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Weekly Report: Algeria

Algeria: Immediate action needed to prevent further protest killings

AI Index: MDE 28/011/2002
Publish date: 17/04/2002

"The Algerian authorities must take immediate action to ensure no more
lives are put at risk during the policing of protests," Amnesty International
said today, on the eve of the first anniversary of the death in custody
of a Kabyle schoolboy.

More than 80 unarmed demonstrators were shot
dead by the security forces in protests following the death last year,
but those responsible have still not been brought to justice. The ongoing
impunity from which they benefit continues to erode the public’s already
depleted confidence in the rule of law in the country.

Action to protect
the lives of protesters in Algeria is all the more urgent in the chilling
light of the killing of some 10 unarmed demonstrators, including one
allegedly aged only 14, and the injuring of dozens more by members of the
security forces at the end of March and beginning of April 2002. The
killings have taken place in the predominantly Amazigh (Berber) region
of Kabylia in northeastern Algeria.

Some of the demonstrators are
reported to have been shot dead with live ammunition, some to have been
beaten or stabbed to death, and others to have died after being hit by
rubber bullets or tear-gas grenades aimed at protesters’ heads. The
killings have occurred during the dispersal by the security forces of
demonstrations about deteriorating socio-economic conditions and the
arrest of hundreds of demonstrators following previous protests.

"The violations are a shocking reminder of the authorities’ continuing lack
of respect for the most basic human rights of its citizens," Amnesty
International said. "Lethal force appears to have been used recklessly and
unlawfully against demonstrators when lives were not in danger."

Tomorrow sees the first anniversary of the killing of schoolboy Massinissa Guermah, who died
after being shot by a member of the security forces while being held in the
custody of the gendarmerie in Kabylia. Following his death demonstrations
erupted inside and outside the region. During the months of April to June
2002, more than 80 unarmed protesters were killed by the security forces and
hundreds more were injured.

An official commission of inquiry established
by the authorities to look into the killings in Kabylia last year published
a preliminary report in July 2001. It concluded, significantly, that the
gendarmerie and other security forces had repeatedly resorted to excessive
use of lethal force. In its final report of December 2001 the commission was
forced to concede that it could not complete its mission because many witnesses
were too afraid to speak to it.

Announcements by the authorities that the
individuals responsible for the killings would be brought to justice have
not been followed up. Although the authorities say they have detained some
25 members of the gendarmerie on charges of murder and firearms abuse in the
context of the demonstrations in Kabylia last year, 12 months on from the
start of last year’s wave of killings in Kabylia, no member of the security
forces is known to have been prosecuted for unlawful killings or other human
rights violations.

If further deaths are to be avoided during ongoing
demonstrations in Algeria, the authorities must ensure, as a matter of
urgency, that security forces comply with international standards governing
the conduct of law-enforcement officials and the use of force and firearms
and thereby respect and protect the right of life. These standards stipulate
that security forces should apply non-violent means as far as possible before
resorting to the use of force, and may only use lethal force when strictly
unavoidable in order to protect life and when non-lethal means have been

"They failed to apply those standards last year. They have failed
again recently and, if no action is taken by the authorities to ensure that
those standards are applied now, there is a serious risk that more unarmed
protesters will be unlawfully killed," the organization warned.

Amnesty International calls on the authorities to ensure that full and
independent investigations are conducted into all the killings of
demonstrators during recent protests and that the alleged offenders are
brought to justice in proceedings which meet international fair trial



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