Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1998 Algeria
President Liamine Zeroual, a former general, was elected in November
1995 to a 5-year term. Zeroual previously had served as president
of a transition government established by the army in 1994, which
included a National Transition Council (CNT) as a surrogate parliament.
The President controls defense and foreign policy, appoints and
dismisses the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers, and may dissolve
the legislature. The presidential election was competitive. According
to government figures, Zeroual received 61 percent of the votes;
losing candidates claimed that there were instances of fraud but
did not contest Zeroual's victory. In a flawed referendum in November
1996, the Government obtained approval of proposed changes to
the Constitution, including the provision of a second parliamentary
chamber and greater presidential authority. In June 1997, Algeria
held its first parliamentary elections since January 1992 and
elected the first multiparty Parliament in Algerian history. The
cancellation of the 1992 elections, which the Islamic Salvation
Front (FIS) was poised to win, suspended the democratization process
and a transition to a pluralistic republic, and escalated fighting,
which still continues, between the security forces and armed Islamist
groups seeking to overthrow the Government and impose an Islamic
state. Provincial and municipal elections also were held in 1997.
The election campaigns were marked by increased openness; however,
international observers and political parties pointed out numerous
problems with the conduct of the elections. Although President
Zeroual was scheduled to remain in office until 2000, on September
11 he announced publicly that he would resign upon completion
of multiparty elections to be held before the end of April 1999.
The Government does not always respect the independence of the
The Government's security apparatus is composed of the army, air
force, navy, the national gendarmerie, the national police, communal
guards (a local police), and local self-defense forces. All of
these elements are involved in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism
operations and are under the control of the Government. The security
forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses.
The economy is slowly developing from a state-administered to
a market-oriented system. The Government has implemented successfully
stabilization policies and structural reforms. However, privatization
of state enterprises and the restructuring of the banking and
housing construction sectors have just begun. Uncompetitive and
unprofitable state enterprises constitute the bulk of the industrial
sector. The state-owned petroleum sector's output represented
about a quarter of national income and about 95 percent of export
earnings in 1998. The agricultural sector, which produces grains,
fruit, cattle, fibers, vegetables, and poultry, makes up 10 to
12 percent of the economy. Algeria is a middle-income country;
annual per capita income is approximately $1,600. Officially,
about 28 percent of the working-age population is unemployed,
and about 70 percent of persons under the age of 30 can not find
adequate employment. Some made a living from petty smuggling or
The Government's human rights record remained poor; although there
were improvements in some areas, serious problems remain. Citizens
do not yet have the effective right to change their government
peacefully. The security forces committed extrajudicial killings,
were responsible for numerous disappearances, routinely tortured
or otherwise abused detainees, and arbitrarily arrested and detained
or held incommunicado many individuals suspected of involvement
with armed Islamist groups. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported
that on some occasions, from late 1997 continuing into January
1998, security forces failed to intervene to prevent or halt massacres
of civilians. HRW claims that there were questions raised about
security forces' indifference to, or complicity in, civilian deaths.
Prison conditions are poor. Prolonged pretrial detention and lengthy
trial delays are problems. Although the Constitution provides
for an independent judiciary, executive branch decrees restrict
some of the judiciary's authority. Illegal searches and infringements
on citizens' privacy rights also remained problems. The Government
censored news about security information and the armed groups.
The Government also continued to restrict freedom of speech, press,
assembly, association, and movement. During the 1997 legislative,
municipal, and provincial elections, there were credible reports
of irregularities such as government harassment of opposition
party observers and fraud in vote-tally procedures. The independent
press commented openly and regularly on the upcoming 1999 elections.
The Family Code limited women's civil rights, and domestic violence
against women remained a serious problem. Child abuse is a problem.
In July the Government passed a law that made Arabic the official
language, leading to concern among the Berber ethnic minority.
Child labor is a problem.
Although the number of security incidents involving armed groups
and terrorists decreased significantly and became more localized
when compared with previous years, these opposition forces committed
numerous serious abuses and killed thousands of civilians. Armed
Islamists continued their widespread campaign of insurgency, targeting
government officials and families of security members, as well
as persons whose lifestyles they consider to be in conflict with
Armed groups continued to kill numerous civilians, including infants,
by massacres and small bombs. Armed Islamists particularly targeted
women; there were numerous instances of kidnaping and rape. Bombs
left in cars, cafes, and markets killed and maimed persons indiscriminately.
Some killings were also attributed to revenge, banditry, and land
grabs. There were estimates that as many as 7,000 civilians, terrorists,
and security forces died during the year in domestic turmoil,
and that as many as 77,000 persons have been killed during the
past 7 years.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were credible reports that security forces were responsible
for extrajudicial killings. In February Kamel Nachef, who was
being held in Tizi Ouzou on charges of supporting terrorism, died
while in police custody. In October the press reported that 27
prisoners died of asphyxiation while being transported in a police
vehicle from one jail to another. The Government maintains that
the security forces resort to lethal force only in the context
of armed clashes with terrorists. The Government also contends
that, as a matter of policy, disciplinary action is taken against
soldiers or policemen who are guilty of violating human rights.
In April the Government claimed to have investigated and arrested
suspects in 128 separate cases of alleged abuse by members of
the security forces. However, the local press reported that all
but 7 of the 120 officers detained ultimately were released.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that on some occasions, from
late 1997 continuing into January 1998, security forces failed
to intervene to prevent or halt massacres of civilians. HRW claims
that there were questions raised about security forces' indifference
to, or complicity in, civilian deaths.
