Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Algeria: The Women Speak

Sisters and Brothers,

Algeria does not often make it into the news in the U.S.   Here's an item from Le Monde Diplomatique about women from across the political spectrum organizing together in Algeria. 

They are resisting a government proposal to issue in "peace and reconciliation" by consecrating "impunity for crimes under international law and other human rights abuses, and even muzzle open debate by criminalising public discussion about the decade-long conflict” in Algeria (quote from Amnesty International).

May we reach out for role models & inspiration
from women the world over,


p.s. Please, if you find stories of nonviolence that are inspiring, send them my way!
p.p.s You can find a pic of one the main women mentioned here: Cherifa Keddar (scroll down to find her).  I haven't been able to find pics of Nacera Dutour or Akila Ouared.


The article in full can be found at http://mondediplo.com/2006/04/07algeria

Truth and justice after a brutal civil war
Algeria: the women speak

The 200,000 dead and 8,000 disappeared of Algeria’s long civil war were almost all men. They left behind a generation of women from different backgrounds and political opinions who have come together in opposition to the president’s charter for peace and reconciliation.

By Wendy Kristianasen

There was an unusual event in Algiers on 24 February, when six associations working for the victims of Algeria’s long and brutal civil war held a joint press conference to reject the new charter for peace and national reconciliation approved three days earlier by the government. The charter, decreed on 15 August 2005 by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to “close the chapter”, as he put it, on Algeria’s violent past, won 98% of the vote in a referendum on 29 September. This was based on a simple proposition: were people for or against peace?

Despite the size of the vote, opposition to the charter is fierce among rights activists and has brought together old enemies. Chérifa Kheddar is the head of Djazaïrouna, an association of victims of terrorism. Nacéra Dutour leads an association that works for those who disappeared at the hands of the state or its agents. She said that Bouteflika, in promising peace to the Algerians, had “ended the dreams of truth and justice for thousands of families of the disappeared”.

As international rights groups observed on 1 March, the new law, which will grant amnesty to state-armed militias and members of armed groups who surrender, would “consecrate impunity for crimes under international law and other human rights abuses, and even muzzle open debate by criminalising public discussion about the decade-long conflict” (1). A referendum could not “be the means by which a government evades its international obligations”.

Although they would scarcely have spoken to each other before last summer, Kheddar and Dutour have come together because they feel that Algeria cannot move on without truth and justice. Algeria’s society was torn apart in 1992 when those in power cancelled an electoral process that the Islamist Front Islamique de Salut seemed likely to win; this triggered a violent civil war in which 200,000 people died, and provoked the rise of shadowy, extremist militias such as the Groupes Islamistes Armées. A chasm now separates the disappeared (presumed terrorists) from the victims of armed Islamist groups. For most Algerians, including moderate Islamists, the conflict was not a civil war, which is an idea too painful to articulate, but le terrorisme: armed insurgents against the state and those that the state had armed for self-defence.

Kheddar and Dutour’s backgrounds are similar. Both worked with women’s associations. Dutour said: “In 1986 I left to live in France. I was divorced and couldn’t bring my three sons with me. One day, 30 January 1997, I got a phone call: Amin, my middle son, had disappeared. Numb with shock, I went to Algeria to look for him. He had been living with my mother at Baraki. There had been an attack on the visiting prefect of Algiers; the army were called in and there were mass arrests. My son wasn’t interested in politics; he didn’t have a job and was trying to become a taxi driver. He wasn’t an Islamist. He wasn’t even observant. The only thing he did was fast during Ramadan. That was what he was doing when they arrested him.

“At the local police station they told me: ‘Of course we torture people: they always have something to confess. You’re all terrorists. You gave birth to terrorists. So everything that’s happening is normal.’ After that I got tips about where they had moved him, but they led nowhere: people were too frightened to tell. The last I heard of him was in 2000.” Did she think he was still alive? Her eyes blazed: “Of course he is. I feel him. He will come back.”

Dutour tried to organise other mothers but there was too much fear. “So I came back to Paris and set up the Collectif des Familles de Disparus en Algérie, working with French and international rights groups. Now that people are less frightened, I’ve been able to set up committees inside Algeria.”

At the rundown office of SOS Disparus in downtown Algiers, funded by Dutour and presided over by her mother, Fatima Yous, the corridor was packed with veiled women (two in black robes and niqabs), there to report or follow up family cases: the security forces or the police are thought to have abducted 8,000 people. Yous said: “The victims always know who’s kidnapped them, even their names. But after that the trail goes cold.” Since 1998, SOS Disparus has been organising demonstrations every Wednesday in front of the parliament building.

Of the victims’ associations at the February press conference, five are headed by women (2). That is unsurprising since Algeria’s women were crucial to the war of independence against the French, then in the violence of the 1990s. As fathers, husbands and sons were arrested or killed, they became heads of households. They were also raped and tortured. As Akila Ouared, militant feminist and one of the original moudjahidates, said:“We women were always there at the helm.”

She was an agent for the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) in France, tasked with giving money to the families of militants. “I inhabited secret, separate worlds. By day I was Jacqueline, working for the French (something I did not tell the Algerians). In the evenings or at lunch breaks, I would slip away to meet a fictitious fiancé. In July 1962, after the ceasefire, we created a first women’s association. I came back to Algeria and remained an activist with the FLN until 1965. I saw myself as an average Algerian engaged in a just cause. Now I call myself a feminist: not one who hates men but who simply wants equality between the genders.” She blames the FLN: “It was a front for independence; after that was gained, it should have opened the political field to others. It was responsible for introducing the family code in 1984. Two hundred moudjahidates sat down in the street to protest.” Ouared, 69, is still fighting that battle.

You can read the rest of this story at http://mondediplo.com/2006/04/07algeria


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