Interview with Kamel Rezzag-Bara
Algeria Interface, October 24, 1999
Algiers, 24/10/99 – President of Algeria's official human rights agency, Observatoire National des Droits de l'Homme (ONDH), he talks to Algeria Interface about its role in investigating
INTERFACE: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has publicly stated that some 10,000 people have gone missing. Yet the ONDH report puts the figure at between 3,000 and 4,000. How do you account for such a discrepancy?
KAMEL REZZAG-BARA: The issue of how many people have disappeared in Algeria is a contentious one. There are several reasons, but the main one, I believe, is that the disappearances are inextricably bound up with the nature of our internal security crisis. Reports of disappearances began to emerge in the aftermath of the troubles of June 1991. They gathered pace in 1992 and probably reached a peak between 1993 and 1995. Since 1996, the number of cases reported has fallen, and the ONDH has registered no new disappearance since early 1998.
We compile our figures by processing statements made by families and friends and investigating both the families of missing persons and the official authorities. Since April 1992, the ONDH has registered 4,038 requests to locate persons declared missing by their family and friends.
The association which represents families of missing persons confirms our figures - it reports 4,000 cases of missing persons. Amnesty International, too, bears them out. Its report on the question puts the numbers of missing at 3,000. We believe that the Ministry of Interior has come up with a similar figure since it opened provincial offices to look into the problem.
You have stated that the ONDH has written to the families of all those reported missing, supplying them with explanations of what has happened to their sons and daughters. Why do most of them claim not to have had a reply from you?
As soon as the ONDH receives a request to locate a missing person, we open a file to document the case in compliance with the procedure laid down by the UN Commission for Human Rights. We then submit the case to the police and the judicial authorities so that investigations can get under way. As soon as we receive a reply from the authorities we send it on to the missing person's family.
I think we can say that two-thirds of the families who reported someone missing have, to date, received a reply from the ONDH. Our replies classify missing persons in different ways. They come under the headings of non-arrested, abducted by an armed group, wanted terrorist, deceased, imprisoned. Some families are not satisfied with the replies the ONDH passes on, and some don't believe them. So they write to us asking us to go on with our investigations and supplying new evidence or witnesses. We reopen the file and examine the case in greater depth.
A delegation from the International Red Cross Committee is currently on an inspection visit to Algiers. For several years the Red Cross had been refused permission to visit Algerian prisons. How do you explain the change?
It's quite true that over a certain period of time, there were differences of opinion as to the way in which the IRCC interpreted its terms of reference for visiting prisons in Algeria. Disagreement and misunderstanding now seem to have been dispelled. The IRCC and the Algerian government have come up with a jointly agreed protocol for working visits to a number of prisons in October and November 1999.
The ONDH, for its part, drew up a programme for prison visits over one year ago with the aim of submitting a report on the situation in the country's prisons. The report will contain observations and recommendations designed to make prisons into more modern, humane places which truly help to rehabilitate offenders so that they can take their place in society.
To date ONDH teams, which include lawyers, doctors, social workers and community group representatives, have visited prisons in the east and west of the country. They are also scheduled to visit a representative cross-section of prisons in south and central Algeria.
Interviewed by Baya Gacemi