According to press reports, in early January government troops
killed 35 civilians during a manhunt for the killers of more than
400 villagers. There were also press reports that police killed
one rioter during protests after the killing of popular singer
Lounes Matoub by Islamic rebels.
Progovernment militias also killed civilians during the year.
In April the Government arrested the mayors of two municipalities
in the province of Relizane, along with several other officials,
on charges that they were responsible for the deaths of as many
as 77 villagers over a 5-year period. The mayors were given suspended
sentences and placed under "judicial control," a practice
that requires them to check in regularly with the local police.
In June the criminal court of Tizi Ouzou announced the verdict
in the case of a group of communal guards, tried on charges ranging
from arson to premeditated murder, for an August 1997 raid against
the homes of villagers known to be family members of terrorists.
Three villagers were killed, and several houses were burned during
the raid. The sentences ranged from 10 years' imprisonment to
capital punishment in absentia.
Armed groups targeted both security force members and civilians.
In many cases, terrorists randomly targeted civilians in an apparent
attempt to create social disorder. They carried out massacres
in numerous towns and villages and also massacred civilians at
roadblocks. They also used bombs to kill civilians and create
panic. For example, in August a bomb exploded in a neighborhood
of Algiers, killing 19 persons and injuring 61 (also see Section
1.g.). In other incidents, terrorists specifically targeted their
victims as instruments of the State or as individuals whose lifestyles
they considered in conflict with Islamic values. During January
armed terrorists killed hundreds of citizens. Among the worst
instances were the massacres in the village of Sidi Hammad and
in a number of villages in the western province of Relizane, in
which it is estimated that as many as 126 civilians were killed
and 76 were wounded. In Sidi Hamad, many of the victims apparently
were killed when a bomb exploded in a room where a large group
was watching a video. In the village of Haouche Sahroui, persons
reportedly were killed as they left a mosque.
There were numerous massacres committed by rebel forces. For example,
in March attackers slit the throats of six persons, including
four blind women, in the village of Haouche Mean, south of Algiers.
In April 16 persons were killed--many of them in their sleep--near
Medea, 60 miles south of Algiers, and M'sila, 125 miles southeast
of the capital. At the end of the month, 40 persons were massacred
in a village in Medea province. In mid-May, suspected Muslim rebels
cut the throats of 22 persons, including 3 children, in Oran.
On May 27, rebels killed 11 persons, including 7 children, and
wounded 5 others, in Melouane, Blida province. On June 25, Lounes
Matoub, a popular singer and supporter of the Berber cause, was
killed at a false roadblock on Beni Douala Road, southeast of
Tizi Ouzou. The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) claimed responsibility
for the killing. The killing occurred hours after another group
slit the throats of 17 persons in an isolated village. The death
of Matoub led to protests and riots in several cities. According
to press reports, nearly 1,000 youths in Tizi Ouzou stoned police;
police responded with clubs and tear gas. Police shot and killed
one demonstrator and injured three others. In October the Government
announced the capture of five suspects alleged to be members of
the terrorist group GIA and responsible for Lounes' death. In
mid-October, Muslim rebels slashed the throats of nine persons
in the village of Hamma Bouziane. In late November, the press
reported that up to 200 skeletons, believed to be those of the
victims of Islamic guerrillas, were unearthed from mass graves
in two wells 12 miles southwest of Algiers. In early December,
Muslim rebels slashed the throats of eight villagers in Les Eucalyptus,
55 miles east of Algiers. On December 10, an armed band killed
45 persons in Tadjena, about 125 miles west of Algiers. In mid-December,
Muslim militants slashed the throats of four villagers in Ahmer
el Ain, about 35 miles west of Algiers. At the end of December,
40 armed men killed 15 persons in the village of Ain N'sour; most
were stabbed to death.
During the year, no journalists or foreigners died in terrorist
A series of brutal massacres during Ramadan prompted a request
in February from the European Parliament for an investigation
by a U.N. Special Rapporteur. Claiming that the issue was one
of terrorism and not human rights, the Government refused the
request on grounds of national sovereignty.
In their final report, a six-member U.N. panel of eminent persons
noted that the Government had permitted it visits to different
regions of the country during its 2-week stay, including to some
sites where massacres had occurred. However, the panel was not
permitted to go to the area of Blida where a massacre had occurred
2 days before the panel's arrival.
There are credible reports of disappearances occurring over a
period of several years, many of which involved the security forces.
In September the Ministry of Interior established an office in
each district to accept cases from resident families of those
reported missing. By year's end, the Ministry had agreed to investigate
1,735 cases of reports of alleged disappearances at the hands
of the security forces. Families of the missing, defense attorneys,
and local human rights groups insist that the Government could
do more to solve the outstanding cases. The Government asserts
that the majority of reported cases of disappearances involve
either terrorists disguised as security forces or former armed
Islamist supporters who went underground to avoid terrorists'
Terrorist groups kidnaped hundreds of civilians, including family
members of the security forces. Sometimes the mutilated corpses
of such victims were found later. However, in many other instances
the victims disappeared, and their families could not obtain information
about their fate. Armed Islamist groups reportedly kidnaped young
women and kept them as sex slaves (see Section 1.c.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Both the Constitution and legislation ban torture and other cruel,
inhuman, or degrading treatment; however, according to local human
rights groups and defense lawyers, the police regularly resort
to torture when interrogating persons suspected of being involved
with, or having sympathies for, armed Islamists. There were several
credible reports of torture at the Algiers police facility called
There were reports that the police applied electric shocks to
sensitive body parts and sexually molested female prisoners. There
were no reports of the use of the torture technique "le chiffon"
during the year. Police beatings of detainees continue to be a
common practice. Many victims of torture hesitate to make public
allegations due to fear of government retaliation. The Interior
Ministry and the government-funded National Observatory for Human
Rights (ONDH) have stated publicly that the Government would punish
those persons who violated the law and practiced torture, but
they have never revealed whether any individuals accused of torture
have been investigated and punished.
