997 were fraudulent and some members of the opposition parties were hurt at ballot stations, indeed some were killed by police because they protested when they saw officials stuffing ballot papers into boxes. I have a report from ONDI in the US which shows proof of violence and fraud during the elections. We have proof about the violence during the elections and the demonstrations of many parties in Algers. The Government has not cancelled such elections.
The RND party was created only three months before national elections and it attained a majority, 43 per cent of the seats. Nobody can believe that in Algeria. How is that possible in three months?
Because there is no foreign observer for local elections, RND received 90 per cent of the seats. It is like a communist régime or the FLN régime before that. There was 10 per cent left to all the other parties.
According to the amended constitution, the Senate has 144 members, one third of which are appointed by President Zeroual. The other two thirds are elected from local elections. Of 96 seats in the senate, the RND took 80 seats and there were 16 seats left for the other parties. The rest were appointed by President Zeroual. This means that President Zeroual. This means that President Zeroual has a majority of more than 90 per cent in the senate, while the amended constitution states that only 25 per cent of the members of the Senate can annual any law adopted by the national assembly, whose members have been elected directly by the Algerian people. President Zeroual needs only 25 per cent to block any law adopted. He controls 90 per cent of the senate.
Ms Malone MEP: It is interesting for me to come here this morning and hear the professor speaking because none of us can claim to be expert on the complicated politics of his country. Recently some of us had the opportunity to meet Ms Salima Ghezali, who I also heard speaking in the European Parliament when she won the Sakharov prize. Of course we are horrified with the continuing massacres and violence. We continually wonder what we can do in this forum and also at European level.
To clear up a point about the delegation, I must admit - the solidarity group and Amnesty International know - that there was huge controversy surrounding the visit by the European parliamentarians, the tearing up of the letter, the conduct of some of the members, etc. Leaving that to one side, as Mr. Andrews MEP said, there are continuing negotiations and discussions in the parliament. I feel confident that we will come out with a firm declaration in favour of an independent inquiry, which is the minimum demand of most right thinking people, and possibly the appointment of a UN special rapporteur on Algeria. From my point of view, the logical conclusion would be the creation of what exists in Rwanda, the setting up of tribunals so that eventually the people who are responsible can be brought to justice. There can never be proper peace in a country until those crimes are properly dealth with.
Deputy Briscoe: Page six of the Professor’s statement states that we must not forget that since 1992 Algeria has had three heads of state and five prime ministers and that many ministers are dismissed after only a few months in office whereas the main military leaders responsible for repression, who are to be found in the highest echelons of the military hierarchy, are still there. He goes on to state that the toll has certainly been heavy since that time, that 120,000 innocent Algerians have been killed since 1992. The question which came into my mind is: does the military call the shots in Algeria? Is that the power behind the government? Does the military decide who is going to stay in government, for how long they stay in government and when it is time to get rid of them?
Professor Brahimi: I can give the committee two or three names.
Deputy Briscoe: Yes, I read the names in the Professor Brahimi’s statement.
Professor Brahimi: I did not mention the names here.
Deputy Briscoe: I thought he had.
Professor Brahimi: General Mohamed Lamari, chief of staff of the army, and General Mohamed Mediene, alias Tawfik, are the strongest men in the country who are acting behind the scenes. General Mohamed Mediene, alias Tawfik, who is in charge of secret services is assisted by General Smai’l Lamari. General Smai’l Lamari is assisted by 100 French officers, the activities of which are co-ordinated by Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Louis Chanas who was involved in the civil war in Lebannon in the 1980s. He is in Algeria as adviser to General Smai’l.
Senator A. Doyle: What was the role of the 100 French officers?
Professor Brahimi: Helping the secret services in Algers and advising them.
Senator A. Doyle: Are they French army officers?
Professor Brahimi: Yes.
Chairman: Are they serving officers in the French army or are they retired?
Professor Brahimi: They are acting.
Senator A. Doyle: Could Professor Brahimi develop that point a little more? To what extent are the French, through their military, involved in the atrocities which are going on in Algeria at present?
Professor Brahimi: I do not say they are involved directly. They are advising men who are involved. For instance, we have a tape of a telephone conversation between President Mitterand and General Khaled Nezzar, on the eve of the coup d’état.
Senator A. Doyle: Does that continue today with the sanction of the French authorities? To what extent are the French active through these 100 French officers at present?
