Causes and consequences
There can be little doubt that the principle reason for the considerable internal and international movement of people over the last ten years has been the ongoing violence in Algeria. Since 1992, between 100,000 and 150,000 people have been killed. Although the situation is currently much calmer, the death rate remains extremely high: almost 1,400 people were killed in 2002, and throughout 2003, over 120 people per month have died in the violence.
The origins of the violence
Essentially the conflict is between the Algerian army and a diverse range of armed guerrilla groups who claim to act for an ill-defined conception of an Islamic state. The significant Kabyle minority has periodically entered this conflict as a third force, generally political but occasionally by taking up-or threatening to take up-arms themselves. The conflict has been further complicated by internecine struggles within and between different armed groups. In addition to this, the goal and strategy of the army are not static, but evolve in relation to political conflicts between different factions of the Algerian regime. The obvious complexity of this situation, combined with the inadequacy and unreliability of available information, most significantly due to government-imposed restrictions, ensures that explanations can only really be tentative.
Human rights abuses
The majority of civilian deaths have resulted from the activities of armed groups. Sporadic attacks on the army and civilians from armed groups have occurred periodically since the early 1970s, but after 1992 they became an endemic aspect of the conflict. In the early stages of the conflict, specific individuals were targeted. These were frequently prominent liberal figures-writers, journalists or musicians-and this provoked a significant exodus of those people who were threatened. False roadblocks were also widely used early in the conflict and continue to cause fear on more remote stretches of road. Members of the armed groups, often dressed in official police or army uniforms, stop vehicles and rob, abduct, or kill their occupants. The most terrible aspect of the conflict, which caused international outrage in 1997 and 1998, has been large-scale massacres of the civilian population. These activities created a climate of terror in the area south of Algiers where the most brutal massacres were carried out during 1997. In the most serious events, groups of men armed with knives and axes spent hours killing hundreds of inhabitants of certain neighbourhoods or villages such as Raïs, Beni Messous, and Bentalha. Armed groups have also regularly set bombs in public places, indiscriminately killing civilians; in 2002, a bomb in the crowded market of Larba, south of Algiers, killed more than forty people.
A key part of the government's response, particularly in the light of massacres of the civilian population, has been the formation of 'legitimate defence groups' (GLD), also known as 'patriots'. In 1998 the government referred to the existence of 5,000 of these paramilitary militias. They typically go far beyond their self-defence remit and carry out attacks or ambushes of armed groups, either alone or in support of the army. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have continually expressed concern that the activities of these paramilitaries are unregulated and that they have been allowed to carry out extra-judicial killings with impunity.
Under the provisions of the state of emergency, which has been in force since February 1992, the army is virtually unconstrained by legal controls. The army's brutal counter-terrorism strategy has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths, according to national and international human rights groups. In 1992 a special anti-terrorism unit was formed, which went into service in 1994 and has had tremendous powers to detain and punish suspects. Extra-judicial executions are widespread and are regularly criticised in the annual reports of Amnesty International, the US State Department, and Human Rights Watch. Torture is also widely used, and remains 'prevalent and systematic' for individuals suspected of involvement with armed groups, according to Amnesty's report from their 2003 visit (Amnesty International 2003a).
Although most organisations have welcomed improvements in Algeria's human rights record, in recent years there are a number of continuing problems which are referred to in a range of reports (US State Department 2003; Amnesty International 2003b; Human Rights Watch 2003). A number of organisations express concern that few people are brought to trial from either guerrilla groups or the armed forces for established patterns of human rights abuses. A degree of impunity for membership of guerrilla groups was established in Bouteflika's civil concord law in 1999, but details of those pardoned is not public, and there is widespread concern that this has been extended even to those who have committed serious crimes. It is also extremely rare that anyone from the armed forces or police is brought to trial for serious crimes they are alleged to have committed.
- US Department of State: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2002 http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18272pf.htm
- Human Rights Watch Report, 2003 http://www.hrw.org/wr2k3/mideast1.html
- Amnesty International Report, 2002 (AI Index: POL 10/003/2003), available at http://www.amnesty.org
One of the greatest areas of concern for human rights groups is the situation of 'disappeared' people. Although there have been very few cases of disappearances reported recently, estimates of the number of individuals who have been 'disappeared' by security forces in Algeria between 1992 and 1998 range from 3,500 to 10,000. This is certainly one of the highest rates of disappearances anywhere in the world over the last decade. The government's attitude to disappearances has evolved considerably over the last few years, though the situation has yet to find a consistent response. As recently as 1997, government officials argued that all of the people considered as 'disappeared' by their families could be accounted for. They claimed that the individuals had either been killed by armed groups, or had actually left to join armed groups and were wanted by the government; whereas, in many cases, their families had witnessed their arrests by agents of the state and had not seen them since.
