There is absolutely no doubt that Algeria lacks freedom, democracy and human rights. The likelihood that a person will be subject to human right violations in that country is likely to be at least 100 times more than a person living in an economically advanced country. But this is not the point. The point is this: why do such advanced countries talk about human rights when it suits them politically and forget to mention them when it does not?.
The reason why human right protectors do not speak about human rights all the time is that because it does not suit them politically all the time. Take the Algerian crisis, for example. When some 200 000 people were dying between 1992 and 2000, there was not much talk about human right violations. In fact, there were even attempts on behalf of the world community (namely politicians and journalists) to underestimate the number of daily massacres so that to justify non-intervention.
Of course, intervention may not have been the best choice because one is talking about a completely independent country that earned its independence from France in 1962. There was hard work and blood-shed during the 1954-62 Revolution and Algerians do not wish to see those tragedies replicated. This is why some people in Algeria tend to see any move by the French government as dangerous, interfering and unjust.
This suspicion seems to have recently been confirmed by Paul Aussaresses’s showdown of how his death squad tortured Algerians during the Revolution. Evidently, everybody knew about this torture, it is just that the world community was not courageous and just enough to speak about it before Aussaresses himself did. In this case, it seems legitimate to question as to whether human rights are really human rights or just some kind of propaganda to cover up historical human wrongs.
Quite recently, Helene Flautre, European Green Party deputy, visited Algeria in the aftermath of the Berber ethnic riots that shook various regions of the country and, on her return to Europe, she made first class revelations: there were no human rights in Algeria and that the Berber population is virtually oppressed.
Not many people will disagree with such ‘revelations’; I myself do not. I do believe that the Berber population, as much as the rest of the population, is in some ways repressed and that it might be a long way before the Berbers are allowed to have full access to their own heritage. The way I see it, however, is that, this is merely a Third World phenomenon, not exactly that of Algeria. Developing countries are more prone to violence than developed countries, less democratic and more repressive. The reasons, as I suggested in a separate article, are purely economic and there is absolutely nothing cultural about them.
The question that one needs to answer at this stage is rather this: why did Helene Flautre not talk that much about human rights in Algeria when more than 200 000 non-Berbers were being massacred?. One reason is that she did not know about them; the other is that she did not really care, so she just did not want to know.
There is another question: how about general Aussaresses’s own revelations about torture and human right violations in Algeria?. I would like Ms. Flautre to know that this matter is of a great significance to millions of Algerians and that one may even argue that the future of Algeria-France relations would depend on it. How to proceed from here, e.g. as to whether there will be a formal apology or not, is extremely important.
Of course, one understands that the French government is too ashamed to talk about such human right violations, but one has to face the music: human right violations are human rights violation regardless as to whether they happened in Vietnam, North Korea or Cuba. One has to address historical guilt with courage and dignity and avoid double talk.
This double standard is indeed becoming a major problem in world politics. When the Berber riots were paralyzing Algeria’s economic life in recent months, many people, including some Algerians, got excited. Not only that they tend to exaggerate the number of deaths, injuries and demonstrators, but also tend to tell people lies.
While some people who talk about human right violations in Algeria are undoubtedly honest and genuine, the majority, I am afraid, is not honest about the issue. I am particularly referring to those who exaggerate the number of deaths and injuries to call for more protests; those who exaggerate the number of Berbers in Algeria to try to force a certain attitude on the rest of the population; and those who exaggerate the care of the French generals for the Berber minorities to try to invoke the memories of the so-called Kabyle Myth.
What Algeria needs is a concrete solution. While much of it depends on the Algerian government itself, the international community can certainly help. One way in which this help can materialize is to educate the masses: (i) that human right violation is a global phenomenon and that the world needs to come together to talk about it; (ii) that Algeria’s problem is largely economic so that economic aid is provided in substantial quantities; and (iii) that inspiring more protests in the country can only lead to further economic degradation so the future will be less bright for everybody, including the Berbers themselves.