Introduction

In 1991, Algeria’s legislative elections degenerated into a 10-year civil war that cost the lives of tens of thousands of people (60,000 to 150,000 according to different sources). The supporters of the two main political parties clashed in a bloody guerilla war: both the army and armed Islamist groups were responsible for enforced disappearances, massacres of entire villages, arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial executions. In 2006, an amnesty law cast a cloak of obscurity over all these abuses. Obtaining justice became impossible: impunity had been institutionalized in Algeria.

UN Photo ©Evan Schneider Women Algeria

Bringing justice to victims

Since 2007, TRIAL International has been defending victims before the United Nations Committee against Torture and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. With the support of local NGOs, the organization referred 20 cases of enforced disappearance committed by the Algerian security forces to the United Nations. These files related not only to political activists, but also to innocent individuals (including under-age youths) who had been abducted and disappeared without trace in order to put pressure on their family members.

Algeria was found liable in every single case. The United Nations called upon the government to shed light on these disappearances, to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes and to offer compensation to the relatives of those disappeared persons. For the first time in 20 years, the suffering of the families of disappeared persons was taken into account.

Fighting impunity

TRIAL International is also directly fighting the impunity of individuals responsible for the most serious crimes in Algeria. Since impunity is institutionalized in this country, the victims try to obtain justice by applying to authorities other than their own: using the principle of universal jurisdiction, the organization has thus filed criminal complaints against several suspects of war crimes or torture who were in Switzerland.