Universal Periodic Review
First session meeting highlights
14 April 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record
The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Algeria this morning, during which 46 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.
This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on the United Kingdom, following the review of the country on Thursday, 10 April.
Presenting the national report of Algeria was MOURAD MEDELCI, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria, who said Algeria, for more than four decades, had regularly laid emphasis on its constant choice in favor of more freedoms. The Algerian State would continue to work for the promotion and protection of human rights, all human rights, which were indispensable for the organization of a democratic society, for the pacifying of internal relationships and which in may respect make up the very basis of the rule of law. This process had led to the State to engage in two initiatives, the most urgent and most important being to consolidate the peace that had been rebuilt after the long and difficult period of trouble in the 1990s. The second initiative was to continue with institutional, structural and organizational reform. Algeria had adopted the principle of the universality of human rights, which it considered to be the monopoly of no one civilization, culture or religion. Algeria had signed seven universal treaties of human rights and was also party to the African Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights, and to be the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Algeria’s approach had been a constant one; hence in March 2003 it was party to the International Convention on the Political Rights of Women and in January 2005 to the International Convention on Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. Moreover, in February 2007 it signed the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances and in March 2007 the Convention on Disabled Persons together with its optional protocol. The National Constitution Council stated anew the principle laid down in the Constitution according to which ratified treaties took precedence over the national law. In March 2001 the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was created; this was a body with 16 women out of the total of 44 members, a majority of whom were representatives of civil society. This new body replaced the National Observatory on Human Rights. This body was approved by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and was in line with the Paris Principles. In April 2002, the President of Algeria set our a road map drawing up and implementing an action plan for human rights, whose task was to examine closely the situation with regard to liberties and the problems raised, the types of initiative that were appropriate and the ensuing evaluation framework.
Immediately on taking office in April 1999, the President started substantial and wide-ranging reform of the judicial system with a view to building a system that was impendent, strong, impartial and credible, and making it the central pillar upholding the rule of law, the Minister added. Among the initiatives already take were reinforcing the independence of the judiciary; revising and adapting the national body of rules; promoting human resource developmental strengthening the presumption of innocence; reforming the penitentiary system; and modernizing the judiciary. Violence against women was a major priority for the authorities of Algeria and was treated with no leniency. The Government had implemented a national strategy to combat violence against women that was drawn up with help from civil society and agencies in the United Nations system. The question of gender remained a key issue in the governmental agenda and in this perspective a National Council for the Family and Women was set up by decree in November 2006. In Algeria, the child was a major concern for the authorities. A vast proactive programme had been launched since independence, and multi-sectoral reforms had been undertaken during recent years to promote the fundamental rights of the child.
Since September 1993, Algeria had become de facto an abolitionist State and observed a moratorium on capital punishment and death sentences handed down since the date were commuted to prison sentences. The Algerian Government had received over the past years requests for visits submitted by mandate holders. With regard to allegations concerning the presumed existence of secret detention centers in Algeria, the Minister said his delegation officially refuted this allegation adding that no detention centre was beyond the control of a judge and beyond the reach of law. During the 1990s, Algeria was confronted with terrorism and, as a matter of urgency and in accordance with the Constitution, resorted to implementing special measures to contain this phenomenon. The state of emergency that was declared had not prevented regular elections from being held and the legitimization of the institutions. In Algeria, although Islam was the State religion, the way it was practiced had been regulated since 1966 and rules had been introduced in order to prevent excesses and loss of control and to ensure that there was a sound understanding of religion.
The Press in Algeria was one of the freest in its geographical region. With 52 daily papers, 98 weekly publications and 43 other periodicals and with overall circulation figures above 4.5 million; it reflected the opinions, currents of thought and sociological reality in Algeria. Of the 200 cases covering the period 2001 to 2007, the courts sentenced 26 journalists; the sentences, following appeals, were reduced or transformed into fines or acquittals. The associative movement in Algeria involved more than 80,000 NGOs, of which almost 1,000 operated on the national level. They were registered by means of a simplified procedure of declaration and can only be refused in the event of one of the founding members having a criminal conviction. Contrary to certain allegations, in Algeria the State did not fight against democrats, but against those who wanted to put an end to the emergence of a democracy by committing the worst crimes against citizens, their families, their society and their State. The pluralistic presidential election of 1999 was a further landmark in the expanding democratic process and marked a new stage in Algeria. To the victims of the national tragedy without distinction, the State, in its capacity as a public power, had committed its civil liability and brought support and solidarity to the families, the Minister added.