The Government used force to break up several demonstrations (see
There were unconfirmed reports that security forces personnel
were responsible for several rapes.
Armed Islamic groups also committed numerous abuses such as beheading,
mutilating, disemboweling, and dismembering their victims, including
infants, children, and pregnant women. These terrorists also committed
dozens of rapes of female victims, many of whom were murdered
thereafter. There were also frequent reports of other young women
being abducted, raped for weeks at a time, and effectively held
as sex slaves for the use of leaders and members of the group.
Prison conditions are poor, and prisons are very overcrowded.
According to human rights activists, cells often contain several
times the number of prisoners for which they originally were designed.
Medical treatment for prisoners is available, but is severely
In general, the Government does not permit independent monitoring
of prisons or detention centers. However, in November the Government
received a delegation from the International Committee for the
Red Cross (ICRC). Talks between ICRC representatives and the Government
resulted in agreement to conduct prison visits after the 1999
elections. However, the Government refused the ICRC access to
military prisons and to several jailed FIS leaders. The Government
allowed the visiting members of a U.N. panel of eminent persons
to visit a prison in August, but denied them access to jailed
leaders of the outlawed FIS party (see Section 4).
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however,
the security forces continued to arrest arbitrarily and detain
citizens. The Constitution stipulates that incommunicado detention
in criminal cases prior to arraignment may not exceed 48 hours,
after which the suspect must be charged or released. According
to the Antiterrorist Law of 1992, the police may hold suspects
in prearraignment detention for up to 12 days; they also must
inform suspects of the charges against them. In practice the security
forces regularly ignore this 12-day limit.
The chairman of the Government's human rights body, the ONDH,
confirmed to the press in May that the ONDH has proof that some
detainees are in a secret place of detention in the country. FIS
president Abassi Madani, who was released from prison in 1997,
remains under house arrest and is allowed to receive visits only
from members of his family (see Section 2.d.). The press reported
that jailed oppositionist and FIS vice president Ali Benhadj,
who had been held incommunicado since 1992, was permitted a family
visit in October. A number of lawyers who had defended suspects
in security cases were held in incommunicado detention during
The Antiterrorist Law of 1992 suspended the requirement that the
police obtain warrants in order to make an arrest. During the
year, the police made a few broad nighttime sweeps of neighborhoods
in the Algiers suburbs in search of suspected terrorists and often
detained suspects without identifying themselves. In some cases,
the police purposely arrested close relatives of suspected terrorists
in order to force those suspects to surrender (see Section 1.f.).
Police and communal guards sometimes detain persons at checkpoints
(see Section 2.d.).
Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem. Persons accused of
crimes sometimes did not receive expeditious trials. Hundreds
of state enterprise officials arrested on charges of corruption
in 1996 remained in detention.
Under the state of emergency, the Minister of Interior is authorized
to detain suspects in special camps administered by the army.
In 1995 the Government announced that it had closed the last camp
and released the 641 prisoners there. However, there were subsequent
allegations the camp still exists and that some of the prisoners
were re-arrested later.
Forced exile is not a legal form of punishment and is not known
to be practiced. However, there are numerous cases of self-imposed
exile involving former FIS members or individuals who maintain
that they have been accused falsely of terrorism as punishment
for openly criticizing government policies. One such case involves
Ali Bensaad, a professor at the University of Constantine, who
remains in exile in Germany after he was sentenced to death in
absentia by the courts for allegedly being a party to a terrorist
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however,
in practice the Government does not always respect the independence
of the judicial system.
The judiciary is composed of the civil courts, which try misdemeanors
and felonies, and the military courts, which have tried civilians
for security and terrorism offenses. There is also a Constitutional
Council that reviews the constitutionality of treaties, laws,
and regulations. Although the Council is not part of the judiciary,
it has the authority to nullify laws found unconstitutional. Regular
criminal courts try those individuals accused of security-related
offenses, but there have been very few actual trials. Some observers
maintain that, as a result of the 1995 abolition of the special
security courts, long-term detentions without trial have increased,
as the security forces are reluctant to release suspects to ordinary
According to the Constitution, defendants are presumed innocent
until proven guilty. They have the right to confront their accusers
and may appeal the conviction. Trials are public, and defendants
have the right to legal counsel. However, the authorities do not
always respect all legal provisions regarding defendants' rights,
and continue to violate due process. Some lawyers do not accept
cases of individuals accused of security-related offenses, due
to fear of retribution from the security forces. Defense lawyers
for members of the banned FIS have suffered harassment, death
threats, and arrest.
There are no credible estimates of the number of political prisoners.
An unknown number of persons who may be considered political prisoners
were serving prison sentences because of their Islamist sympathies
and membership in the FIS.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home, but
the state of emergency authorizes provincial governors to issue
exceptional warrants at any time. Security forces often entered
residences without warrants. Security forces also deployed an
extensive network of secret informers against both terrorist targets
and political opponents. The Government monitors telephones and
sometimes disconnects service to political opponents and journalists.
