The United Nations human rights chief today urged the Government of Algeria to reconsider restrictions and impediments being placed in the way of civil society organizations in the North African nation.
“While recognizing that the driving force behind this state of affairs is rooted in security concerns, I encourage the Government to review the laws and practices relating to civil society organizations and freedom of assembly, and also to order all security forces to refrain from violating internationally recognized instruments guaranteeing the right to freedom of association,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said at the end of a three-day visit.
She cited Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – a binding treaty that has been ratified by Algeria – as examples of those instruments.
During her visit – the first ever by a UN Human Rights Commissioner – Ms. Pillay met with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and a wide range of Government and judicial officials, parliamentarians and representatives of civil society organizations engaged in human rights work, as well as the head of Algeria’s national human rights institution, the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion of Human Rights.
In her remarks, the human rights chief noted that freedom of expression in relation to the media has improved considerably in recent years, leading to a “feisty, probing and relatively fearless local press,” while emerging new political freedoms have been illustrated by the large number of political parties represented in Algeria’s Parliament since elections in May.
“However, the rights to freedom of association and freedom of assembly for various other sectors of society – such as civil society organizations, human rights defenders and trade unions – is cause for concern and may even have deteriorated over the past year, partly as a result of an apparent clampdown by security forces drawing on the controversial Article 100 of the Penal Code, and partly because of the widely criticized restrictions contained in the new Law on Associations adopted last December,” Ms. Pillay said..
She noted that civil society organizations are part of the “life-blood of a free, democratic society” where the human rights of all individuals are upheld in accordance with international standards set by States.
The human rights official particularly highlighted the role played by non-governmental organizations in providing “one of the essential checks and balances that helps create a better human rights environment,” such as through helping fight for the rights of the most vulnerable sections of society, as well as helping uphold the rule of law by exposing corruption and other abuses.
“To fulfil their potential, they must be allowed to operate without undue impediments,” Ms. Pillay said. “I have therefore been very concerned to hear that not only are they facing legal and bureaucratic restraints in Algeria, but some of their members are also being frequently harassed, intimidated and arbitrarily arrested by the security forces, and are not being offered sufficient protection against these abusive practices by the existing legal framework.”
In her remarks, the High Commissioner also welcomed Algeria’s ratification of almost all major international human rights treaties, and the fact that, during her visit, the Government had shown interest in ratifying two of the main treaties which it has not yet ratified – the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, with the latter being a mechanism which enables regular unannounced inspections by international and national bodies of places of detention.
“By ratifying this protocol in addition to the parent Convention against Torture, which it ratified in 1989, Algeria would significantly strengthen its defences against any future return to the days when torture was commonplace,” Ms. Pillay said.
She added, “Similarly, ratifying the Convention on Enforced Disappearances would signal that the State is equally determined never to see a repetition of the terrible situation in the 1990s when several thousand people were forcibly disappeared by both the rebel forces and state security apparatus.”
Ms. Pillay said she was encouraged to hear that the Algerian Government has decided to accept a long-standing request of the independent UN body of experts known as the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, to visit the country to provide advice on how to deal with the issue of enforced disappearances.