The government first acknowledged that there was a problem in 1998, but claimed that most of the cases had already been solved; very little was done about it. Soon after his election in April 1999, Bouteflika underlined his determination to tackle the situation and spoke of 10,000 disappearances, a much higher figure than that given by human rights groups. Within a year, his enthusiasm appeared to be waning and, although many cases of disappearance were cited as solved by the government, these were largely unverifiable. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has pursued 1,133 cases with the Algerian government over the last decade, but its most recent report lists only thirteen cases as 'clarified'.
The government's response to NGOs campaigning for effective treatment of the issue of the 'disappeared' has not matched advances in other areas. Neither the National Association for Families of the Disappeared, nor the Association for Families of the Disappeared in Constantine or Somoutou, have received official recognition. Demonstrations by these organisations are frequently broken up by the police, and an international conference they organised in January 2003 was disrupted by the refusal to grant visas to foreign participants. Although there are virtually no new cases of disappearances reported, human rights groups are concerned about prolonged 'secret' detention, which has a similar effect.
- Collectif des families des disparu(e)s en Algérie (in French) http://www.maghreb-ddh.sgdg.org/cfda/index.html
- Human Rights Watch: 'Neither among the living nor the dead: state sponsored "disappearances" in Algeria', 1998 http://www.hrw.org/reports98/algeria2/; 'Time for reckoning: enforced disappearances in Algeria', 2003 http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/algeria0203/
- UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Report, 2002 http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/TestFrame/f5cefa4dfb6ad460c1256ba0004bb8d3?Opendocument
Guerrilla groups claiming inspiration from Islamic principles have caused tremendous suffering and loss of life in the current conflict. They are sometimes referred to as Islamic groups, but this is something of a misnomer in a country where they represent the views of such a tiny minority of the overwhelmingly Islamic population. They have gained notoriety over the last decade, but similar groups have existed before. The association Al Qiyam, formed in the mid 1960s, was perhaps the forerunner of radical Islam, establishing the style and concerns that would be taken up by the contemporary radical Islamist movement (Roberts 2003; Euzière 1999). From 1982 to 1987, Mustapha Bouyali led a group known as the Mouvement Islamique Armé (MIA) in the Atlas Mountains, which stole money and arms and killed a number of police officers in their attempts to evade arrest (Martinez 1998).
Soon after the cancellations of the 1992 elections, the MIA was resuscitated under new leadership. It was rapidly joined by a diverse range of organisations such as Al Takfir w'al Hijra (Excommunication and Hegire) or the armed wing of the FIS, the AIS. These groups were committed to guerrilla warfare, though their strategies soon began to diverge, and further groups formed from disputes or the arrival of individuals sufficiently disillusioned and desperate to become involved. The GIA is one of the most well known of these groups. It appeared early in 1993, and has claimed the majority of the most violent attacks. It is extremely difficult to follow the changing fortunes and internal disputes of these groups. For many years, journalists were absent from large areas of the country, faced with government-imposed restrictions and threats from armed groups who deliberately targeted them for assassination; so virtually the only available information comes from the groups' own irregular and self-serving communiqués. Khelassi (1998) has pieced together various available sources of information, and cites at least seven separate factions of guerrilla groups.
In 1997 the AIS agreed to abandon their fight, though this was not announced until 1999 (Stora 2001). The GIA did not approve of this strategy, and as early as 1996 there were accusations that the GIA was responsible for the assassination of political figures in the FIS (Martinez 1998:361). The most terrible massacres of 1997 were in areas that had traditionally been loyal to the FIS in the Mitidja, south of Algiers, and in the mountains near Relizane. The continued struggle between the FIS and the GIA is one explanation for this. Indeed, this is a pattern that has continued; for example, the town of Larba, the site of a serious bomb attack on the fortieth anniversary of independence in 2002, has always been considered as strongly supportive of political Islam.