Professor Brahimi: It is very complicated because in France there is Government and political parties but there are entities such as the intelligence services. I think I mentioned in my paper that when Charles Pasqua was minister for the interior in 1993-94 he was given another file on Algeria by Prime Minister Balladur because they think Algeria is a domestic affair. Charles Pasqua appointed Colonel Jean-Claude Marchiani, a former parachutist in fought against the liberation of Algeria. He was assisted in the 1990s by the pieds noir, former members of the Secret Armed Organisation which is famous for its crimes against the Algerian people during the two years before independence. They are strong in the French administration and in intelligence services. Irrespective of the change of government in France, whether to the right or left, they are still there. These are parties who said it is the first time that French army officers acted in Algeria and advised the military there.
Deputy De Rossa: We should not be surprised if French army officers are involved in Algeria. We have had many examples of states in the west sending military advisers to support dictatorships of various kinds over the years. I have no doubt the views expressed today are honest, but I am disappointed that we have failed to persuade the ambassador for Algeria, who is based in London, to come here to talk to us as well.
Our role must not be to seek to make judgments on the political situation but to see what mechanisms the United Nations and the European Union can put in place to stop the massacres. It is a matter for the Algerian people to work out their political future. On that basis, our role should be to support the demands made by Amnesty International and other agencies to send a United Nations rapporteur there. I am not clear what the French strategic interest is in Algeria. I have read the written presentation in which there is a lot of evidence of French involvement. However, it does not explain why they would want to be involved in creating this chaotic and appalling situation.
Professor Brahimi: It is obvious that the second Gulf War and what was called by the then President of the United States, Mr. George Bush, a new world order, was an attempt to strengthen the position of the United States in the Gulf region. France hoped to have its share of the Gulf cake but was not given anything, especially in terms of arms deals with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It wants to reconquer its lost colonies under the umbrella of Francophonie. Francophonie has become well known in France. I am not inventing this because I see it on French TV5 every day. This new ideology under the umbrella of French culture is to reconquer lost markets. It is a new substitute for French colonisation.
Chairman: When were you last in Algeria?
Professor Brahimi: I left Algeria after the coup d’état. I was told by a general friend of mine to leave the country because I was on the top of the list.
Chairman: Is it correct that you have not been there for six or seven years?
Professor Brahimi: Yes. If I went back, I would not be here today. However, I have contacts in Algeria.
Senator Connor: Is there international support for the Islamists who are causing the terrorism? Are they getting assistance from groups in Iran or Sudan?
Professor Brahimi: No.
Chairman: Who is arming them?
Professor Brahimi: They do not have arms. There has been no trade between Morocco and Algeria since 1994. Tunisia is acting with the regime and protecting its frontier. Some 1,200 kilometres of our coast are protected by the French and Algerian navies. It is impossible for them to be armed.
Chairman: I apologise for keeping Ms Lawlor waiting.
Ms Lawlor: I thank you, Chairman, and members of the committee for inviting Amnesty International here today. I want to clarify what Mr. Niall Andrews, MEP, said. We did not say that the European Parliament was against an independent investigation. The press release said we found the opposition of the European Parliament delegation to an international investigation particularly regrettable especially in view of the fact that since last November the European Parliament, and especially its human rights subcommission, had called for an international investigation.
We cannot become preoccupied with the massacres. We are talking about up to 80,000 people who have been killed in the past six years. Amnesty International has documented year by year the atrocities in Algeria. We would not like the situation to be oversimplified in terms of whether the army is involved or whether it is simply a question of terrorism. We need to remember that although the massacres are shocking, awful and brutal, they still account for only 2 per cent of the killings which have taken place since 1992.
I want to read three short statements prepared by Salima Ghezali, who won the Sakharov Prize and various other human rights and press awards, Karima Hammache of the Rally for Youth Action, RAJ, which is an independent youth movement in Algeria, and Mostefa Bouchachi, who is one of Algeria’s leading human rights lawyers. He has taught international human rights law in Algiers and he has also been a broadcaster. He has defended people on all sides, including FIS leaders, trade union leaders and journalists. He told me last week that somebody asked him why he defended FIS leaders when he will be on their assassination list if they get into power. He said it is his job to ensure everyone has a fair trial.
These three independent people are brave. They work in different capacities for human rights in Algeria. I was privileged to spend a half day with them last week during which we met Deputy Gay Mitchell and Deputy O’Malley. I was overwhelmed by their bravery and the daily risks they take in their struggle for human rights in Algeria. I also applaud their courage in doing the rounds because that is what they must do and for picking themselves up when yet another hope for action by the international community is dashed. Everywhere they go they get sympathy, but sympathy is for the dead. They do not need sympathy but action. They are clinging to life and they need action to pursue their hope of justice and truth in Algeria. There is nowhere for them to go. They must come to this committee in the hope that it will take action.
Karima Hammache’s statement is as follows:
Our youth organisation, RAJ (Rassemblement Action Jeunesse - Rally for Youth Action) was founded in 1993 with the aim of bringing together youth from different cultural and social backgrounds to act on issues which concern our lives and our future. In Algeria 75 per cent of the population is under 30 years of age. After the events of October 1988 when the army shot and killed hundreds of young demonstrators and tortured many others the situation began to change and the country experienced a democratic opening with the emergence of civil society associations, freedom of the press and legalisation of political parties. We, youth, felt that attached great importance to the post-October 1988 changes. However, since the cancellation of the elections and the imposition of the state of emergency at the beginning of 1992 life has become increasingly difficult for youth in Algeria. The general deterioration of the social and economic situation has had a grave impact on young people who have been the most affected by unemployment and violence. A huge percentage of the victims have been youth. Young civilians, conscripts and policemen have been killed by the terrorists or by the police and the army. Others have had relatives and friends killed and abducted, often in front of them. and the rest live in fear.
The RAJ believe that the youth has much work to do to build a better Algeria. One or our slogans is: “if you do not like the world you live in, if you complain that your life in your time is bad, ask yourself what have you done to make it better”. We believe it is necessary for youth of all background to work together to build a democratic society which respects human rights and freedom of expression and association and where you respect and accept each other regardless of political, ideological or religious grounds.
The brutalisation of the violence and arbitrariness of the past few years have had, and continue to have, a disastrous affect on the young people in my country. Young people are growing up in an atmosphere of fear, violence and repression and the prospect for the near future does not look rosy. The first victims of violence, lack of democracy and freedom of expression and association and the spread of weapons and militarisation are the youth as all sides, security forces, militias and armed groups seek to recruit and target young people.
After the RAJ was established in 1993 we carried out many activities in the capital and elsewhere promoting our aims. For example, we held activities to raise awareness on issues of human rights, women’s’ rights, civil rights, freedom of expression. We even campaigned to raise awareness of issues still considered to be taboo such as drug addiction and Aids. These activities took place in universities, high schools, in the streets and also in public. Since 1995-6 the authorities have increasingly prevented us from carrying out our activities by refusing us permission to use public halls and spaces. Some of our members have been arrested and harassed when we tried to hold some activities without the permission of the authorities. We staged a hunger strike for 13 days to protect at these restrictions and harassment but the situation has not improved and our request for permission to carry out activities continues to be denied by the authorities.
Mostefa Bouchachi’s statement is as follows:
I have been a practising lawyer for more than 15 years and my assessment of the human rights situation in Algeria is based on my daily work as a lawyer. Since 1992 the human rights situation in Algeria has deteriorated to a level never reached before since its independence. The daily reality includes torture, disappearances, extra-judicial executions, lack of press freedom and freedom of association. A large number of people have disappeared after being arrested by the security forces from their homes or places of work. These people are not people who have left country or who have joined the terrorist groups but they have been held in secret detention centres and we have evidence of this. Such cases are not confined to specific regions but have happened, and continue to do so, all over the country. We do not know if these absent people are alive or dead. Thousands of parents are looking for their missing children but cannot get information from the authorities.
The fact that since 1992 the anti-terrorist legislation allows any security service to operate anywhere in the country has allowed a greater deal of impunity for the security forces as their actions are more difficult to monitor and control. It is necessary that the authorities take measures to inform the families of the fate of their missing relatives. The families should know what happened to their relatives who were arrested by security forces in the past months and years and who have never been brought to justice. They know if they are dead or alive or, if they are being held captive, where they are being detained. I hope these missing people are still alive. If they are not then we face the situation of a collective extermination of a group of citizens.
As for other human rights violations there is legislation in place to deal with individuals or groups who commit murder or other crimes. Such individuals or groups are criminals who should be severely punished. On the other hand, the State cannot through its security apparatus, commit murder and torture in the name of the law. It is shameful and unacceptable that there should be some voices in Algeria who justify the behaviour of security forces who since 1992 have been using torture on a massive and unprecedented way. As lawyers we have witnessed the fact that most of the detainees before the courts complain of being subjected to torture in secret detention centres. However, there are no inquiries into these cases even though according to the UN Convention Against Torture ratified by Algeria all cases of torture must be investigated. Not only are there investigations but there are individuals and institutions who have deployed efforts to hide such grave violations.
In additions to disappearances and torture there are also extra-judicial executions. People have been killed in security serviced detention centres or in prisons like the case of the massacre in Serkadji prison in 1995 where 100 prisoners were killed. Other people have been murdered by security forces in cold blood in their homes in front of their parents. Unfortunately, there is no condemnation of the crimes committed against these victims.
On the issue of international scrutiny of the human rights situation in Algeria I believe there is no absolute sovereignty in international law and that human rights are among the issues which states accept are no longer an issue of internal and absolute power. In fact by signing the ratifying international human rights treaties the Algerian authorities are bound to respect human rights and the international community has the right and the duty to monitor and ensure compliance with these international human rights mechanism. The grave and widespread human rights violations committed by the security services do not honour Algeria and diminish the credibility of the state, and they should be addressed without delay.
Chairman: The Members have received copies of your statements. Deputy Mitchell and I met the three people who submitted statements last week. I was very impressed by their concerns and anxieties. Karima Hammache referred to the events of October 1988 when the army shot and killed hundreds of young demonstrators and tortured many others in her submission. Were you prime minister when that happened?
Professor Brahimi: Yes, I was prime minister at the time. The riots in October 1988 were not spontaneous even though the Algerian authorities made statements to the contrary in the media. We should ask the President Zeroual and the secret services why these riots took place? There are two reasons for the riots. First, since January 1986 as a result of the drop in oil prices Algeria’s revenues were reduced by as much as 40 per cent during 1986. Therefore, Algeria could not afford to pay for food imports which resulted in a revolutionary climate throughout the country. In 1986 the business community was afraid there would be a national revolt and, therefore, the riots did not take place at the same time or on the same day in these cities. The revolts were organised in this way in order to avoid a popular revolt against the régime. Second, Presidential have been held in 1979 and December 1983. President Chadli learned that at the FLN conference to be held in November 1988 that someone else would be appointed as a candidate for the next presidential elections. These riots had been planned by President Chadli and his friends to stay in power.
When the riots started in October 1988, he said that if there was a problem the Army would be sent in. He gave the Army orders to kill people and said publicly on Algerian television that he was responsible for this.
Chairman: For the torture also?
Professor Brahimi: Yes.
Senator Mooney: Since 1962 has Algeria inherently not been an anti-democratic régime where successive governments have been appointed by the military who effectively control Algeria and where your political status owes its existence to the fact that you were acceptable to the military? Part of the difficulty has been that since 1962 Algerian independence has effectively been a sham in democratic terms and that because of that continuing democratic deficit we are now faced with what we have been witnessing. I do not for one moment deny that Professor Brahimi’s very explicit and detailed exposé of France’s malevolence towards Algeria is untrue. My limited study of Algerian history and of the colonial and post-colonial periods suggest that they still have their fingers in the pie as outlined. In that context, what can we, as a member state of the European Union and an equal member with France, do to make France face up to its responsibilities in this regard? Secondly, how can that impact on what is taking place in Algeria where the Army has firm control?
Professor Brahimi: Something can be done by countries like Ireland and the Scandinavian countries because they do not have a colonial past. Germany might have some difficulty because of their relationship with France within the European Union. The Irish Government could condemn publicly the violations of human rights by the Algerian Government and call for an international inquiry commission. Foreign journalists should have free access to travel anywhere throughout Algeria. The bloodshed in Algeria must be stopped. Pressure should be put on the French Government at European and international level.
Chairman: Thank you Professor Brahimi.
Senator Doyle: I presume the French will deny this line. What is the official French defence regarding this point of view?
Senator Connor: To add to that, the French will state that they support the régime in Algeria because if the régime falls there will be utter chaos in the country and tens of thousands of people will travel from Algeria to France. Does Professor Brahimi agree with that?
Professor Brahimi: Not at all, on the contrary many people will come back to Algeria instead. Last year when I called for an international inquiry commission the French Foreign Minister said there should be no interference in the political affairs of Algeria. Following my address to members of the House of Commons in London last January, French national radio said that what I said was false.
Chairman: As I said at the outset, this is the fourth time this committee has dealt with the Algerian question. It is a problem of enormous human tragedy and it is very difficult to try to arrive at the facts. We have heard from a variety of different people who have very different versions of events. They have very different versions of the reasons for the present situation. They are in deep conflict with one another. The nature of that conflict of opinion is borne out by the fact that the Algerian ambassador who was invited to today’s meeting and who accepted and cancelled his acceptance when he heard that Professor Brahimi was invited.
However, we may succeed in getting him to attend another time. We have heard from others who have different versions of events and who lay the blame in different areas. Although we have spent a great deal of time on this, I am not certain we are getting to the bottom of it. Some of the statements made from time to time tend to be strenuously contested by others who convey very different views. All we can do is seek to investigate these matters as best we can.
