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Report on London Rally
Dr. Asghar Abdi, MD, PhD.
Birmingham, UK,
 

Rally organized by Amnesty International with the collaboration of Human Rights Watch, Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, United Nations Association, British Refugee Council. Rally held on April 1st 1998, at the Grand Committee Room,  House of Commons, London, SW1  0AA.

Speakers: SALIMA  GHEZALI, Editor of "La Nation" newspaper(banned by the Algerian Government), MUSTAPHA  BOUCHECHI Algerian Human Rights Lawyer,  KARIMA  HAMMACHE Rally for Youth Action (RAJ),  GEORGE  JOFFE Royal Institute of International Affairs, JOE  STARK Advocacy Director-Middle East Human Rights Watch, MARK  LATIMER Amnesty International UK,  DR ZAKI  BADAWI Director, Muslim College, NICK  HARWICK Chief Executive of British Refugee Council.
 

The rally attracted 700 people. The organisers were not prepared for so many people to attend.

During the question session, I asked George Joffe about the possible role of the IRI in the Algerian violence.  He replied that the IRI had no significanct role in the violence in Algeria either before or after the Khatami era.  He added that the Algerian government along with the Egyptian and Tunician governments blame the IRI and Sudan and others to cover their own fault.
 
GEORGE  JOFFE, Royal Institute of International Affairs:
[Paraphrasing] Two days ago 52 people were massacred in South Algeria.  There is an ongoing crisis in Algeria.  Violence is a current phenomenon there, but we do not hear about it a lot.  If two people get killed in another country, we might hear about it; but at least a hundred civilian dead people may hardly move the western media enough to mention the event.  Violence has been a continuous affair in that country and as a Lebanese intellectual wrote a long time ago, "Algeria is a state born of an army".  The problems are rooted in the 1960's Independence Struggle of Algeria.  During 1988-1992, there were some signs of "the society opening up, more freedom for the press, and more political activities by the parties other than the ruling party.  The ruling party invited the FIS and other parties to participate in the election, but the FIS won the election and the army organised a coup d'etat which is the real cause of the violence.  People believed that the FIS was not only an Islamic party but the child of the FLN, and they voted for the FIS.   It is difficult to hold one party responsible for the violence, however, up to Feb 1998, the Algerian government announced 26,000 deaths and a similar number of wounded. Independent sources put the casualties up to 120,000.  Compared to British casualties during the WWII (500,000 out of 46 million population), the same percentage of the population of Algeria have been killed during the recent civil war. In other words, the responsible parties have killed from their own people as many as the Nazi Army from Britons. In 1995, the FIS and other concerned parties suggested a deal hoping to end the violence, but the Algerian rulers refused to talk.  Since independence, the same people have ruled in Algeria and it seems that they are not willing to give it up.  The Algerian society is the real victim of the violence and there
is no solution on the horizon without international intervention.

During the Q&A session, the speaker added: It seems that western governments are not interested in the case because they are more concerned about commercial affairs with the Algerian government.  France has only recently announced the Algerian Government as being "not capable of protecting its citizens which is the responsibilty of every state". Spain and Italy are madly attracted to the Algerian oil and will not take any notice of the internal affairs of the Algerian society.  The Arabs are not able to take action because Tunisian and Egyptian governments are co-signatories of the "Anti Terrorism Campaign" against
so-called "International Terrorism" by "Muslim Militants".  America is far from the area and the EU is the only body suitable to help the Algerian Society to end its misery, not because of its colonial role in the past but because it is adjacent to the area.  The IRI had no significant involvement in the current violence in Algeria, neither before nor after Khatami's election. Usually Algerian rulers point their fingers at the IRI or Sudan and other states to cover their own shortcomings and faults. Human Rights
Activists can do no more than highlight the suffering of Algerians and bring it to the attention of the western public. Then, people may ask their MPs to take further actions to stop the violence in that society.

MUSTAPHA  BOUCHECHI:
[Paraphrasing] 95% of my clients have been either tortured or killed.  Torture, disappearance and extrajudiciary killings are widespread phenomena.  One of my clients who was arrested and imprisoned two years ago describes his memories as follows: On the 6th of August 1994 , he was arrested and was retained in a room (175 cms X 150 cms) along with 7 other people.  In August the weather in Algeria is very hot.  There was no water available. After three days four inmates died due to the lack of air conditioning and water. The other three died by the fifth day. Two of the inmates were brothers. Their father was searching for his sons. I told the father that his children were dead but I did not dare to tell him how for one month.  The judicary system is not informed about the arrests. Thousands have disappeared in this way and we hope that some of them are still alive.  The credibility of Algerians as a nation has been destroyed. We were proud of being heroes of independence in the region. Now the freedom fighters have become a nation of violence.  On one Friday four years ago, 80 people were arrested by police and there has been no news about their whereabouts. Families want to know the fate of their relatives so they may mourn once and for all.  This is a general policy. In 1992, a law was passed to enable the army to arrest any person in any part of Algeria without informing the local authorities. Another law allows the security forces to arrest and kill the accused without a warrant from the judicary.  Judges say that they know about the torture used by the security forces and police, and the confessions are not reliable, but they can't stop it.  One day, an armed group were massacring inhabitants of a village for 7 hours from 10 pm to 5 am in the name of GIA and people were screaming for help and the police did nothing to help the people.....

I was not able to concentrate on the other speakers and therefore I cannot comment on their speeches. I remember that Miss Karima explained the activities of Algerian Youth to end the violence in recent years, and she added that the government has banned their activities recently and the media does not cover their campaigns.

In summary, at 7 p.m. the Committee Room was packed with 350 people and there were a lot of people waiting in a queue.  After half an hour, the organisers were able to get another two rooms and the 350 more people were accommodated in the rooms. In other words, the speakers repeated their talks three times, which was exhausting for them.  The audience were local white Britons as well as Algerians and other nationalities.  Algerian men and women were apparent among the others. Algerians looked alike and I asked one of the Algerians about their racial origin, and fortunately he did not understand my question.

There were two Arab women with headscarves which indicated the degree of committment among Islamists for Human Rights causes. If it had been a demonstration against Israel, I would have seen hundreds of scarved women in the queue.

The number of audience was encouraging compared to other AI campaigns. During AI campaign in South London against Arms Trade to oppressive regimes, there were about 350 participants.

The organisers were heartened to arrange more rallies to raise the awareness of British society about the suffering of the Algerians.

Report was prepared by Dr. Asghar Abdi, MD, PhD., Birmingham, UK,
"asghar@btinternet.com".
The speakers should not be held responsible for the accuracy of my report.
 


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