Soon after election in 1999, Bouteflika announced a wide-ranging amnesty for guerrilla fighters who gave themselves up, and an early-release programme for prisoners, as part of his civil harmony law. Although a significant number of fighters did leave the armed groups (400, according to Le Monde, 13 January 2000) this amnesty was generally considered a failure since it was soon apparent that it had had little effect on the level of violence ( Le Monde, 11 April 2000). Some commentators even point to the amnesty and early-release programme to explain the rise of one of the more recent armed groups, the Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat (GPSC), which, along with the GIA, refused the amnesty (Addi 2001). Throughout the conflict these groups have been linked to organised crime and strategies for the personal enrichment of their leaders. This seems the most likely explanation for their continued struggle, since in the current situation it is impossible to imagine the violent overthrow of the Algerian state.
- Civil harmony law (in French) http://www.el-mouradia.dz/francais/algerie/histoire/loi_sur_la_concorde_civile.htm
The armed forces
There can be little doubt that the real power of the Algerian state lies not with the elected representatives, but with the high-ranking military officials who have remained in place for the duration of the conflict. The conflicts at the heart of the regime are played out between different factions in this arena, rather than in the more transparent context of party politics and the democratic institutions of the national and regional assemblies. The legitimacy of these powerful figures in the Algerian regime rests on the legitimacy of the armed forces, and any criticism of the armed forces is a delicate and difficult matter. Despite widespread evidence for the involvement of the armed forces in regular and serious human rights abuses, including torture, extra-judicial killings, and disappearances, it is extremely rare for any individuals to receive any punishment or even official sanction. Where the government has acknowledged the abusive activities of the armed forces, they have been explained as the transgressions of over-zealous individuals, though human rights groups have been unable to verify claims that any members of the armed forces have been punished.
Throughout the conflict, much more serious allegations have been made of the more organised involvement of the armed forces in human rights abuses. Perhaps the most significant of these allegations were made in two book-length eyewitness accounts that related particularly to the involvement of the army in massacres of the civilian population (Yous 2000; Souadia 2001). The claims of these books have been picked over in great detail, and a whole range of factual inaccuracies has been found. They have met with a particularly aggressive reaction from certain sectors in France, who have robustly rejected the implications that Islamist armed groups should be relieved of a certain degree of responsibility for acts that have been committed (Sifaoui 2002). However, the allegations of involvement of the army have not altogether disappeared, and several more books making similar accusations have appeared (Aboud 2002; Samraoui 2003). The political significance of the accusations, the continued appetite for books of this type, and the scarcity of information on Algeria create ideal conditions for this type of information to circulate. The history of these events will no doubt continue to be written and re-written for years, if not decades, to come.
These allegations are significant since they automatically implicate senior members of the Algerian regime in human rights abuses. They have therefore always been dismissed by the regime as groundless and politically motivated, but they have found favour with a significant proportion of the population. The former minister of defence, Khaled Nezzar, was forced to flee France in 2001 to avoid a prosecution for crimes against humanity brought against him by Algerian exiles. In a later high-profile case, Nezzar sued Habib Souadia, a former officer in the Algerian army, for repeating such accusations, but a Paris court significantly found that there was not sufficient evidence to reach a decision. Ironically the restrictions placed on information by the Algerian government are largely to blame for the vacuum of information in which such theories thrive (Silverstein 2000). In addition to the limited availability of information, the task of determining the role of the armed forces in the current conflict is made even more difficult by the fact that members of the armed groups frequently carry out attacks on the civilian population in military uniforms (such as the notorious false roadblocks), and members of the special forces may engage with the armed groups dressed as civilians or with the support of the civilian militias, the 'patriots'.
A number of organisations, such as Amnesty International, have consistently called for an international enquiry into the allegations of high-level involvement in human rights abuses. The Algerian government has always rejected such claims as international interference in its internal affairs, and the majority of political parties, including opposition parties, support the government position. A number of commentators highlight the fact that any changes imposed from outside Algeria would be unlikely to lead to a sustainable solution to the conflict, and genuine reform can only emerge from within. In addition to this, the widespread opposition to international involvement in the crisis would mean that any enquiry would not find sufficient co-operation to be useful anyway, even if there were more long-term possibility for it to be effective.
