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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers the report of Algeria

GENEVA (23 November 2017) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twentieth and twenty-first periodic reports of Algeria on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the report, Lazhar Soualem, Director of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Algeria, said that Algeria had established the National Council for Human Rights in March 2017, amended the Penal Code in 2014 to align the definition of discrimination with the Convention, set up a new national body to follow up on the issue of trafficking in human beings, and had adopted more stringent laws to punish that crime and provide assistance to victims.  Due to the restrictions imposed by the European Union and thanks to its unique geographical position, labour opportunities and social stability, Algeria had become in recent years a country of destination - rather than of transit – of migrants, particularly from Sub-Saharan Africa.  Algeria had adopted a position of openness and tolerance, in line with its tradition of hospitality and generosity, and was taking steps to identify and suppress criminal networks which exploited the misery and distress of migrants.  Algeria refused to become a policeman protecting Europe’s borders, said Mr. Soualem and stressed that the only solution for migratory flows was addressing the instability in countries of origin of the migrants.

In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts took note of the wave of terrorism which had forced Algeria to adopt some stringent measures, and highlighted the issues of migratory flows and the management of tribal and ethnic diversity in the country.  They stressed that ethnically disaggregated data on the composition of the population would be helpful for the identification of gaps and potential discrimination, and for the adoption of adequate mechanisms for the protection of the most vulnerable groups.  The political will to open the door to the participation of civil society was commendable, but a concern remained about the restrictive rules for the registration of non-governmental organizations.  Experts welcomed the lifting of the state of emergency, but were concerned that its positive impact was being curtailed by the presidential degree that had given wider powers to the security forces in the fight against terrorism.  The recognition of the Amazigh language as an official language was welcomed and the delegation was asked about the difference between a national and an official language and the use of the Amazigh language in education and administration.  Experts also raised questions on the situation in the Tindouf area, lack of identity documents for the Tuareg, accountability for human rights violations committed in the past, and hate speech against sub-Saharan Africans in the print and social media.

In concluding remarks, Melhem Khalaf, Committee Rapporteur for Algeria, wished there was more time to discuss the issue of dispossession of the Amazigh land, damages to the Amazigh cultural and traditional sites, actions against human rights defenders, and the use of derogatory language against migrants in the media.

Mr. Soualem said in closing remarks that the issues raised during the dialogue must be put in their context and reassured the Committee that Algeria was actively thinking about the situation of migrants in the country, including those in irregular situation. 

The delegation of Algeria included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice, High Commission of Amazighness, Ministry of Culture, and the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will reconvene in public on 23 November, at 3 p.m. to consider the combined eighteenth to twentieth periodic report of Jordan (CERD/C/JOR/18-20).

Report

The combined twentieth and twenty-first periodic reports of Algeria can be read here: CERD/C/DZA/20-21.

Presentation of the Report

LAZHAR SOUALEM, Director of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Algeria, noted that the Algerian society had embraced an irreversible character of democracy and pluralism, adding that without fundamental freedoms there could not be any stable progress or stable society.  Accordingly, the quest for democratization remained a permanent endeavour.  In order to ensure progress in the field of human rights, the Government had established the National Council for Human Rights in March 2017, which was mainly composed of representatives of civil society.  The Government had tackled issues related to discrimination through amendments to the Penal Code in 2014, namely through adjusting the definition of discrimination in line with the Convention provisions.  Algeria had also adhered to a large number of regional and international judicial instruments on the fight against trafficking in persons, especially of women and children, such as the Palermo Convention and its two protocols.  A new national body had been established to follow up the issue of trafficking in human beings, and more stringent laws had been adopted to punish that crime and to provide assistance to victims. 

In recent years, Algeria had become a country of destination rather than of transit for migrants due to the restrictions imposed by the European Union.  The unprecedented influx of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa could be explained by Algeria’s geographical position, with its vast land and maritime borders, and the labour opportunities and social stability that the country offered.  In face of those migration flows, Algeria had adopted a position of openness and tolerance, in line with its tradition of hospitality and generosity, welcoming thousands of irregular migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa.  In order to prevent the infiltration of terrorists, the Government had moved to identify and suppress criminal networks which exploited the misery and distress of migrants.  It was estimated that the number of Syrians in Algeria amounted to 40,000.  They were not considered refugees because they were governed by a different residence regime.  The Government of Algeria refused to become a policeman protecting Europe’s borders.  The only solution for migratory flows was addressing the instability of migrants’ home countries.  The Government favoured voluntary return of irregular migrants to their countries of origin. 

