Algeria refuses UN entry to investigate rights abuses


Algeria: The Algerian government has once more refused to allow an international committee of inquiry access to the country to investigate human rights abuses by both sides in the civil war.

There was no need for such an investigation as the government was fulfilling its constitutional duty to protect citizens, the country's foreign minister said in Geneva.

Speaking at yesterday's session of the UN Human Rights Commission, Mr Ahmed Attaf said Algeria was committed to working openly with all the human rights mechanisms of the UN. However, he refused to say whether it would permit two UN rapporteurs investigating human rights abuses to enter the country.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Robinson, has been seeking this concession for several months now, so far with no success. However, there is optimism in Geneva that an agreement on the matter can be reached between the two sides during the six weeks of hearings at the Commission.

More than 60,000 people are believed to have died in the civil war between the government and armed Islamic militants since 1993. Many have been killed in brutal attacks by rebels, but recent reports by the US State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also implicated the security forces in human rights abuses, including systematic torture, arbitrary arrests and summary executions.

Algerian ministers clashed angrily with Mrs Robinson last year after she criticised the government for failing to protect its citizens against attack.

But Mr Attaf said yesterday the government had overcome its earlier difficulties with Mrs Robinson and was willing to talk with her at any time. However, he was blunt in his dismissal of allegations of human rights abuses by the state; the "number one" violation was the "terrorism" of the Islamic forces, he said.

He pointed out that the government had submitted a report on the implementation of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights last week. This cannot be considered by the relevant UN committee until next July.

Since the sending of the two rapporteurs, responsible for investigating arbitrary killings and detention, is likely to prove embarrassing to the Algerians, one possibility being mooted at the Commission is that rapporteurs into religious intolerance and discrimination against women would also travel. These would be more likely to highlight abuses by the fundamentalist opposition forces.

Now that the high-profile opening of the Commission is almost complete, work is beginning on the core agenda of human rights issues and "hot-spots". Already, the Asian members are seeking to rationalise the commission, by reducing its length from six weeks to four and by reducing the - already negligible - role played by non-governmental organisations.

These proposals are being resisted by most Western delegations, including Ireland.