Security forces detained relatives of suspects to attempt to compel
the suspects to surrender (see Section 1.d.).
Armed Islamists occasionally entered private homes either to kill
or kidnap residents or to steal weapons, valuables, or food. After
massacres that took place in their villages, numerous civilians
fled their homes. Armed Islamist groups consistently used threats
of violence to extort money from businesses and families across
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law
Armed groups were responsible for numerous, indiscriminate, nonselective
killings. Terrorists left bombs at several markets and other public
places during the year, killing and injuring dozens of persons.
In rural areas, terrorists continued to plant bombs and mines,
often to prevent security forces from pursuing them following
an attack. For example, in February one bomb killed 18 persons
and wounded 25 others on a train south of Algiers, and another
killed at least 10 persons and wounded 16 on a bus south of the
capital. Also in February, one bomb in a café in Algiers
killed at least three persons and injured eight. In May a bomb
killed at least 16 persons and wounded 61 in the Boumaati outdoor
market in El-Harrach, a suburb of Algiers. Also in May, a bomb
concealed in a cow's carcass exploded in a market in Khemis Miliana,
70 miles south of Algiers, killing seven persons. In early July,
a car bomb exploded in a market in Bab Ezzouar, a suburb of Algiers,
killing one person and injuring several others. Also in July,
another bomb exploded at a crowded market in a suburb of Algiers,
killing at least 10 persons and injuring 21 others. In August
a bomb exploded in downtown Algiers, killing 19 persons and injuring
61. In September a bomb in Khemis killed at least 4 persons and
wounded 15 others. In early December, a bomb in Ein Delfa, 80
miles west of Algiers, killed 14 persons and injured 23 others.
In mid-December, a bomb exploded at a market in the town of Aflou,
killing one person. At the end of December, mortar shells and
bombs hit the town of Khemis Miliana, killing 15 persons and injuring
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech; however, the
Government restricts this right in practice. A 1990 law specifies
that freedom of speech must respect "individual dignity,
the imperatives of foreign policy, and the national defense."
The state of emergency decree gave the Government broad authority
to restrict these freedoms and to take legal action against what
it considered to be threats to the State or public order. However,
the Government did not strictly enforce these regulations, and
the independent press reported regularly on security matters without
penalty. Reporting by government-controlled press organs frequently
included deflated numbers of civilians and government forces killed
and inflated terrorist casualty counts. In late 1997, the Government
issued a directive for the 1998 session of Parliament to take
up debate on proposed revisions to the law that would lift some
restrictions on journalists. However, Parliament had not completed
its review by year's end.
In March 1994, the Government issued an interministerial decree
that independent newspapers could print security information only
from official government bulletins carried by the government-
controlled press service, APS. Compliance with the government
directive varied among independent newspapers, but there was a
trend during the year toward increased openness about security
force losses, and the Government provided the press with more
information than in the past about the security situation. The
Ministry of Health continued to forbid medical personnel from
speaking to journalists. The Government's definition of security
information often extended beyond purely military matters to encompass
broader political affairs. In 1995 FIS officials who had been
freed from detention in 1994 received direct orders from the Justice
Ministry to make no further public statements. This ban remains
Journalists at independent newspapers at times avoided printing
stories about the security situation and Islamist groups in order
to avoid difficulties with the Government.
There were no reports during the year that the Government put
journalists under "judicial control." In previous years,
the Government used this practice to harass journalists who wrote
offending articles by requiring the journalists to check in regularly
with the local police and preventing them from leaving the country.
The Government harassed journalists through the regular use of
criminal defamation statutes to prosecute newspapers for their
publications of news and opinions. In July journalist Kadi Ihsan
was arrested on his way to a human rights conference in Geneva.
He was given a 4-month suspended sentence for allegedly "threatening
and insulting" the editor of a progovernment newspaper. In
October the editor of Le Matin was given a 4-month suspended sentence
and fined for publishing articles that were critical of senior
officials. In general, journalists exercised self-censorship by
not publishing criticism of specific officials.
There are no Islamist newspapers in print due to government pressure;
however, legal Islamic political parties have access to the existing
independent press, in which they express their opinions freely.
The Government maintains an effective monopoly over printing companies
and newsprint imports. In October the Government suspended several
independent newspapers' access to the government-controlled national
printing press pending payment of costs for newsprint and labor.
The suspended newspapers, together with other independent editors
who joined them in a solidarity strike, ceased publishing for
several weeks. The Government insisted that the issue was a commercial
dispute. The independent press maintained that the suspension
was politically motivated and intended to obstruct publications
that were highly critical of specific officials.
The Government continued to exercise pressure on the independent
press through the state-owned advertising company, ANEP, which
was created in 1996. All state-owned companies that wish to place
advertisements in a newspaper must submit the item to ANEP, which
then decides in which newspapers to place it. In an economy in
which state companies' output and government services still represent
approximately two-thirds of national income, ANEP-provided advertising
constitutes a significant source of advertising revenue for the
country's newspapers. However, ANEP tends to provide significant
amounts of advertising to publications with a strong anti-Islamist
editorial line and to withhold advertising from those newspapers
that undertake investigations of corruption. This ANEP policy
even applies to those newspapers that have large readerships and
may offer cheaper advertising rates.
