Algeria: Assaults against families of 'disappeared' must stop

For the second time in two weeks, police in Algiers today violently dispersed a peaceful demonstration by relatives of the 'disappeared'. The gathering was held outside Algeria's official human rights body, the Commission nationale consultative de promotion et de protection des droits de l'homme (CNCPDH). According to eye-witnesses, some protesters who refused to obey police requests to leave were dragged away by their arms, and others beaten with batons. The families of the 'disappeared' were reportedly threatened by the police not to return to protest outside the Commission's office.

'The Algerian authorities must not only guarantee the right to freedom of expression of the relatives of the 'disappeared', but must also ensure that they are not subjected to ill-treatment, threats or intimidation,' Amnesty International said.

Families of the 'disappeared' now fear that the Algerian authorities are attempting to close the chapter of 'disappearances' without establishing the truth and bringing the perpetrators to justice. Recently, some families were offered compensation, although no investigation into the fate of their 'disappeared' relatives had been carried out.

Amnesty International reminded the Algerian authorities of their responsibility to immediately help the families trace their 'disappeared' relatives and to investigate each violation to the right to life and security of the person in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law.

Background

Dozens of relatives of the 'disappeared' held their weekly gathering this morning outside the offices of the CNCPDH. Since the office of the CNCPDH was locked, the families remained in front of the building to hold their peaceful protest. At about 10 am the relatives were surrounded by dozens of policemen who asked them to leave. When some of the mothers of the 'disappeared' sat on the ground to show their determination to continue the peaceful protest, the security forces began violently to disperse the crowd.

In a similar incident on 23 June 2002, a demonstration by families of the 'disappeared' was violently dispersed by police when they gathered in front of government buildings to call on the newly appointed Algerian government to investigate the thousands of cases of 'disappearances' brought to their attention.

Around 4,000 people have 'disappeared' in Algeria since 1993 after being arrested by the security forces. Their families have been searching for information on their whereabouts ever since by visiting police stations, army barracks, prisons, morgues and cemeteries. They have also petitioned the judicial authorities and appealed to the government, the parliament and the President of the Republic. Despite repeated government promises to investigate these 'disappearances', not one individual case has been fully and independently investigated.

For years most families of the 'disappeared' were too afraid to protest publicly. However, since August 1998, hundreds of relatives, especially mothers, began to regularly hold demonstrations in the capital, Algiers, and other cities demanding news of their missing relatives. Even though the protests have generally been allowed to take place, on a number of occasions in the last three years, the security forces have broken up demonstrations by force and beaten, ill-treated and/or arrested the relatives.

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