During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included legislative reform and its impact on the human rights system; compensation to released detainees; efforts to combat poverty and to improve levels of health and education; steps taken towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals; efforts to enhance employment opportunities; steps taken to promote the rights of women and to integrate women in the society; the strategy to combat violence against women and the establishment of a national council for women and children; human rights training for police officers and improving prisons conditions; the extension of the moratorium of the death penalty; and the State’s counter-terrorism efforts and the national policy of reconciliation to assist victims of terrorism.
Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to measures taken for the establishing of reintegration structures to ensure that rights could be enforced; the State’s migration policies in line with human rights; strategy to address terrorism while preserving civil rights; what had been achieved by Algeria with respect of its experience in combating poverty and towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals; effort to uphold the rights of the children, and corporal punishment; steps taken in the 2004 plan to reinforce the efforts in the area of education; the promotion of the rights of women and equality, in particular in view of employment opportunities and the family law; programmes in place to addressing issues of unemployment and progress achieved since such measures had been implemented; plans of the Government to further its work to eradicate domestic violence and national legislation being considered, if any, in that regard; efforts to promote the rights of women and to protect these rights and to achieve gender equality; measures to reinforce human rights advocacy in Algeria; efforts to address the levels of migration; and cases of trafficking in children, given the reports of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in that regard.
Other issues raised pertained to the plans of the State to reform the Press Code to strengthen the guarantees of freedom of expression; plans of Algeria to ratify international Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, it had signed; steps taken by the State to reconcile the position of its Constitution and the April 2006 ordinance with regard to the freedom of religion; the implementation of civil and political rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion; the national commission on human rights and the impact of its work in the country; violations against the Press Code; whether the process of legislative reform would lead to the alleviation of the problem of enforced and involuntary disappearances and plans to receive the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances; information on the consultations with civil society in drafting the national report; steps take to prevent acts of torture; and the implications of the state of emergency in respect of human rights.
Several delegations raised the issue of terrorism and the State’s counter-terrorism policies and measures planned to tackle the challenge of terrorism while upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms. Similarly, the State under review was asked for information on the response of the people to the peace process and national reconciliation efforts, the role of national reconciliation in containing waves of violence and constraints and challenges facing the State with regard to terrorist activities, in general.
A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To establish an international round table to discuss the inter-relationship and inter-dependence between security and fundamental freedom; to take further measures to address the issue of violence against children including corporal punishment; the continuation on the moratorium on the death penalty; to improve efforts to uphold women’s rights and consider amending national legislation to remove cultural barriers facing women; to extend full cooperation with the Special Rapporteurs; to continue efforts to improve judicial cooperation to ensure that families were informed of detention, enhance access to lawyers and to ensure that the office of the public prosecutor was fully aware of offences; to continue dialogue with minority religions; to continue to deepen efforts in the area of economic and cultural rights, especially with regard to health care; to pursue and conclude the national process of establishing peace and reconciliation; and to adopt measures to withdraw its reservation to articles 2 and 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Other recommendations listed were: To take on the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on terrorism in view of the policies of the State to combat terrorist acts; to ensure that reported cases of torture or ill-treatment were reported without delay; to review its Family Code to remedy the proviso which still represented discrimination against women; to review its laws to take on board the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee to ensure that those who violated human rights were prosecuted according to international standards and that those who criticized the Government were not subjected to criminal prosecution; to ensure strict respect for the principle of freedom of religion and expression; to pursue steps taken to provide a legal framework to protect children from trafficking and to define trafficking as a criminal offence under the law; to fully integrate gender perspective in the follow up process to the Universal Periodic Review; and to consider the possibility of facilitating visits of the Special Procedures of the United Nations human rights system.