Since 1995 the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists
(FIJ), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) concerned with press
freedom, has maintained an office in Algiers. In November the
FIJ received government authorization to function officially in
the country for the first time. In March the World Association
of Newspapers (WAN) visited for 4 days to examine the working
conditions of the press. In October the Government permitted a
first-time visit by members of the Committee for the Protection
of Journalists and allowed them broad access to local journalists
Radio and television remained under government control, with coverage
biased in favor of the Government's policies and its party, the
National Democratic Rally (RND). Parliamentary debates are televised
live. Satellite dish antennas are widespread, and millions of
citizens have access to European and Middle Eastern broadcasting.
Many artists, intellectuals, and university educators fled Algeria
after widespread violence began in 1992. Few returned during the
year. As a result, there were few academic seminars and colloquiums,
although there appeared to be many more in 1998 than in 1997.
The Government did not interfere with nonpolitical seminars; it
did sometimes interfere with seminars that were more political
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the right of assembly, but the 1992
Emergency Law and government practice sharply curtail it. Citizens
and organizations must obtain a permit from the appointed local
governor before holding public meetings. In February the Government
used force to break up an unauthorized march against terrorism
sponsored by the Socialist Forces Front (FFS). In June the Government
used force to end a mass demonstration in downtown Algiers by
the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) party to protest the
death of Berber singer Matoub Lounes (see Section 1.a.). In August
the Government refused to grant permission to the families of
missing persons to stage a march through downtown Algiers. However,
the group assembled on a daily basis thereafter for more than
a week outside the headquarters of the ONDH without government
interference. In December the Government refused the Algerian
League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) authorization to
hold a public commemoration ceremony marking the 50th
anniversary of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights.
The Government has refused meeting requests by various public
interest groups, such as the Association of Victims of Terrorism,
the National Syndicate of Magistrates, and the Independent Syndicate
of University Professors. In October the Interior Ministry prohibited
one of the large youth associations from holding a national conference.
The Constitution provides for the right of association, but the
1992 Emergency Law and government practice severely restrict it.
The Interior Ministry licenses all nongovernmental associations
and regards all associations as illegal unless they have licenses.
It may deny a license to, or dissolve, any group regarded as a
threat to the existing political order. After the Government suspended
the parliamentary election in 1992, it banned the FIS as a political
party, and the social and charitable groups connected with it.
Membership in the FIS is illegal.
According to a 1989 law, all citizens except judges, army and
security personnel, and members of the Constitutional Council
have the right to join political organizations. In 1997 the appointed
legislature changed the law regulating political parties, banning
political party ties to nonpolitical associations. The Government
permits some specialized groups to function such as human rights
and women's rights groups, social welfare groups, youth associations,
and regionally-based cultural organizations.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution declares Islam to be the state religion but prohibits
discrimination based on religious belief, and the Government respects
this right in practice. The small Christian and Jewish populations
in the country practice their faiths without government interference.
The Government appoints preachers to mosques and gives general
guidance on sermons. The Government monitors activities in mosques
for possible security-related offenses. The Ministry of Religious
Affairs provides some financial support to mosques and limited
control over the training of imams.
Conversions from Islam to other religions are rare. Because of
safety concerns and potential legal and social problems, Muslim
converts practice their new faith clandestinely. The Shari'a-based
Family Code prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims,
although this regulation is not always enforced. The code does
not restrict Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women.
In 1994 the GIA declared its intention to eliminate Jews, Christians,
and Polytheists from Algeria. The GIA has not yet retracted that
declaration, and, as a result, the mainly foreign Christian community
tends to curtail its public activities.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration,
The law provides for freedom of domestic and foreign travel, and
freedom to emigrate; however, the Government at times restricts
these rights. The Government retains the policy of placing journalists
and others under "judicial control," which prevents
them from leaving the country (see Section 2.a.). On at least
two occasions, the Government prohibited groups of children who
were disadvantaged economically or the victims of terrorism from
traveling abroad for recreational purposes under NGO-sponsorship.
The Government claimed that the children would be exploited by
the foreign media. Human rights groups countered that the Government
did not want the children exposed to questions regarding government
involvement in security incidents.
The Government does not allow foreign travel by senior officials
from the banned FIS. FIS president Abassi Madani, who was released
from prison in 1997, remains under house arrest (see Section 1.d.).
The Government also does not permit young men who are eligible
for the draft and who have not yet completed their military service
to leave the country if they do not have special authorization;
this authorization can be granted to students and to those individuals
with special family circumstances. The Family Code does not permit
married females under 19 years of age to travel abroad without
their husband's permission. The code also prohibits unmarried
females below the age of 19 or males below the age of 18 to travel
abroad without their father's permission.
Under the state of emergency, the Interior Minister and the provincial
governors may deny residency in certain districts to persons regarded
as threats to public order. The Government also restricts travel
into four southern provinces, where much of the hydrocarbon industry
and many foreign workers are located, in order to enhance security
in those areas.
The police and the communal guards operate checkpoints throughout
the country. They routinely stop vehicles to inspect identification
papers and to search for evidence of terrorist activity. They
sometimes detain persons at these checkpoints.
Armed Islamist groups intercept citizens at temporary roadblocks
in various regions to rob them of their cash and vehicles, or
to kill them. According to press reports, armed groups sometimes
massacred groups of civilian passengers at these roadblocks.
The Constitution provides for the right of political asylum, and
the Government occasionally grants asylum. The Government cooperates
with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.