Algerian identity was based on its Islamic, Arabic and Amazigh identity.  The Amazigh dimension of the Algerian nation was an accepted reality.  Only adventurer politicians wished to manipulate the Amazigh identity in a selective manner.  It was not a language, but a linguistic domain covering the entire North African region.  The delegation questioned the information submitted to the Committee which did not contain serious academic analysis.  In Algeria, a working group was developing a project to set up an academy of the Amazigh language, and the High Commission of Amazighness continued to promote Amazigh culture and heritage.              

Questions by the Rapporteur   

MELHEM KHALAF, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Algeria, reminded of the wave of terrorism in Algeria which had forced the Government to adopt some stringent measures.  He also highlighted the problem of migratory flows and managing tribal and ethnic diversity in the country.  What was the composition of the population in Algeria?  Such information would help the State party to identify gaps, potential discrimination and to adopt adequate mechanisms for the protection of the most vulnerable groups.  The lack of disaggregated data on the ethnic diversity of Algeria demonstrated an “ostrich in the sand” approach to what should be a source of pride for the country, namely its ethnic and tribal diversity. 

Turning to the participation of non-governmental organizations in the drafting of the State party’s report, Mr. Khalaf inquired about which organizations had taken part in that process and in what way.  He noted that there was a political will to open the door to the participation of civil society.  However, there were restrictive rules in place for the registration of non-governmental organizations.  The registration process was exhausting.  Was there a licence that such organizations needed to obtain from the authorities beforehand in order to practice their activities? 

Mr. Khalaf welcomed the lifting of the state of emergency as a positive step.  However, in light of the presidential degree that had given wider powers to the security forces in the fight against terrorism, what was positive in the lifting of the state of emergency? 

The National Council for Human Rights had not yet been operationalized.  The Algerian authorities should speed up its operationalization in line with the Paris Principles. 

Was there a time limit for the establishment of the Amazigh Academy?  How would the Amazigh language be introduced in the administration?  Would there be school curricula in that language and would passports be issued in both Arabic and Amazigh?  Would there be links on Government websites in the Amazigh language? 

What were the details of the reform of the judiciary, especially with respect to the amendments to the Penal Code? 

As for the situation in the Tindouf area, why had restrictions on the freedom of movement been imposed there?  The Government had prohibited the use of inter-State bus transportation in order to fight illegal migration. 

Had there been investigations of violations committed in the past?  Had the perpetrators been held accountable?  There seemed to be a sense of impunity which bred a climate of mistrust in the judiciary. 

Hate speech against sub-Saharan Africans had been used in social media and print media in Algeria.  Was there a policy to embrace diversity?  Were there action plans aimed to contain conflicts among the Algerians? 
      
Questions by Experts

GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-up Rapporteur, drew the attention of the delegation to the great importance that the Committee attached to issues of concern to be revisited within Algeria’s interim report which was supposed to be submitted within one year.  Unfortunately, the Committee had not received the interim report.  The follow-up issues flagged by the Committee in 2013 included the lack of criminalization of racial discrimination, which had been remedied with legal amendments in 2014.  Nevertheless, the results of the new legislation remained to be seen.  The second issue was the lack of registration of Amazigh first names.  Finally, the third issue concerned the National Advisory Commission for the Protection for Human Rights and its replacement in 2016 by the National Human Rights Council.  What was the work of the National Human Rights Council, and what was the status of preparations for acquiring status A in line with the Paris Principles?

Experts inquired about the actual implementation and criminalization of racial discrimination, as well as about relevant statistical information.  Did the State party organize surveys on racial discrimination? 

What was the percentage of minorities in the prison population?  What did celebrations of different ethnic heritage entail?  What were the specific plans to mark the International Decade of People of African Descent? 

