Use of the Legal System to Achieve Political Ends : victims and their defenders on the benches of the accused.

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Publication of a report on international judicial observation missions

Since the interruption in 1992 of the electoral process followed by an institutional and political crisis, the Algerian population has been confronted with growing terrorism and an increase in repression by military and paramilitary forces. Both sides have resorted to murderous attacks and "quick strike" operations, in an attempt tip the scales in their favour.

Paramilitary militia, armed by the State and often operating under the orders of regular forces or working alongside them, have taken part in the fight against terrorism in the name of "self defence", as did Fergane, the mayor of Relizane and head of a militia group. Violations perpetrated by these groups have fuelled a spiral of violence which they had originally set out to fight against. To date, as a result of this conflict, 200 000 people have died, over 7 200 people are missing, and there have been several thousand extra-judicial executions.

In a great many cases, the authorities have not carried out investigations which have been requested by the families of the victims, their lawyers and Human Rights Defenders, thereby ensuring the impunity of security forces and militia groups involved in massive violations of Human Rights.

In this context, Human Rights Defenders have been one of the main targets of repression since the 1990’s. Over the past two years, repression has become an institution and has gained "legal" status by means of the judicial system. Over a period of 18 months, more than twenty complaints have been filed against militants and the Observatory has followed three court cases dealing with indictment of Defenders of Human Rights which have led to prison sentences. Alongside this, "traditional" repression has continued: harassment, persecution, putting pressure on and terrorizing close family and friends, defamation campaigns, cutting telephone lines, attacks, confiscation of identity papers, police surveillance...

This report draws particular attention to three recent procedures carried out against Human Rights Defenders, which are a perfect example of their arbitrary nature. Their aim is to sanction activists who are working on the issue of forced disappearance in Algeria, on the fight against impunity and for the defence of economic and social rights of the population.

Mohammed Smaïn, head of the Relizane section of the LADDH (Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights), was arrested in February 2001 after a visit to France where he was carrying out a informative mission on violations of Human Rights in Algeria and, in particular, on a file concerning missing persons of Relizane and Oran. Fergane, head of a militia group in Relizane, brought proceedings against him on charges of defamation. In January 2002 he was sentenced to two months imprisonment, followed by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of 210 000 dinars after his appeal. He has since then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Larbi Tahar, a member of the LADDH, was arrested during peaceful demonstrations that took place on 4 and 5 October 2001 at Labiod Sid Echikh and was later sentenced to seven months imprisonment and a fine of 5 000 dinars after his appeal on a charge of "encouraging illegal gatherings, resisting the forces of law and order, and destruction of personal property". Mr. Tahar is currently in prison.

Mr.Abderahmane Khelil, a member of the Comité SOS-Disparus (SOS Committee on Missing Persons) of the LADDH was first arrested in March and then in May 2002. Imprisoned in relation to investigations he had carried out regarding the arrest of several students from the University of Bouzaréah (Algiers) and charged with "encouraging non-armed gatherings", he was given a suspended 6-month prison sentence.

These cases reveal how obstacles are systematically placed in the way of all those who ask for light to be shed on the issue of missing persons and for justice. The latest example is the following: on Wednesday 3 July 2002, families of missing persons were not allowed to hold their weekly gathering in front of the headquarters of the Advisory Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights in Algiers. Demonstrators were violently dispersed and a great many women were wounded by truncheons.

All of these acts are contradictory to the provisions set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Algeria and to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which guarantee, in particular, freedom of opinion, of expression, freedom to gather, to create associations and the right to be tried equitably.

The Observatory is passing on this report to the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations on Human Rights Defenders, Mrs. Hina Jilani, and to the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Dato’Param Cumaraswamy.

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