All reports on internal displacement in Algeria highlight the difficulty of making any estimate of the numbers of people affected, due to inadequate information. The most widely quoted figure is that of the US Committee for Refugees, which refers to between 100,000 and 200,000 internally displaced (USCR 2002). The Global IDP Project monitors reports of displacement from various sources, including the Algerian press, and their data supports USCR's figure, though they provide more detailed geographical information. The most significant cause of displacement is violent attacks, or threat or fear of violence. This was particularly severe during the terrible massacres of 1997 and 1998. Since 2000, direct attacks have become less widespread, though reports have increased of armed groups destroying crops in rural areas and forcing the population to leave (Global IDP Project 2003). A series of natural disasters have also provoked significant population movement.
Although human rights reports highlight that no area of the country can be considered completely free from the danger of attack from armed groups (Amnesty International 2003b), attacks have affected certain areas disproportionately. The Mitidja plain, between Algiers and the mountains to the south, has been particularly seriously affected. This area, corresponding roughly to the wilayat of Bejaia and Médéa, is sometimes referred to as the 'triangle of death' (Dammers 1998) due to the concentration of massacres and violent attacks that have occurred there. Some commentators have referred to an 'exodus' from the Mitidja plain (Stora 2001), and a report cited by the Global IDP Project refers to 5,000 villages which have been deserted in the wilayat of Bejaia and Médéa alone.
Overall, the trend of movement has been from vulnerable rural areas, such as the Mitidja, to the towns. It is unusual for individuals to migrate internationally directly from more remote rural areas, and the move to the towns facilitates contacts that may lead to international migration. The growth of the urban population also places further strains on already scarce housing stock, and internally displaced people may have to cope with extremely precarious living conditions which may, in turn, make them more vulnerable to natural disasters.
- Norwegian Refugee Council/Global IDP Project: Profile of Internal Displacement, Algeria http://www.db.idpproject.org/Sites/idpSurvey.nsf/wCountries/Algeria
Disturbances in Kabylia
The Kabyle population is the largest and most vocal of the four main Amazigh minority groups in Algeria. Kabyles have a long history of migration. They are over-represented amongst the emigrant population, and have historically been very significant in the political life of Algeria (Roberts 1982; 2003). Despite significant migration, the greatest number of Kabyles remain in their region of origin, Kabylia, a largely mountainous area east and south-east of the capital that does not correspond to any current administrative divisions. Kabylia has always been one of the poorest areas of the country, and today the population suffer from high levels of unemployment (approaching 90 per cent locally amongst people aged under 25), extremely high population densities in what remains a predominantly rural area, and minimal inward investment. Kabyles have a long tradition of political activism, and the Amazight movement, both in Algeria and internationally, is dominated by Kabyles, sometimes to the irritation of the smaller groups of non-Kabyles.
The current disturbances in Kabylia date from the twenty-first anniversary of the 'Berber Spring' (see The current conflict). In April 2001, shortly before the annual commemoration of the events of 1980, a 19-year-old student was killed by the gendarmerie. This triggered widespread rioting across the region. The gendarmes responded with excessive violence, including the use of live ammunition. The excessive response of the gendarmerie provoked continued violence and huge protests, such as the march on 21 May in Tizi Ouzou, which attracted a million people: the largest demonstration in Algerian history. Since the 'Black Spring' the situation in Kabylia has never been fully calmed. In total, over 100 people have been killed and many more injured (ICG 2003).
Initially there was some confusion over how the disturbances should be interpreted. A number of politicians, particularly the RCD, claimed that they derived exclusively from cultural demands of the Kabyle population; however, it soon became clear that these were not central to the concerns of the protestors in Kabylia. Both the FFS and the RCD attempted to channel the protests themselves, but neither was particularly successful, and a defining feature of the protests has been the rejection of the established political process. A collective of local people was rapidly formed, known by the name of the traditional village-level political structures of Kabylia: the 'Archs', or alternatively, simply the 'citizen's movement'. Although the initial demands that were expressed included recognition of cultural claims of the Kabyles, including the official recognition of the Tamazight language, the socio-economic situation and the general lack of concern expressed by politicians about the growing suffering of people in the region was equally significant. In this sense Kabylia represents a more severe example of conditions than can be found elsewhere around the country.