Experts commended the reporting methodology used in the State party’s report, as well as the establishment of the Amazigh language as an official language.  Which alphabet did that language use?  Was there a difference between a national and an official language?  What were the practical consequences of the amendment to the Constitution that had given official status to the Amazigh language? 

What were the regulations for the registration of Amazigh first names?  What was going to happen with the list of Algerian names adopted by the High Commission of Amazighness?  Were the Amazigh viewed as indigenous peoples?  What were the special measures for ensuring the economic, social and cultural rights of the Amazigh people? 

Many Tuareg people did not possess identity documents.  Did that constitute a barrier from enjoying all their rights?  There were allegations that people from sub-Saharan Africa were subjected to discrimination in Algeria.  What was the situation that those people faced arriving in Algeria? 

Experts expressed hope that the National Council for Human Rights would soon gain status A and appear in front of the Committee.  They also suggested to the delegation that the common core document be updated, and expressed concern about the statement of the delegation that racial discrimination did not exist in Algeria. 

The definition of racial discrimination in the Criminal Code was not entirely satisfying because it was too general.  If there was multiple discrimination, what would judges do in that case?  Perhaps the Government of Algeria needed to re-draft relevant legal articles, or draw the attention of judges to cases of multiple discrimination. 

What were the labour conditions for migrants?  How did the Labour Inspectorate function?  There was a need for surveys to assess the level of discrimination against migrant workers.  What was the number of sub-Saharan migrants who worked in Algeria and what types of discrimination did they face?

As for the expulsion of migrants, had there been sufficient investigations of those cases and what measures had been taken to avoid them in the future?  What was the existing legislation on the right to asylum?  What were the up-to-date figures on trafficking in human beings?  What assistance was given to victims and how were they helped to report those crimes?

There seemed to be a lack of cooperation of the Algerian Government with respect to Algerians illegally residing in third countries, which could compromise the orderly migration policy.  Disorderly migration needed to be combatted because it was a source of discrimination. 

Since the three pillars of the Algerian national identity were its Islamic, Arabic and Amazigh components, would a non-Muslim and non-religious person be subjected to prejudices or some form of discrimination?  

It seemed that defamation was criminalized in Algeria, whereas incitement to hatred on the basis of ethnicity was punished rather lightly.   

The lack of proof could not confirm that there was no racial discrimination in Algeria because people might be afraid to complain, Experts noted. 

Responses by the Delegation

In response to questions raised on the National Council for Human Rights, a body created by the Constitution, it was composed of primarily civil society representatives, and more than half of the 36 members were women.  It was independent and autonomous, had its own staff and headquarters, decided on its budget, and the members were recruited according to the prescribed guidelines.  The National Council, which currently was accredited with status B under the Paris Principles, had submitted its report to the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions and it was hoped that its accreditation status would be upgraded to status A.

In terms of impunity, the delegation remarked that this issue related to the events in the El Harrach region, adding that the Government had provided responses and documentation requested by the Human Rights Council Special Procedures, and which were freely available on their websites.

The delegate recalled that during its review in 2013, Algeria had received a number of recommendations by the Committee, including to review the definition of racial discrimination and make the Convention operational in the legislative machinery of the country.  Those recommendations had been implemented.  Since the adoption of the 2014 law which aligned the definition of racial discrimination with the Convention, and the adoption of the law on criminal proceedings in 2015, seven cases of racial discrimination had been tried in courts and 40 individuals had been convicted for the crime of racial discrimination.  At the same time, seven cases of trafficking in persons had been brought to courts, 400 were currently being reviewed, and one person had been convicted of trafficking in human beings.

Answering the question on the ethnic categories in the national census, the delegation explained that the Algerian people were segmented in tribes and communities, largely as a result of the invasions of the country throughout its long history and the colonization.  The State was actively promoting the notion of the Algerian nationality and thus the inclusion of the category of ethnicity in the national census was not allowed.  Equally, identity documents did not carry a category of tribe or ethnicity, but simply stated Algerian nationality.