It also provided first asylum. For example, it cooperates with
the UNHCR on programs to help refugee Sahrawis, the former residents
of the Western Sahara who left that territory after Morocco took
control of it in the 1970's. The Government also has worked with
international organizations that help the Tuaregs, a nomadic people
of southern Algeria and neighboring countries. There were no reports
of the forced expulsion of persons to a country where they fear
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Despite recent democratic improvements, citizens do not yet have
the effective ability to change their government peacefully. The
strong prerogatives of the executive branch, supported by the
entrenched power of the military and the bureaucracy, prevent
citizens from exercising this right.
President Zeroual was elected in a November 1995 presidential
election, officially winning 61 percent of the votes cast. The
presidential campaign was generally freely contested. Three opposition
candidates representing a spectrum of viewpoints had access to
both the independent press and the government-controlled media,
including radio and television. Their parties were permitted to
hold rallies across the country, and they had authorization to
send observers to polling stations. An independent election commission
supervised the election process, but the opposition parties asserted
that the commission did not carefully review complaints that it
received about the conduct of the election.
Under the Constitution, the President has the authority to rule
by decree in special circumstances. The President subsequently
must submit to the Parliament for approval decrees issued while
the Parliament was not in session. The Parliament has a popularly
elected lower chamber, the National Popular Assembly (APN) and
an upper chamber, the National Council, two-thirds of whose members
are elected by municipal and provincial councils. The President
appoints the remaining one-third of the National Council's members.
Legislation must have the approval of three-quarters of both the
upper and lower chambers' members. Laws must originate in the
In June 1997, Algeria held its first elections to the APN since
the January 1992 elections were canceled, and elected the first
multiparty Parliament in the country's history. Candidates representing
39 political parties participated, along with several independent
candidates. All competing parties and candidates were allowed
to campaign actively and had access to radio and television, although
there was some government manipulation of the broadcasts. Under
a system of proportional representation, the government party,
the National Democratic Rally, won 154 seats, followed by the
Islamist party Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP) with 69
seats, the National Liberation Front (FLN) with 64 seats, the
Islamist party An-Nahdah with 34 seats, the Berber-based Socialist
Forces Front with 20 seats, and the Berber-based Rally for Culture
and Democracy with 19 seats. Independent candidates won 11 seats,
the Workers' Party won 4 seats, and 3 other small parties won
a combined total of 5 seats. Hundreds of international observers
were present throughout the country. Some observers were refused
access to certain provincial electoral commissions. Most observers
believed that mobile polling stations, about 5 percent of all
polling stations, did not furnish adequate protection of neutrality
and transparency. In their final report, neutral observers stated
that, of 1,258 (of the country's 35,000) voting stations that
they assessed, 1,169 were satisfactory, 95 were problematic, and
11 unsatisfactory. In November 1997, the provincial election commissions
announced the results of their adjudication of the appeals filed
by various political parties. The RND lost some seats but remained
the overall victor in the June Assembly elections.
In 1997 the appointed previous legislature, the National Transition
Council (CNT), changed the law regulating political parties. Under
the controversial new law, parties require official approval from
the Interior Ministry before they can be established. To obtain
approval, a party must have 25 founders from across the country,
whose names must be registered with the Interior Ministry. No
party may seek to utilize religion, Berberism, or Arabism for
political purposes. The law also bans political party ties to
nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting
The more than 30 existing political parties represent a wide spectrum
of viewpoints and engage in activities from holding rallies to
printing newspapers. The Government continues to ban the FIS as
a political party. With the exception of the Government's party,
the RND, the political parties sometimes encounter difficulties
when dealing with local officials, who hinder their organizational
efforts. In June police summoned then-released Noureddine Boukrouh,
leader of the Party for the Renewal of Algeria (PRN), after 3
hours of questioning about his criticism of members of the Government.
Parties' complaints, particularly claims of official favoritism
toward the RND, increased during the period leading up to the
1997 elections. The Government monitored private telephone communications
and sometimes disconnected telephone service to political opponents
for extended periods (see Section 1.f.). Opposition parties have
very limited access to state-controlled television and radio,
although the independent press publicizes their views without
difficulty. However, during the recent election periods, opposition
parties were given much more access to the state media.
Women are underrepresented in government and politics. There are
only 2 women in the Cabinet, and there are few others in senior
government positions. Eleven of the 380 members of the lower house
of Parliament are women. About 25 percent of judges are women,
a percentage that has been growing in recent years. A woman heads
a workers' party, and all the major political parties except one
have women's divisions that are headed by females. Following the
1995 presidential elections, the Government changed the electoral
law to require that women cast their ballots in person rather
than give their proxy to their husbands or fathers.
The Government does not ban political participation by any ethnic
minority group. The Berbers, an ethnic minority centered in the
Kabylie region, participate freely and actively in the political
process. Two major opposition parties originated in the Berber-populated
region of the country, the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) and the
Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD). These two Berber-based
parties were required to conform with changes in 1997 to the electoral
law that stipulate that political parties must have 25 founders
from across the country.
The Tuaregs, a people of Berber origin, do not play an important
role in politics, due in large part to their small numbers, estimated
in the tens of thousands, and their nomadic existence.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The most active independent human rights group is the Algerian
League for the Defense of Human Rights, an independent organization
that has members throughout the country. The LADDH is not allowed
access to the authorities or to prisons beyond the normal consultations
allowed between a lawyer and a client. Members of the LADDH have
suffered harassment. Telephone service to the LADDH president,
for example, was intermittently disrupted, and he and other LADDH
activists received death threats from unidentified callers.