The delegation of Algeria provided responses to a series of questions posed to it during the course of the discussion. Responding to questions raised on terrorism and counter-terrorism measures, the delegation said terrorism took on an aggressive form against the State and its democratic values. The Algerian Government had always rejected the security approach to grappling with the issue of terrorism and had opted for a more political approach. National dialogues had been set up with main players in the political arena in order to stabilize the situation. It was noted that in 2005 the treaty for peace and national referendum was held and that there had also been efforts to pursue economic and security approached; coordinating security operations and work was undertaken to detect the underlying causes of terrorism. As to the conditions of places of detention, it was noted that these conditions were governed by stringent regulations and since 2003 the Ministry of Justice formulated an agreement with the ICRC on visitations.
Concerning the death penalty, a member of the delegation stated that since 1993 no executions had taken place in Algeria. As to freedoms of religion and association, the Constitution upheld these rights, the delegation affirmed. All religious events were celebrated in Algeria. The State expressly guaranteed the right to exercise religions. As to corporal punishment and violence against children, the law of 1988 expressed that this practice or any other form of repression against children was banned in schools. There was a joint Government-UNICEF strategy in place which combated all forms of violence against children. As to issues of the rights of women, the delegation noted that the government policy of 2007 set out to adopt a series of measures dealing with violence against women and to assist women in urban and rural areas.
With respect of the MDGs, Algeria affirmed that it was in a position to achieve the Goals. It was also remarked that some 10% of the State’s GDP was earmarked for social programmes. Concerning employment issues, recalling that in the 1980s some 400,000 jobs were lost, the delegation said that during the 1990s the President established, as a priority, the fight against unemployment; consequently, the unemployment rates was reduced from 30% in 1990 to 11.8% in 2007; this was largely due to an injection of public funds as part of economic revival efforts. Moreover, between 1998 and 2005 some two million jobs were created in the country.
On questions of immigration and migrants, the delegation noted that the State was currently developing a Bill on people visiting the country which was presently being reviewed by the National Assembly; the draft Bill aimed at strengthening the laws on immigrants allowing them to be taken on board with more human and transparent conditions. Concerning the ratification of international instruments, the State was currently undergoing discussions on the Convention on enforced and involuntary disappearances and it was expected that it would soon be ratified by the State.
Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Djibouti, Mali, China, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Cuba, Jordan, Mexico, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Madagascar, Pakistan, Malaysia, Germany, Canada, the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Slovenia, South Africa, Cameroon, Brazil, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Indonesia.
Observer States participating in the discussion were Palestine, Kuwait, the Sudan, Benin, Oman, the Holy See, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritania, Lebanon, Belarus, Iran, Syria, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Iraq, Sweden, Latvia and Côte d’Ivoire.
The 23-person delegation of Algeria consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of National Solidarity, the Ministry of Communication, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Gendarmerie, the Office of the Islamic High Commissioner, the National Council for the Family and Women, the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Algeria are Uruguay, the Philippines and Senegal.
In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Algeria can be found here.
Adoption of report on the United Kingdom: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on the United Kingdom are Egypt, the Russian Federation and Bangladesh. Introducing the report SAMEH SHOUKRY (Egypt) said the interaction of the troika with the United Kingdom was constructive, transparent and frank and the views of the United Kingdom were exchanged on reflected in the report. Representing the State under review, PETER GOODERHAM, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the United Kingdom was of the view that for all countries such a dialogue, as that which had been held for the review of his country, would ensure the full implementation for the respect of human rights. The United Kingdom would continue to place human rights at the heart of all its work at home and in its foreign policy. For the Universal Periodic Review to succeed it must be shown that the Council could get to the heart of the issues reviewed; it was believed that the discussion with the United Kingdom achieved this. The United Kingdom was committed to considering all the views put forth in the report in time for the 8th session in June and would continue to consult civil society on the outcome of the review.
The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Algeria on Wednesday, 16 April.
When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Poland after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of India.
Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.
To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp