On 12 July, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and seven other international, French and Algerian organisations sent a joint letter to the French Prime Minister, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Armed Forces. Taking into consideration the escalation of repression against peaceful protesters in Algeria in recent months, the organisations expressed concern at France’s recent increase in arms sales to the country, including riot control agents, and urged France to review its export of armaments to avoid being complicit in human rights violations and contravening its international obligations. The letter further reaffirms the urgent need to ensure genuine parliamentary oversight over arms sales and more transparency on the part of the French government.
In view of the repression of peaceful demonstrators, France must reconsider arms exports to Algeria
Prime Minister, Mr. Jean Castex
Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian
Minister of the Armed Forces, Mrs. Florence Parly
Since February 2021, the repression by the Algerian authorities against peaceful demonstrators, activists and journalists has increased sharply, as recalled recently by 82 Algerian and international organisations. As of 30 June, there are at least 304 prisoners of conscience, a record number since 2019, while more than 6,400 peaceful demonstrators have been arrested since February and the use of illegal force against demonstrators has been repeatedly documented.
In view of this intensified repressive escalation and the latest report published by the Ministry of the Armed Forces on French arms exports in 2020, our organisations call on France to reassess its arms exports to Algeria, in particular “riot control agents”, in order to avoid being complicit in repeated human rights violations in the country and contravening its international obligations. As requested by several French and international organisations for several years, we reaffirm the urgent need to ensure and implement a real parliamentary control of the sales of French arms as well as a reinforced transparency on the part of the government, allowing a real public debate.
While the Covid-19 crisis led to a 41% drop in arms exports, France remains the 3rd largest arms exporter in the world behind the United States and Russia over the period 2016-2020. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), France has also increased its exports of military equipment by 44% compared to the period 2011-2015.
Although France’s main customers remain the United States, Europe, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it is nevertheless important to point out that France also exports a large number of military equipment to Algeria. Between 2016 and 2020, Algeria increased its total arms imports by 64% compared to the previous five years. In Algeria, between 2016 and 2020, French exports increased by 122% compared to the previous period (2011-2015). More significantly, after a slight decrease in 2018, the Algerian authorities have ordered more than 158 million euros of weapons from France between 2019 and 2020.
These figures are particularly worrying in view of the context of widespread political protest and violent repression in Algeria. Since the start of the “Hirak” marches – a peaceful popular movement demanding more freedom and democracy – in February 2019, demonstrators, activists, journalists, and members of civil society peacefully opposed in the government have been particularly targeted by the Algerian authorities who have arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted a large number of them.
At the end of 2019, with the approach of presidential elections, many civil society leaders and journalists were arrested and sentenced to sometimes very heavy prison terms for having participated in these marches. Several human rights organisations denounced a “wave of increased repression” and a “deliberate strategy by the Algerian authorities to crush dissent”. Amnesty International recently called the charges against key regime opponents and members of civil society “a smokescreen aimed at silencing these human rights defenders and stifling their work”.
In recent weeks, the repression by the Algerian authorities has intensified. With the approach of the legislative elections of June 12 in particular, the authorities sought to silence all dissenting voices. On 14 May 2021, police arbitrarily arrested at least 1,000 people during the 117th Hirak March. Every week, dozens of activists are arrested by the Algerian authorities, sentenced, placed under judicial supervision or imprisoned, and several organisations and opposition parties are under threat of dissolution.
According to numerous testimonies, videos and press articles, the Algerian riot police have not hesitated to use force against peaceful protesters and journalists. According to press reports from TSA (Tout sur l’Algerie) and AFP, since 2019, police forces, in addition to throwing batons or stones, have fired numerous tear gas canisters at the demonstrators (including children), injuring a large number of them. Since February 2021, more and more testimonies have reported the misuse of tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters. On 14 May in Algiers, videos showed police beating protesters. On 4 and 12 June, security forces violently cracked down on demonstrators in several wilayas. In Bouira, rubber bullets injured dozens, some of them seriously.
On 5 May, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Algerian authorities to immediately end the violence and arbitrary arrests. On 18 June, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, denounced the abusive and disproportionate use of force by Algerian authorities against peaceful demonstrators, including the use of tear gas.
France continued its arms exports to Algeria in 2019, seemingly ignoring numerous reports documenting the escalation of serious human rights violations against peaceful protesters, activists and journalists. Among these exports are listed materials identified as ML7 in the classification guide for war materials and the like (ML) for the use of professionals. According to the report to parliament, the ML7 classification corresponds to “toxic chemical or biological agents, ‘riot control agents’, radioactive substances, related equipment, components and substances, means of detection and protection”. These exports, in the current context, appear to be in total opposition to France’s international, European and national commitments.
France has ratified the Arms Trade Treaty which clearly establishes that any exporting State Party must assess whether the export of its arms could be used to “Commit a serious violation of international human rights law or to facilitate its commission”. In addition, article 7 of the Treaty also provides that if, at the end of this assessment […] the exporting State Party considers that there is an overriding risk of one of the negative consequences […] occurring, it does not authorise the export”, and that if “after granting the authorisation, an exporting State Party obtains new relevant information, it is encouraged to reconsider its authorisation”.
France’s economic activity is also limited by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Guidelines on Trade and Human Rights. These guidelines also served as the basis for the Declaration on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights adopted in 2014 by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. In addition to this statement, the Committee of Ministers also issued additional recommendations emphasizing the role of embassies in providing information on the potential consequences of member state activity in foreign countries.
France is also subject to obligations to which it has subscribed through the Council of the EU, such as the Council’s Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, or the Global Strategy for the EU’s foreign and security policy. These texts include limitations on foreign trade or arms sales with the aim of promoting democracy and human rights. Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice announced on 29 April 2020 that the European Commission is committed “to present in 2021, legislation aimed at making reasonable vigilance in matters of human rights compulsory” in order to address human rights violations caused by European economic activity.
In 2017, France also introduced the law on the duty of vigilance of companies (law n° 2017-399) legislating on reasonable vigilance in human rights. Unfortunately, despite all these international, European and national obligations, France continues to export dual-use weapons and goods to countries which flout human rights.
- Act Together for Human Rights (AEDH)
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- Collective for the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (CFDA)
- Euro-Mediterranean Federation against Enforced Disappearances (FEMED)
- Euromed Rights
- French Human Rights League (LDH)
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
- Riposte Internationale
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