The less active Algerian League for Human Rights (LADH) is an
independent organization based in Constantine. The LADH has members
throughout the country who follow individual cases.
There is an Amnesty International chapter in the country, but
it does not work on cases in Algeria.
In February the Government denied a request from the European
Parliament to investigate a series of massacres on grounds of
national sovereignty (see Section 1.a.).
In August a six-member U.N. panel of eminent persons, led by former
Portuguese President Mario Soares, visited for 2 weeks to assess
the social and security situation in country. The panel traveled
to different regions, including several massacre sites, and visited
a prison. Its members heard from a cross-section of representatives
from the Government, political parties, civil society, human rights
and women's organizations, the media, religious institutions,
the families of victims of terrorism and of persons who had disappeared,
and from the general citizenry. The Government refused to allow
any meetings between the panel members and jailed leaders of the
outlawed FIS party.
Among the conclusions in its final report, the U.N. panel of eminent
persons urged international support for Algeria's fight against
terrorism, while simultaneously reminding the Government that
its efforts to fight terrorism must take place "within the
framework of legality, proportionality, and respect for the fundamental
human rights of the Algerian people." The report also called
on the Government to grant more political openness and to strengthen
and invigorate Algerian institutions responsible for the promotion
and protection of human rights. The report further called on the
Government to "examine measures to improve the transparency
of their decisions, the dialogue with and the flow of information
to the Algerian citizenry."
The National Observatory for Human Rights (ONDH) was established
by the Government in 1992 to report human rights violations to
the authorities. It prepares an annual report with recommendations
to the Government.
In 1995 the Government established a national ombudsman (see Section
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on birth, race,
sex, belief, or any other personal or social condition. The Government
named a national ombudsman in 1995. Provincial representatives
were designated in 1996 and 1997. They have a mandate to accept
individual grievances and to make them known to the authorities.
The ombudsman presents an annual report to the President. The
1997 report indicated that most complaints were about the allocation
of public housing; another common complaint was the bureaucracy's
unresponsiveness. Women continue to face legal and social discrimination.
Women's rights advocates assert that spousal abuse is common,
but there are no reliable studies regarding its extent. Spousal
abuse is more frequent in rural than urban areas, especially among
less-educated persons. There are no laws to protect women from
spousal rape or abuse. Women's rights groups have experienced
difficulty in drawing attention to spousal abuse as an important
social problem. Battered women must obtain medical certification
of the physical effects of the assault before they lodge a complaint
with the police. According to women's rights advocates, fewer
than half of the women attacked visit doctors for such certification.
In August the Government released figures that indicated that
by midyear, the whereabouts of 319 women remained unknown and
that there were 24 reports by women of rape. Most human rights
groups believe that the actual figures are much higher. In October
a first-ever rape crisis center was opened in Tipasa province
for women who have been raped by terrorists.
Some aspects of the law, and many traditional social practices,
discriminate against women. The 1984 Family Code, based on large
part on Sunni Islamic law (Shari'a), treats women as minors under
the legal guardianship of a husband or male relative. For example,
a woman must obtain a father's approval to marry. Divorce is difficult
to obtain except in cases of abandonment or the husband's conviction
for a serious crime. Husbands generally obtain the right to the
family's home in the case of divorce. Custody of the children
normally goes to the mother, but she cannot enroll them in a particular
school or take them out of the country without the father's authorization.
The Family Code also affirms the Islamic practice of allowing
a man to marry four wives, although this rarely occurs. However,
a wife may sue for divorce if her husband does not inform her
of his intent to marry another woman prior to the marriage. Only
males are able to confer citizenship on their children. Muslim
women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims; Muslim men can
marry non-Muslim women (see Section 2.d.).
Women suffer from discrimination in inheritance claims; in accordance
with Shari'a, women are entitled to a smaller portion of an estate
than are male children or a deceased husband's brothers. Females
under 19 years of age cannot travel abroad without their husbands'
or fathers' permission (see Section 2.d.). However, women may
take out business loans and are the sole custodians of their dowries.
Legally, if not always in practice, women have exclusive control
over any income that they earn themselves.
While social pressure against women pursuing higher education
or a career exists throughout the country, it is much stronger
in rural areas than in major urban areas. Women constitute only
8 percent of the work force. Nonetheless, women may own businesses,
enter into contracts, and pursue opportunities in government,
medicine, law, education, the media, and the armed forces. Although
the 1990 Labor Law bans sexual discrimination in the workplace,
the leaders of women's organizations report that violations are
commonplace. Labor Ministry inspectors do little to enforce the
There are numerous small women's rights groups. Their main goals
are to foster women's economic welfare and to amend aspects of
the Family Code, although no such amendments have been passed
During the year, Islamic extremists often specifically targeted
women. There were numerous instances of women being killed and
mutilated in massacres. As many as 80 percent of the victims of
massacres were women and children. Armed Islamist groups reportedly
kidnaped young women and kept them as sex slaves for group leaders
and members (see Section l.c.).
The Government is committed in principle to protecting children's
human rights. It provides free education for children 6 to 15
years of age, and free medical care for all citizens--albeit in
often rudimentary facilities. The Ministry of Youth and Sports
has programs for children, but these face serious funding problems.