It is time this committee passed a resolution on the question to try to encourage action and movement of the kind necessary and without laying blame on any side or group within Algeria while trying to discover the truth of the situation. I propose the following resolution to the committee for its consideration and, I hope, adoption:
That the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs:
(i) expressing concern about the grave human rights situation in Algeria, where tens of thousands of people, believed to be in excess of 80,000, including many women and children, have been killed in the six year old conflict;
(ii) expressing solidarity with the victims and their families;
(iii) expressing concern that, in spite of repeated assurances by the Algerian authorities year after year that the situation is “under control and improving” and that “violance is residual”, the situation has continued to deteriorate and, in the past year, violence has reached unprecedented levels;
(iv) expressing concern that the perpetrators of grave crimes, including massacres, murder and torture, have not been brought to justice and seem to enjoy continuing immunity;
the Joint Committee calls on the Irish Government to play a constructive role at the current United Nations Human Rights Commission and in other fora by calling for the appointment of a special rapporteur and for the establishment of an international investigation to establish facts and responsibilities so as to shed light on the situation; and ensure that those responsible for crimes and grave abuses are brought to justice; and make recommendations for a long-term human rights plan of action to address the Algerian human rights crisis with the necessary resources provided to do this; and that the Joint Committee reiterates its commitment to the principle that human rights have no border; and that no human rights situation can be immune from international scrutiny.
I am sorry it is so long but I believe it is necessary to cover the different aspects of the matter. Does the committee agree to the resolution? Agreed.
I think Dr. Brahimi and we are very grateful to him for coming to Ireland to explain his point of view. We are also very grateful for the full paper he has left with us which contains a longer and more detailed version of what he has said today to which we can refer in future. I also thank Mary Lawlor of Amnesty International for their assistance in this matter, especially for bringing the three people whom she mentioned in her address to see Deputy Mitchell and I last week which was very useful.
The second item on the agenda which I thought was appropriate for the day that is in it was Northern Ireland. However, now that the day has arrived, I am not so sure it is appropriate. The situation in Belfast is so incredibly fluid, I do not think we can usefully discuss it and we should wait until there is a resolution of the matter one way or the other - either a settlement is arrived at and signed tomorrow night or it breaks down altogether.
Senator A. Doyle: Perhaps we could express our good wishes to all those negotiating for an agreement.
Chairman: It is the fervent hope of all members of the committee and of the House that those negotiating will be able to come to some agreement or settlement by tomorrow night. It may take many compromises and many people may have to abandon some of their long-held views but it is absolutely essential they do. I shudder to think what the consequences will be if there is not an agreement. It is playing into the hands of those who wish to engage in serious terrorism. It is alarming to learn that at 12.30 a.m. someone was the victim of a sectarian murder in Derry. We are better to leave it given the exceptional fluidity and the most unusual situation in which are now, that the culmination of long years of effort is due to end tomorrow. There is no certainty it will end successfully but we hope it will. Is it agreed to leave it at that and that we might examine the matter at a subsequent meeting when the situation has been clarified? Agreed. The committee is adjourned until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 22 April.
The Joint Committee adjourned at 1.30 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 22 April 1998.
RESOLUTION ON ALGERIA
The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, in light of the continuing regular incidences of massacres of innocent people, including women and children in Algeria, held a further hearing on the situation there on 8 April. Following the discussion, the Joint Committee adopted the following resolution:
“The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs,
Expressing concern at the grave human rights situation in Algeria, where up to 80,000 people, including women and children, have been killed in the six-year-old conflict;
Expressing concern at the grave human rights situation in Algeria, where up to 80,000
Expressing concern that, in spite of repeated assurances by the Algerian authorities year after year that the situation is ‘under control and improving’, the situation in fact has continued to deteriorate and in the past year violence has reached unprecedented levels;
Expressing concern that the perpetrators of grave crimes, including massacres, murder and torture, have not been brought to justice and appear to enjoy continuing impunity;
Calls on the Irish Government to play a constructive role at the current UN Commission on Human Rights and other fora by calling for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur and for the establishment of an international investigation to establish facts and responsibilities in order to shed light on the situation there, to ensure that those responsible for crimes and grave abuses are brought to justice and to make recommendations for a long-term human rights plan of action to address the Algerian human rights crisis. The necessary resources should be provided to do this;
Reiterates its commitment to the principle that human rights have no borders and that no human rights situation can be immune from international scrutiny.”.
8 April, 1998