COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS REPORT OF ALGERIA
14 February 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today completed its consideration of the combined fifteenth to nineteenth periodic report of Algeria on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Boudjemaa Delmi, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Algeria actively combated all forms of racial discrimination and had adopted appropriate legislation to promote equality for all Algerian citizens and foreign nationals regardless of colour, ethnicity or religion. The right to education was guaranteed for all children living in Algeria, the law of nationality had been amended to allow access to Algerian nationality not only through the father but also through the mother, minority religions had been promoted through a variety of activities, and refugees were protected by the Algerian constitution. With regard to migrants, Algeria had acceded to the relevant international instruments and protected the rights of migrants, including those in an irregular situation. An institution had been set up to protect and promote the Tamazight language, which had been incorporated into the school curriculum as a discipline.
During the discussion, Committee Experts expressed satisfaction about the legislative measures which Algeria had taken to combat discrimination and asked questions about the involvement of non-governmental organizations in the preparation of the report, the transposition of the provisions of Article 4 of the Convention into national law, and the treatment that Sub-Saharan nationals and other migrants received in Algeria. Issues such as the reported marginalization of Tamazight, the lack of detailed statistical information on the ethnic composition of the Algerian population, and equal opportunities for Algerian women were also raised. The downgrading of Algeria’s National Advisory Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to B status and ways of helping it regain its A status were also discussed.
In concluding remarks, Waliakoye Saidou, Country Rapporteur for Algeria, said that the dialogue with the Algerian delegation had been frank and fruitful. He noted that many positive measures had been taken by Algeria since the last report and praised Algeria’s willingness to transpose Articles 1 and 4 of the Convention into national law.
Mr. Delmi welcomed the Committee’s objective assessment, and thanked Experts and the representatives of non-governmental organizations for helping Algeria to improve the living conditions of its people.
The delegation of Algeria included representatives from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Council of the Arab Language, the High Commissioner’s Office for Amazigh Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will begin its consideration of the combined twentieth to twenty-second periodic report of the Russian Federation (CERD/C/RUS/20-22).
The combined fifteenth to nineteenth periodic report of Algeria can be read here (CERD/C/DZA/15-19)
Presentation of the Report
BOUDJEMAA DELMI, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Algeria was one of the first signatories of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The promotion and protection of human rights was fundamental to Algeria, which had acceded to most of the international human rights instruments and worked to ensure their implementation. More specifically, Algeria actively combated all forms of racial discrimination and apartheid. The country was a territory where various cultures and religions had met and co-existed for millennia. The values of cultural and religious tolerance had suffered significantly during the colonial period, with colonial powers promoting segregation and other discriminatory practices. In the post-colonial period appropriate legislation had been adopted to promote equality for all Algerian citizens and foreign nationals. Equality before the law was a constitutional right which was completely unrestricted and independent of colour, ethnicity or religion. Therefore, non-Algerian nationals received all the necessary assistance from the State, such as translation services, whenever they needed access to the law. The right to education was also guaranteed for all children living in Algeria. Since independence, Algerian law had criminalized the deliberate targeting of persons belonging to minorities and ethnic groups.
The law of nationality had been recently amended to allow access to Algerian nationality not only through the father of the person concerned but also through the mother. Minority religions in Algeria had been promoted through a variety of activities in recent years. Religious associations benefited from financial support by the State without discrimination, and places of worship were allocated funds to ensure their maintenance and refurbishment. The law guaranteed the practising of religions other than the country’s official religion, Islam.
Mr. Delmi also said that, since independence, Algerian law had criminalized all insults or attacks directed at one or several persons belonging to ethnic or religious groups. Discriminatory practices were prohibited by national law and Algerian society was against all forms of racial, religious and cultural segregation. In 2006 the Criminal Code had been amended and penalties for those responsible for aggressive behaviour against persons belonging to ethnic groups were severe. No complaints relating to incidents of racial discrimination had been received by the competent authorities.
Regarding refugees, Algeria respected fully the rights of foreigners, asylum seekers, and refugees. Foreign persons on Algerian soil were protected by the law and refugees were protected by specific articles in the Algerian constitution. Algeria had established mechanisms to look after vulnerable refugee groups, especially children, in collaboration with international bodies. With regard to migrants, Algeria had acceded to the relevant international instruments and protected the rights of migrants, including those in an irregular situation. Furthermore, the right to healthcare for everyone was fully respected by Algeria. Laws on national education ensured access to education for the children of migrants in the country. Training opportunities were open to migrant workers and members of their families.
