top of page
  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

Transitional Justice in the Middle East: Re-thinking Transitional Justice & Human Rights in Algeria

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Ranime Djouider



The field of transitional justice has gained widespread significance in recent years and has come to designate a popular field of both governmental practice and academic inquiry. Referring to both judicial and non-judicial mechanisms that deal with the legacies of the past, transitional justice has increasingly been utilised in post-conflict societies as a method of progression and reconstruction. While the field often relays the same basic principles and objectives, including ensuring accountability, peace and reconciliation, mechanisms used to achieve these objectives vary widely. Some examples include truth commissions, criminal trials, ad hoc tribunals, amnesty laws and reparations. Yet there remains little consensus as to how to best deal with the wrongdoings of the past.


Transitional justice discourse has largely been shaped and framed from a Western perspective, with liberal democratic ideals at the centre. Many have argued that for there to be a meaningful ‘transition’, there must be a transformation from an illiberal, authoritarian regime to a liberal democratic regime.[1] However, as Noha Aboueldahab emphasises, this perspective is relatively limiting;[2] this so-called universal approach does not adequately transfer to all circumstances and the experiences within the Middle East presents an interesting (and largely under-studied) alternative to this paradigm. This series attempts to highlight this, looking at how countries in the Middle East have each dealt with the legacies of violence and trauma.


The present article focuses on Algeria. After a decade of violence, known as the Black Decade,[3] the government enacted a series of legislative initiatives in order to bring an end to the violence and as a means of social and political rehabilitation. These culminated in the Charter for Peace and Reconciliation (2005) (the Charter hereafter).[4] The Charter was an amnesty law that in essence barred civil or criminal proceedings being brought for crimes committed during the civil war. In return, perpetrators were required to lay down arms and cease any criminal activity. This amnesty came after a particularly violent and complex war that spanned over 10 years and resulted in over 200,000 deaths, 20,000 forced disappearances, 10,000 documented cases of rape,[5] and in some cases mass killings of entire villages.[6]


Amnesty laws have historically been used as political tools in post-conflict settings, however, with the growing demands for accountability, also known as the ‘age of accountability’, their use has become particularly contentious. One of the major criticisms is that amnesty laws epitomise injustice; put differently, it is an obstacle to truth and justice, and therefore fails at addressing the inherent causes of abuse and systemic violence. In the case of Algeria, the immunity pronounced by the Charter meant that perpetrators of violent human rights abuses were able to return to their normal lives, with many living in the same neighbourhood as their victims. While in theory this amnesty did not extend to those who were directly involved in bombings, massacres, rape or torture, in reality the Charter functioned as a form of blanket impunity.[7]


Furthermore, article 46, which prohibited any form of expression that ‘exploits the wounds of the national tragedy’,[8] arguably facilitated in creating a veil of silence on Algeria in its attempt to maintain a homogeneous official narrative. Ultimately, while in some respects the amnesty was successful insofar that it did bring a de facto end to the civil war and in many ways ushered in a new path for Algeria away from the violence of the past, this did however come at a cost. This new path has arguably been to the detriment of justice for human rights abuses, which has had widespread consequences on Algerian society - the remnants of which remain in the very fabric of Algerian society. This imposed silence has meant that victims have been strategically muted in order to create a semblance of normality, which in turn has meant they are unable to receive any form of justice or retribution creating a fragmented society still marked by the violence of the past.


Furthermore, a secondary effect of this barrier to justice is that it created a so-called ‘justice defect’,[9] in which deep societal cleavages have formed consequently. This has resulted in a form of collective disillusionment in which victims have retreated from public life, unable to conform to the new social order ‘as if the slate were wiped clean’.[10] This collective disengagement with social and political networks has been most visible in the consistently low voter turnouts in local and national elections. While the recent Hirak movement[11] presents a promising trend towards political engagement, Algeria’s failure to address the legacies of its violent past still remains an impediment; as serious human rights violations shatter normative expectations that are ‘fundamental to our sense of agency’,[12] it is vital for post-conflict society engaging with transitional justice mechanisms to gear its strategies to reinforce meaningful public participation and social cohesion.