Both of these elements appear in the list of demands of the Archs, the El Kseur Platform. The government has made some progress addressing the culturally based demands and has recognised Tamazight as a national language, though not yet an official language (which would allow court proceedings to be conducted in Tamazight, for example). However, the government faces similar barriers to the implementation of the more general socio-economic demands as elsewhere in the country. Very little progress has been made in this direction, and this is commonly interpreted as a further indication of the government's lack of concern for these matters. The Collective of Archs has become increasingly intransigent in its demands, and according to a recent report of the International Crisis Group (ICG 2003) based on considerable research in the region, has gradually cut itself off from its popular bases of support, particularly through its occasionally violent attempts to prevent voting in the elections of May and October 2002. The government met with this group several times in 2003, but there still seems to be little prospect of reaching any agreement. Most recently, dialogue with the government has produced divisions in the group, and El Watan reported that the Collective of Archs has divided over this issue ( El Watan, 31 October 2003; 1 November 2003).
- International Crisis Group: 'Algeria: Unrest and impasse in Kabylia', 2003 http://www.crisisweb.org/projects/middleeast/egypt_northafrica/reports/A400996_10062003.pdf
- Algeria Watch: Chronology of events in Kabylia, April-August 2001 (in French) http://www.algeria-watch.de/farticle/revolte/chronologie.htm ; National Commission of Enquiry Report into events in Kabylia, July 2001 (in French) http://www.algeria-watch.de/farticle/revolte/issad_rapport.htm; National Commission of Enquiry Report into events in Kabylia, December 2001 (in French) http://www.algeria-watch.de/farticle/revolte/issad_complement.htm
- UK Amnesty: El Kseur Platform (some of the demands of this platform have now been met) http://www.amnesty-volunteer.org/uk/algeria/ElKseurPlatform.php
The legal framework
Algeria is party to all major international human rights treaties, including the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Organisation of African Unity Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. It submits regular reports to the UN Economic and Social Council (see Civil society). Perhaps the most controversial piece of national legislation is the 1984 Family Code, which governs aspects of private law. A number of groups campaign for its abrogation, and although some modifications were made in 1998 and a national commission has been established to examine further changes, these are considered insufficient, as the entire text re-enforces gender inequality (FIDH 1999; Hadid 2003). It is seen as contrary to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which Algeria ratified in 1996.
- Full text of Family Code (in French) http://membres.lycos.fr/lexalgeria/droit%20de%20la%20famille.htm
- LexAlgeria home page - full text links to major public and private Algerian legislation http://membres.lycos.fr/lexalgeria/
- Full list of treaties and agreements signed or ratified by Algeria http://www.algeria-un.org/default.asp?doc=-treaty
- OAU Convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa http://www.achpr.org/OAU_Convention_on_Refugee_Rights.eng.pdf
In addition to the brutal conflict as outlined above, Algeria suffers from regular serious flooding and earthquakes. The most recent disaster was a 6.8-magnitude earthquake on 23 May 2003, centred on the town of Thenia, forty-five miles east of Algiers, which also seriously affected the capital. In total 2,268 people were killed, 10,147 were injured, and more than 200,000 were made homeless. The government was able to provide shelter for the majority of those displaced fairly quickly, and significant international aid arrived within hours. Initial predictions estimated the cost of the damage at US$5 billion. The Algerian Human Rights League (LADH) was sharply critical of the government for failing to assure the maintenance of building standards in this earthquake-prone region ( Quotidien d'Oran, 27 May 2003). Over the past decade, the region has been affected by earthquakes in 1994 and 1999, which both resulted in several hundred deaths; however, the last time that there was destruction on the scale of the 2003 earthquake was in 1980, when almost a million people were affected.
Floods have also caused extensive damage and loss of life. In November 2001, 921 people were killed and 50,000 made homeless by serious flooding in the poor Algiers neighbourhood of Bab El-Oued. This flood disproportionately affected people who had been displaced from the countryside by violent attacks over the previous few years, since they were often living in the most precarious or unsafe housing. Serious flooding also occurs regularly, and resulted in deaths in 1969, 1973, and 1984. The serious drought over the last decade exacerbates the floods by increasing runoff when rains do arrive. The drought itself is also thought to have contributed to internal displacement by forcing some people from land that could no longer support them. Though no figures are available, the drought will inevitably have played a role in the decision of those people who already felt vulnerable to violent attacks to move to urban areas.
- Reliefweb Algeria page http://wwww.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/ByCountry/Algeria?OpenDocument&StartKey=Algeria&Expandview
- Natural disaster profile: Algeria http://www.cred.be/emdat/profiles/natural/algeria.htm
No information is available on development-induced displacement. Significant development investment is most frequently associated with oil and gas, and so occurs in the oil fields in the south, far from any significant centres of population, though it is possible that other types of project do have some effect on the populated coastal zone.