Another delegate stressed that the feeling of “Algeriannes” was very strong in the society, given the fact that the population was very mixed; it incorporated Arabness, Islam, Amazighness – all those were the elements of the Algerian identity.  For a long time, the Amazigh language had been confined to private use, but about 20 years ago it had entered schools, and it was being taught starting from fourth year, for three hours a week for 10 years.  A class in the Amazigh language could be opened if there were five pupils per class and based on a request by the parents. 

As for the Amazigh first names, there was an official list of first names which was updated every three years with the commonly used names, and this list helped the State officials in transcribing the first names of the new born children.  Any abuses by the officials in terms of the parental choice for the first name of their children were not sanctioned by the State and it was up to the citizens to take up action against such officials.  A policy on the classification of historic sites had been put in place.

Turning to the issue of migration, the delegate said that the phenomenon had accelerated over the past three or four years and that the situation was aggravated by the closure of Europe and the deterioration of the security situation in Libya.  Algeria clearly distinguished between refugees who had the right to enjoy international protection, migrants who enjoyed protection under bilateral agreements and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and irregular migrants.

The issue of refugees was linked to the situation in the Western Sahara, and Algeria said that it had offered a portion of its territory at the border with the Western Sahara for the refugees.  It was the Algerian State that provided social services to the majority of the refugees, and there were no restrictions on the right to movement and circulation in the Tindouf camp.  The United Nations Refugee Agency and other United Nations agencies were present in the Sahrawi refugee camps, which had also been visited by hundreds of foreign delegations, civil society organizations, parliamentary commissions, and others.  The transparency in the functioning of the camps had been demonstrated.  Fundamentally, refugees were victims of the denial of their rights, and there were Moroccan organizations which were using this situation for propaganda purposes.

The number of migrants in Algeria was not known, some indications pointed to several hundred thousand; they arrived mainly from the neighbouring countries and from Sub-Saharan Africa.

After the passage of the new law on political parties, 28 new political parties had been accredited, and there were 104,000 associations.  All the associations had to comply with the law, and they had an obligation to present their audited activity and financial reports on the use of the public funds they received.  A person with a criminal record could not set up an association. 

On religious freedom, the delegation explained that there was a Ministry for Religious Affairs and that the majority of Algerians were Muslims, but there were also Jews and Christians in the country.  The law on practicing of religions other than Islam had been adopted in 2006, which had adopted the same parameters for practicing those religions as there were for Islam; there was therefore an equal treatment of all religions in the country.  The conversion of a Muslim to another religion was not criminalized in the law.

Algeria had indeed declared a state of emergency almost three decades ago, and had lifted it completely in 2011 when the conditions had been met to do so.  The delegation explained that the state of emergency had not been masked by anti-terrorism legislation; all counter-terrorism activities were now focused under the Army which had the overall coordination responsibility of different actors involved in the fight against terrorism.

Algeria was very committed to highlighting the value, contribution and the debt owed to people of African descent.  It had organized two Pan-African festivals in addition to other activities.

Questions from the Experts
 
In the next round of questions, Committee Experts remarked that Algeria was one of the few countries in the world which was at the confluence of many cultures, religions and traditions, and asked how Algeria taught thousands of years of rich history, which also included colonization, to its children. 

What were the reasons behind the decision to teach children Arabic, which was not a mother tongue for some of them; was the plan to make all the children in the country bilingual?  What was the state of play concerning the status A accreditation of the National Council for Human Rights?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the request for re-accreditation of the National Council for Human Rights had been lodged, and was currently being reviewed by the deliberative body for accreditation, which would also identify key issues for the institution to address.

Identity-based rights in Algeria were real, and “Algeriannes” was made up of three elements: Islam, Arabness and Amazighness.  That said, there had never been a denial of the expression of the pluralistic nature in the country.  There were Amazigh film and food festivals, days of culture and language, etc.  Like any other country in the world, Algeria did not claim to be up to the norm in all areas, but it was making conscious efforts to progress democracy, human rights and democratic freedoms.  What made up identity must never been instrumentalized, stressed the delegation, because those were potentially very explosive issues.

Three alphabets were in use in Algeria, each specific to a specific region; this diversity must be respected by the State, including in education.  Students started learning Arabic in the first year, French in the second and Amazigh in the fourth year at the age of eight or nine.