Legal experts maintain that the Penal and Family Codes do not
offer children sufficient protection. Hospitals treat numerous
child abuse cases every year, but many cases go unreported. Laws
against child abuse have not led to notable prosecutions against
People with Disabilities
The Government does not mandate accessibility to buildings or
government services for people with disabilities. Public enterprises,
in downsizing the work force, generally ignore a law that requires
that they reserve 1 percent of their jobs for the disabled. Social
security provides for payments for orthopedic equipment, and some
nongovernment organizations receive limited government financial
support. The Government also tries to finance specialized training,
but this initiative remains rudimentary.
The Berbers are an ethnic minority, centered in the Kabylie region.
Berber nationalists have sought to maintain their own cultural
and linguistic identity while the Government's Arabization program
continues. As part of the National Charter signed in 1996, the
Government and several major political parties agreed that the
Berber culture and language, Amazigh, were major political components
of the Algerian identity. In July the Government passed a law
that made Arabic the official language of Algeria and required,
on pain of fines, that all official government business be conducted
in Arabic. The law also requires that Arabic be used for all broadcasts
on national television and radio, for dubbing or subtitling all
non-Arabic films, for medical prescriptions, and for communications
equipment. The law triggered widespread protests in early July
in Berber regions, including the closing of shops and a call by
the Berber Cultural Movement for Berbers to stay indoors in protest.
There are professorships in Amazigh and Berber culture at the
University of Tizi Ouzou, and in September the University started
offering for the first time a degree in Amazigh and Berber culture.
The government-owned national television station began broadcasting
a brief nightly news program in Amazigh in 1996. Berbers hold
influential positions in government, the army, business, and journalism.
In June Matoub Lounes, a popular Berber singer and outspoken advocate
of the Berber language and culture, was killed when his car was
stopped under suspicious circumstances on a road in the Kabylie
region (see Section 1.a.). His death triggered massive riots by
Berbers who demanded the Government acknowledge Berber ethnic
The Tuaregs, a people of Berber origin, live an isolated, nomadic
existence and are relatively few in number.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers have the right to establish trade unions of their choice.
About two-thirds of the labor force belongs to unions. There is
an umbrella labor confederation, the General Union of Algerian
Workers (UGTA) and its affiliated entities, which dates from the
era of a single political party. The UGTA encompasses national
syndicates specialized by sector. There are also some autonomous
unions, such as syndicates for Air Algeria Pilots (SPLA), airport
technicians (SNTMA), and teachers (CNES).
Workers are required to obtain government approval to establish
a union. The 1990 Law on Labor Unions requires the Labor Ministry
to approve a union application within 30 days. The Autonomous
Syndicates Confederation (CSA) has tried since early 1996 to organize
the autonomous syndicates, but without success. The application
that the CSA filed with the Labor Ministry still was pending at
year's end, although the CSA continues to function without official
status. The law prohibits unions from associating with political
parties and also prohibits unions from receiving funds from foreign
sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage
in illegal activities. The labor union organized by the banned
FIS, the Islamic Syndicate of Workers (SIT), was dissolved in
1992 because it had no license.
Under the state of emergency, the Government is empowered to require
workers in both the public and private sectors to stay at their
jobs in the event of an unauthorized or illegal strike. According
to the 1990 Law on Industrial Relations, workers may strike only
after 14 days of mandatory conciliation, mediation, or arbitration.
This law states that arbitration decisions are binding on both
parties. If no agreement is reached in arbitration, the workers
may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so.
A minimum level of public services must be maintained during public
sector service strikes.
In July the Journalists' National Union went on a 21-day hunger
strike to protest relocation of their government-subsidized office
space from a downtown hotel to one well outside of Algiers. The
Union and the Government reportedly found a mutually satisfactory
solution to the problem. In October there was a 12-day strike
by Air Algeria Pilots, which was joined by the UGTA and the SNTMA.
Other separate strike actions during the year involved university
teachers (CNES), telecommunications workers (PTT), and metalworkers.
Unions may form and join federations or confederations, affiliate
with international labor bodies, and develop relations with foreign
labor groups. For example, the UGTA has contacts with French unions.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for collective bargaining for all unions, and
the Government permits this right in practice. The law prohibits
discrimination by employers against union members and organizers,
and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of
antiunion practices by employers. It also permits unions to recruit
members at the workplace.
The Government has established an export processing zone in Jijel.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is incompatible with the Constitution's
provisions on individual rights. The Penal Code prohibits compulsory
labor, including by children, and the Government generally enforces
the ban effectively. However, armed Islamist groups reportedly
kidnap young women and keep then as sex slaves (see Sections 1.b.,
1.c., and 5).
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 16 years. Inspectors from the
Ministry of Labor enforce the minimum employment age by making
periodic or unannounced inspection visits to public-sector enterprises.
They do not enforce the law effectively in the agricultural or
private sectors. Economic necessity compels many children to resort
to informal employment, such as street vending. The Government
prohibits forced and bonded labor by children and generally enforces
this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law defines the overall framework for acceptable conditions
of work but leaves specific agreements on wages, hours, and conditions
of employment to the discretion of employers in consultation with
employees. The Government fixes by decree a monthly minimum wage
for all sectors; however, this is not sufficient to provide a
decent standard of living for a worker and family. On January
1, the minimum wage was raised to $93 (5,400 dinars) per month.
Ministry of Labor inspectors are responsible for ensuring compliance
with the minimum wage regulation, however, their enforcement is
The standard workweek is 40 hours. There are well-developed occupation
and health regulations codified in a 1991 decree, but government
inspectors do not enforce these regulations effectively. There
were no reports of workers being dismissed for removing themselves
from hazardous working conditions.
Source: U.S. State Department.