Algeria: Human rights activists denounce claims of Algerian UPR delegation to the United Nations regarding human rights situation in the country

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

In the fourth session of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Algeria’s human rights record was examined on 11 November before the United Nations in Geneva. The Algerian delegation presented inaccurate information and made claims inconsistent with the reality of the country’s human rights situation. The same day, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) in cooperation with Amnesty International and EuroMed Rights organized a meeting parallel to the session’s activities in Geneva. Three Algerian human rights defenders were featured in the meeting: legal expert Mouloud Boumghar, President of the Trade Union Confederation of Productive Forces (COSYFOP); Raouf Mellal, and researcher Ismahan Ait Mesaoud, member of the Association Tharwa N’Fadhma N’Soumeur. The defenders responded to the claims made in Algeria’s official report on the country’s human rights situation, and presented the most important human rights-related developments and practices on the ground.

The meeting participants unanimously agreed that the Algerian government continues to impose restrictions on free association, free expression, and independent trade union activity ,while  gender-based violence and discriminatory practices against women are on the rise throughout the country. These worrying developments dispute the claims made by the Algerian delegation before the United Nations. The participants further addressed the issue of amending Article no. 87 bis of the Algerian Penal Code, which has allowed for the arrest and prosecution of at least 267 people for their peaceful exercise of the right to free expression and association. Among the arrested were lawyer Abdelraouf Arslane, blogger and human rights defender Zaki Hannache, civil society activist El Hadi Lassouli, journalist Ihsane El Kadi, activist Jamila Loukil, and member of the Algerian League for The Defence of Human Rights Kaddour Chouicha.

In his presentation, legal expert Mouloud Boumgar focused on how the expanded definition of terrorism (through the presidential decree of 8 June 2022)  is like a sword hanging over the neck of any citizen wanting to critically engage with the regime. Boumger said that according to reliable sources, dozens of people “have been prosecuted for belonging to a terrorist organization within the meaning of Article 87 bis 13 of the Penal Code since the spring of 2021, and a large number of them remain in pre-trial detention.” Boumger noted that the deliberate use of broad and vague definitions of terrorism in the law represents one of the most significant legal problems related to the criminal status of people who can be listed as terrorists. Article 87 bis 13 of the Penal Code does not limit inclusion on the terrorist list to people who have been convicted of a terrorist crime under a final verdict of guilt, instead it expands the criteria to include people who are subject to preliminary investigation or judicial prosecution without completion of due process or a final verdict of guilt.

Raouf Mellal, President of the Trade Union Confederation of Productive Forces (COSYFOP), an Algerian union registered in 1991 and not yet recognized by the Algerian government, focused on the Algerian authorities’ suppression of independent union action in the name of combating terrorism. Mellal referred to the arrest of a leader in the confederation, Ramzi Dardar, on 30 June 2021, on terrorism-related charges.  Dardar was detained for 17 months until the court upheld his acquittal.

Mellal added that Dardar was subjected to ill-treatment by the Gendarmerie Nationale during the investigation, and was placed for over four months in solitary confinement with persons on death row convicted of terrorism crimes. Numerous Algerians have faced the same charges as Dardar; unionist Kaddour Chouicha, head of the Syndicate of Solidarity Teachers of Higher Education, and his wife Jamila Loukil , and journalist Said Boudour, were accused on 28 April 2020 of belonging to a terrorist or subversive organization.

According to Mellal, four leaders of the National Independent Union of Workers of the National Electricity and Gas Company and the Confederation of Trade Unions, were arrested and imprisoned between January 2 and 11, 2022. The four union leaders -Hichem Khiat, Nasreddine Hamitouche, Nasreddine Rarbou, and Mohamed Mselti- were released two weeks after their arrest and placed under judicial supervision. All four were prosecuted under Article 87 bis, related to belonging to a terrorist organization or forming a criminal organization that undermines national unity.

On 27 December 2021, the UN Special Procedures (Correspondence OL DZ 12/2021) warned that counter-terrorism legislation violates fundamental rights and imposes disproportionate penalties for actions that should not be addressed by counter-terrorism legislation. The Special Procedures emphasized that the procedures for inclusion in the national terrorism list are not in line with international human rights standards. UN experts expressed their concern regarding Algeria’s legislative framework, which could lead to violations and allow further arbitrary decisions.

Researcher Ismahan Ait Mesaoud, member of the Association Tharwa N’Fadhma N’Soumeur, focused on discriminatory practices against women, gender-based violence, and the suppression of women’s organizations and LGBTQ+ people. Women were on the front lines during the Hirak protests and the Algerian authorities’ repression has affected many feminist activists, who have been subjected to additional gender-based violations. To this day, Ait-Messaoud emphasized, many women suffer from prosecutions and defamation campaigns. Ait also brought attention to the escalating persecution of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the lack of legal guarantees regarding the community’s protection. This legal vacuum, she warned, reinforces impunity for perpetrators of violent crimes and discriminatory practices against LGBTQ+ persons.

Ait-Messaoud also discussed the Family Code, a law approved on 9 June 1984; the code constitutes the first form of institutional violence against women in modern Algeria, from which other forms of violence have since emerged. The provisions of the Family Code contradict Algeria’s constitution, which should guarantee equality before the law without discrimination based on sex. Rather than -promote gender equality, the Family Code targets women entirely with its discriminatory provisions while reinforcing unequal living conditions for Algerian women. The law legalizes discrimination by perpetuating the system of male guardianship over women in several areas including family life, marriage and inheritance.

The Algerian delegation claimed, before the United Nations, to guarantee independence of the judiciary and the right to fair trials. Karim Salem of CIHRS disputed that claim, saying that members of the judiciary have been subjected to numerous disciplinary measures and arbitrary trials. On 30 May 2021, Judge Saadeddine Marzouk, founder of the unregistered union “Free Judges Club”, was dismissed, and Deputy Public Prosecutor Ahmed Belhadi was issued a warning, in retaliation for their support of the Hirak protest movement and their defense of judicial independence

Salem added that the head of the accusation chamber of the Tipaza court, Noura Mikran, was dismissed in October 2019 and transferred to another court, after she had ordered the release of political activist Karim Tabbou. Court clerk and member of the Algerian League, Belkacem Maza, was arrested on 17 September 2020, and tried for his participation in the Hirak protests. Murad Ghadiya, court clerk and president of the National Union of Justice Sector Workers, was suspended from his work in 2018, and arrested in April 2021 for his peaceful activism.

Lawyers and members of the defense committee for the Hirak detainees are continually subjected to punishment and arbitrary prosecution. Lawyer Abderraouf Arslane was arrested on 26 May 2021 and tried on charges of participating in a terrorist organization and spreading false news that would prejudice public security and public order, because of his work and his exercise of free expression. Other lawyers, including Mohamed Bendahman and Mohamed Makkawi, have been suspended from their work, while women lawyers and participants in the Hirak movement have been targeted with defamation campaigns on social media.

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