Questions from the Experts
 
A Committee Expert expressed concern about the criminalization of irregular migration in Algeria and asked about the status of the bill on refugees and asylum seekers.  Was there an administrative unit within the Government in charge of coordinating the issues of refugees and asylum seekers?  How many forced expulsions had there been to date. 

Another concern in the context of migration was the labour exploitation of migrants, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa, who were also vulnerable to racial discrimination and human trafficking.  What steps were in place to protect those vulnerable migrant workers?  Was it true that Algeria had criminalized the assistance and help provided to irregular migrants?  What was the status of labour inspection in the country? 

The Committee continued to be concerned about the lack of support services to victims of trafficking – what was the system for identification and support to victims of trafficking in persons and what was the state of coordination and cooperation with civil society organizations?

MELHEM KHALAF, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Algeria, raising the issue of steps taken to curb impunity, requested the delegation to provide data on investigations, prosecutions and sanctions for the perpetrators of past human rights violations.  The 2014 act had opened up the possibility of dealing with cases of racial discrimination and 40 persons had been documented; could the delegation provide ample information on the nature of the cases, types of discrimination, and sentences meted out?  The Rapporteur inquired about legal effects and consequences of the Constitutional recognition of Amazigh as an official language and its use in the administration, courts and in public?

Further on the question of identity, another Expert recognized the three pillars of Algerian identity and stressed that differences should be accepted as a natural fact in the country.  Was there discrimination in Algeria against non-Arabic people or the Amazigh, or a risk of persecution, not necessarily by the State but by the population, and also from the cultural point of view?

Responses by the Delegation

A delegate stressed that the delegation should be allocated the same speaking time as Experts, in the spirit of equality, and to enable it to provide answers to the questions raised.

At the present time, there were tens of thousands of migrants in Algeria, and given that there were millions in Libya, it was highly possible that the numbers of Algeria could easily and quickly reach hundreds of thousands. 

Identity checks for migrants were very important, said the delegate and stressed that there were no criminal sanctions for irregular migrants; only those migrants who had committed crimes or offences were subject to expulsion.  The dignity of those individuals was fully respected, their embassies were informed and they were provided with decent transportation, food and a little bit of money.  The Algerian Red Crescent ran centres for returning migrants, and returns were being conducted in cooperation with civil society organizations.  Sub-Saharan Africans in irregular situation were not returned, especially if they had work and income; they were also allowed to send remittances back home.  In terms of statistics, the delegate said that there had been 4,800 offences against migrant workers and 70 verbal processes against employers.

The draft bill on aliens, which had not yet been enacted, would authorize the setting up of a national authority tasked with dealing with foreign migrants, stateless persons and refugees.

Further Questions from the Experts and Answers
 
In the final round of questions, the delegation was asked about the political rights of Amazigh women and their representation in the parliament, justice, companies and security forces; the ratification of the amendment to article 8 of the Convention on the financing of the Committee; and the steps to aid truth and national reconciliation.

Responding, the delegation stressed that identity documents spoke of Algerian citizenship and no reference was made to ethnicity or religion.  Women had been able to vote for the independence of Algeria, and they had been represented in the political and public life: 43 per cent of judges were women, women made up 55 per cent of the medical profession, and they represented 26 per cent of members of the parliament, 63 per cent of university students and 10 per cent of the police staff.  There was a quota for women in electoral lists established by the law.

Concluding Remarks

MELHEM KHALAF, Committee Rapporteur for Algeria, thanked the delegation for the rich, frank and open dialogue and wished there was more time to discuss in more depth the issue of dispossession of the Amazigh land, damages to the Amazigh cultural and traditional sites, actions against human rights defenders, and the use of derogatory language against migrants in the media.  

LAZHAR SOUALEM, Director of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Algeria, said the dialogue was a lesson for Algeria and it demonstrated the vitality of the exchanges.  The issues raised during the dialogue must be put in their context, stressed Mr. Soualem and reassured the Committee that Algeria was actively thinking about the situation of migrants in the country, including those in irregular situation. 

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Vice-Chair, thanked the delegation and the interpreters.

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