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