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Algeria: National reconciliation fails to address needs of IDPs

29 September 2009

Background and causes of displacement

Violence in Algeria was triggered by an army-backed coup in January 1992 which aimed to pre-empt an electoral victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut or FIS) over the ruling National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale or FLN), which had been in power since Algeria gained inde- pendence from France in 1962. In the context of a stagnating economy, the opening of the political arena after years of political restrictions gave the FIS an opportunity to gain wide popularity, and it was poised for victory. Following the coup, a state of emergency was intro- duced and the FIS was banned.

Between 1993 and 1998, fighting between the army and various armed Islamist or- ganisations intensified, as did attacks against civilians. Due in part to the army’s counter-insurgency strategy, the rebel movement split into a plethora of armed movements, which proved difficult to eradicate (University of Bradford, No- vember 2004). The Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé or GIA) emerged as the most brutal, and was re- sponsible for numerous killings of for- eigners from late 1993 and large-scale massacres of civilians from 1996 to 1998, a strategy which eventually led to splits within its ranks (HRW, 2000). However, attacks against the civilian population re- mained widespread for several years, with indiscriminate killings and displacement reported as late as 2002 (AI, 2003).

The conflict is estimated to have claimed the lives of between 150,000 and 200,000 people. While an estimated 17,000 rebel combatants were killed during the con-

flict, the civilian population became the prime victims of armed attacks and tar- geted assassinations. At the height of the crisis, some 1,200 people were reportedly killed each month (ICG, October 2000, Executive Summary; ICG, July 2004, p.14). Nevertheless, as with figures for internally displaced people (IDPs), esti- mates of the number of people killed are imprecise and have been contested (Comité Justice pour l’Algérie, May 2004). Many women were executed, raped, abducted and enslaved (AI, De- cember 2004; HRW, 2004).

Government security forces were also directly responsible for killings and other violations of human rights, as well as causing displacement and failing to pro- tect civilians from attacks (Martinez, April 2003; Comité Justice pour l’Algérie, May 2004, dossier no.2; Lib- erté, 14 August 2004).

The establishment of local self-defence groups to ensure the security of civilians, which became legal in 1997, in some cases increased insecurity as their leaders evolved into local warlords. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people joined these militia groups and another 80,000 were recruited as local guards. The militias often participated in operations with the security forces and effectively replaced them in certain areas (AI, 18 November 1997; Sidhoum, December 2003).

After his election in 1999, President Ab- dulaziz Bouteflika focused on restoring stability by introducing initiatives such as the 1999 Civil Concord Law and the 2005 Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation. The Charter, which was passed in a national referendum, sought political reconcilation at the expense of


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