Yet, it is important to note the emergence of alternative, grassroots transitional justice initiatives that function outside of the bounds of the State. Developments in both community and civil society-based approaches has increasingly played a more active role in rethinking peace and reconciliation in Algeria. Alongside the Hirak movement that targeted the political sphere, action groups such as the victims’ rights group Djazariouna[13] have worked directly with survivors in order to create social networks that help reinforce social (and cultural) cohesion in society.[14] Furthermore, this alternative to the classical (Western) framework that focuses on the top-down approaches to transitional justice, grassroots initiatives have arguably been more successful in initiating meaningful and long-lasting post-conflict reconstruction, particularly as they take more of a survivor-orientated approach.


Algeria’s approach to transitional justice through its use of amnesty laws has arguably been ineffective in achieving goals of accountability and redress. Its restrictive laws have not only created a climate of fear but also forced victims to retreat from public life as a response. This state-led approach has largely been ineffective in addressing the structural problems present in Algeria which as a result has stunted Algerian society, both socially and politically. Yet, transitional justice is neither a linear nor a static process and therefore it is important to remember the role of alternative approaches, such as the role of civil society and grassroots initiatives, in both societal engagements and in re-structuring human rights goals.




 

Sources [1] Ruti Teitel, Transitional Justice (1st ed., Oxford University Press, 2000) 52 [2] Noha Aboueldahab, Transitional Justice and the Prosecution of Political Leaders in the Arab Region (1st ed., Bloomsbury, 2017) 4 [3] Luis Martinez, The Algerian Civil War 1990-1998 (Jonathan Derrick tr, 1st ed., C. Hurst & Co. 2000) 28 [4] La Charte Pour la Paix et la Réconciliation Nationale (2005) [5] Roman Hagelstein, ‘Explaining the Violence Pattern of the Algerian Civil War’ (2008) The Institute of Developmental Studies, Households in Conflict Network <http://www.hicn.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/wp43.pdf?LMCL=dQxdsP> accessed 6 November 2020 [6] Martinez (n4) 256 [7] Amnesty International, ‘Time to End Impunity for Past and Present Abuses’ (Amnesty International, 25th February 2016) <www.dealingwiththepast.org> accessed 6 November 2020 [8] Article 46, La Charte Pour la Paix et la Réconciliation Nationale (2005) [9] Pablo de Greiff and Rodger Duthie (eds), Transitional Justice and Development: Making Connections (1st edn, Berghahn Books, 2002) 29 [10] James McDougall, ‘Islam(s) and Politics: Post Traumatic Status in Algeria’ (Open Democracy, 10th July 2007) <https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/islam_s_and_politics_post_traumatic_states_in_algeria/> accessed 8 November 2020 [11] The Hirak was a mass protest movement that initially formed to revolt against the re-election of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who ran for election for the 5th time. [12] De Grieff (n9) 42 [13] ADVT, ‘Djazairouna program for the integration of women into the labour market’ (Euro-Mediterranean Women’s Foundation, 17 May 2018) <https://www.euromedwomen.foundation/pg/en/news/view/7960/djazairouna-program-for-integration-of-women-into-labour-market> accessed 8 November 2020 [14] Anissa Daoudi, ‘Testimonies and Literature as Alternative Transitional Justice in Algeria’ (2020) Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 1 at 3 Bibliography

Books

Luis Martinez, The Algerian Civil War 1990-1998 (Jonathan Derrick tr, 1st ed., C. Hurst & Co. 2000)

Noha Aboueldahab, Transitional Justice and the Prosecution of Political Leaders in the Arab Region (1st ed., Bloomsbury, 2017)

Pablo de Greiff and Rodger Duthie (eds), Transitional Justice and Development: Making Connections (1st ed., Berghahn Books, 2002)

Ruti Teitel, Transitional Justice (1st ed., Oxford University Press, 2000)


Articles

Anissa Daoudi, ‘Testimonies and Literature as Alternative Transitional Justice in Algeria’ (2020) Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 1


Roman Hagelstein, ‘Explaining the Violence Pattern of the Algerian Civil War’ (2008) The Institute of Developmental Studies, Households in Conflict Network http://www.hicn.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/wp43.pdf?LMCL=dQxdsP > accessed 6th November 2020


Websites

Amnesty International, ‘Time to End Impunity for Past and Present Abuses’ (Amnesty International, 25th February 2016) www.dealingwiththepast.org > accessed 6th November 2020


James McDougall, ‘Islam(s) and Politics: Post Traumatic Status in Algeria (Open Democracy, 10th July 2007) <https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/islam_s_and_politics_post_traumatic_states_in_algeria/> accessed 8th November 2020

Legislation

La Charte Pour la Paix et la Réconciliation Nationale (2005)

65 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page