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     An Inquiry Into The Algerian Massacres



Book Review: An Inquiry Into The Algerian Massacres

Editors: Youcef Bedjaoui, Abbas Aroua and Meziane Ait-Larbi.  

Forewords by Noam Chomsky and Lord Avebury,Hoggar, 1999, pp. 1473, ISBN 2-9401 30-08-6.  Price: £24.00 + 5.95 p&p

The question of 'who kills whom' in Algeria is stubborn and refuses to go away.  It bounces back again in a new book entitled: An Inuiry into the Algerian Massacres.  The interrogation permeates the 1473 pages of this bumper study which comes with two forewords.  In the first foreword, Professor Noam Chomsky describes the study as ‘impressive and deeply sobering’ and recalls how calls for a high level independent inquiry which have been issued repeatedly by human rights organisations have been rejected.  Lord Eric Avebury, in the second foreword, describes the work as 'the first comprehensive study of the phenomenon in any language' and adds that ‘the atrocities of the last seven years cannot simply be forgotten and swept under the carpet’.  The book is a collective effort by about twenty researchers and the contributions fall into six self-contained parts.

Part I deals with the massacres and the victims.  In the first paper, Ah-Yahia Abdennour, the President of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, outlines the context in which the massive human rights violations occur.  In the second paper the anatomy of the massacres is examined through an analysis of 622 selective and random mass victimisation cases involving 10,758 deaths.  A statistical approach is employed in the analysis of the data and the results are illustrated graphically.  The resulting distributions of the mass victimisation as functions of time, geography and political loyalties reveal disturbing regularities which defy die official and received version of events.  The third paper is a collection of first hand testimonies by survivors and relatives of victims which provide a vivid reminder of the pain, suffering and agony which were inflicted on the victims.  The last contribution in this part is a report on the Serkadji prison massacre compiled by lawyers, families of victims, detainees and human rights workers.

Part II is devoted to a survey and a critical analysis of the questions pertaining to the intents and identity of the perpetrators involved in the massacres. The various theories suggested to explain the mass victimisation, namely: i) Islamist punitive mass murders, ii) counterinsurgency tactics, iii) instruments in interfactional rivalry within the military institution, iv) land eviction methods by the speculative mafia and v) tribal feuds and social criminality, are rigorously tested in their fitting capacity for the available data and factual events.  The intents which violate and best fit the data are highlighted.  A study on the identify of the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) is also presented and die contradictory views surrounding its actual identify are extensively discussed.

Part III deals with the national responses to the mass victimisation. It surveys the terrain in which the Algerian nightmare plays itself.  There are players and supporters with no referees to arbitrate a deadly game. One paper looks at the responses of the Algerian government and the ways it handles national and international questions about its responsibility.  Another paper examines the reactions of the military and its dissident elements.  The behaviour and discourse of the Algerian diplomacy in its endeavour to forestall international scrutiny of the mass murders are analysed in a separate paper.  Another paper focuses exclusively on the attitude of the Algerian diplomacy against the international human rights NGOS.  The reactions of the Islamic parties as well as those of the insurgents groups are addressed in one contribution.  Another one deals specifically with the responses of the other political parties, political and intellectual figures and national NGOS. The role and responsibility of the press are also included in a last paper.  In all instances, the reactions are found to correlate strongly with predisposed loyalties and vested interests.

Part IV addresses the response of the international community as represented by states, international organisations and concerned individuals.  These are bystanders since they are not directly affected by the crimes but which nevertheless can have decisive influence on the course of events.  The reactions of France are given prominence owing to the special influence that this country still has on Algeria.  The reactions of the European Union, die US, the Arab and Muslim world and the UN are also examined.  The role of international oil companies and multinational firms as active bystanders is also highlighted.

Part V deals with mass victimisation in Algeria's recent colonial and post-colonial history.  The main massacres that took place under French occupation during the period from 1830 to 1962 are narrated.  As in the present day massacres, the civilian population bore the brunt of the actions of a conquering power with technological superiority, strong avidity for land and plenty of zeal for a 'mission civilisatrice’..  The intents behind the massacres, ie. i) land eviction instruments ii) demonstration of absolute power and disproportionate retaliation, iii) counterinsurgency strategy and iv) collective punishments, are discussed. Massacres have also been committed by Algerians against their fellow citizens either during the liberation war (Mellouza massacre) or after independence (October 1988).  The recall of such atrocities inflicted on the civilian population helps to understand why the civilian population is again the victim of such victimisation.

Part VI is a legal perspective on the mass victimisation.  The first paper examines the legal status of acts of massacres in Algeria's national law.  The latter is designed to protect the regime in power and not society as it draws inspiration from the colonial criminal law whose chief concern was the repression of the nationalist movement.  The current law does not provide for the prosecution and punishment of the mass victimisation perpetrators.  In the second paper arguments are marshalled for the present massacres to qualify for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  The last paper deals with investigation, prosecution and punishment issues.

The book ends by a photographic account of the massacres.  The pictures of victims, survivors and distressed relatives are poignant and illustrate a savagery beyond imagination.  The victims are helpless poor civilians who are caught in a conflict whose strategic goals are beyond their comprehension.  They pay the price of an evil intent whatever that may be.

This book is a valuable contribution to an understanding of the terrible events that have ravaged Algeria.  It is a rich source of information for academics, human rights workers, social scientists, politicians, journalists and concerned individuals.

Author: Islamic Party of Britain
Date Published: Winter 2000/2001

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