Concerning transnational crime, Algeria contributed to the prevention of human trafficking in the region and worked closely with other African countries within the framework of the African Union. At the bilateral level Algeria took all necessary steps to combat trafficking in persons. At the institutional level, the President of Algeria had created a consultative body whose aim was to monitor the promotion of human rights while also carrying out public awareness-raising work. Efforts were being made to improve even more the situation of human rights in the country and, to that end, a second institution had also been set up in 1999 to protect the Tamazight language. Its work included holding cultural and scientific meetings and providing direct and indirect support to various projects aiming to promote Tamazight. The language was being taught in Algerian schools wherever there was need for that and a relevant request was made and there were also opportunities for training in that language. Tamazight was incorporated into the school curriculum as a discipline and there were textbooks devoted to the study of the language. A television station and several local radio stations operated in Tamazight.
Questions by Experts
WALIAKOYE SAIDOU, Country Rapporteur for Algeria, said that it had been 11 years since the last review of Algeria, which had a population of more than 37 million people comprising two ethnic groups. It was difficult to identify the proportion of Arabs and Berbers in the country because the two populations had been mixed over time. Algeria had inherited a rich history with a number of civilizations having crossed its territory, and had become an important member of the Maghreb Union as well as of the Mediterranean family.
Concerning the report of Algeria, the Committee welcomed the work which had been carried out by the Algerian delegation and noted that the guidelines for the preparation of report had been adhered to. The Committee paid special attention to the participation of the civil society in the preparation of the report and would welcome more information on the non-governmental organizations which had been involved in the process as well as the degree of their involvement. In order to achieve progress in the fight against racial discrimination, information was needed on the number and profile of persons who were likely to be discriminated against and, therefore, Algeria had to adopt appropriate methods that would reflect its willingness to provide information to the Committee on the ethnic make-up of the country.
The Committee expressed satisfaction that legislative measures had been taken to combat discrimination. It also appreciated the establishment of a consultative body responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Convention, and pointed out that it was important for that body to gain A status accreditation. Since its last report, Algeria had made many efforts to adapt its legislative and institutional measures to the fight against racial discrimination. What was Algeria’s action plan to combat racial discrimination in the coming years? The Committee was pleased that Algeria had taken measures to promote access to opportunities for all in accordance with the conventions and protocols which had been ratified by the country. It was a positive development that amendments had been recently introduced in the criminal code to tackle discrimination more effectively. Equally positive was that Tamazight had been promoted to an official language, even though it was still not being taught to all Algerian children.
Was there a special law in the country relating to racial discrimination which reproduced the language of Article 1 of the Convention? Was there a sufficient level of public awareness about issues of racial discrimination among Algerian citizens? Were there any incidents of segregation as a result of the unintentional acts of private citizens relating to social, economic and other inequalities present in the Algerian society? The Committee noted with concern that non-governmental organizations had pointed out that migrants from the Sub-Saharan areas of the country did not enjoy their full rights and were subject to discrimination. Concerning cross-ethnic and religious practices in the country, could a Christian Algerian man marry a Muslim Algerian woman?
An Expert pointed out that the law referred to Algeria as an Arab country, and asked for more information on the efforts undertaken to combat marginalization of the Tamazight region and language. Another Expert said that the country had a glorious history of fighting against colonial powers to gain its independence and praised Algeria for attaching great importance to the protection and promotion of human rights and for making great progress since its last review in 2001.
An Expert noted with satisfaction that Algeria’s legislative and institutional systems were comprehensive, but expressed concern about the lack of detailed data concerning the ethnic background of Algerian citizens. He said that there should have been data about the number of Tamazight speakers living in Algeria, and asked the delegation to explain what it was planning to do to tackle that issue. Also, what other ethnic groups existed in the country and how many members did they have each? Concerning Tamazight, reports had been received from non-governmental organizations that only small numbers of children had the opportunity to learn the language in school. Were there specific Tamazight associations or other bodies that represented the members of that ethnic community and conveyed their wishes and requests to the State? Did the provisions in Algeria’s Criminal Code fully cover all areas of Article 4 of the Convention? The delegation was also invited to comment on reports that migrant workers, especially those in an irregular situation, were being discriminated against.
Another Expert asked why refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa were reported to be receiving discriminatory treatment in Algeria. He also expressed concern at reports about refugees from Sub-Saharan countries being attacked and insulted in their own homes. Regarding Tamazight, had Algeria considered making it a national language, since a large number of the country’s citizens reportedly spoke Tamazight? The delegation was asked to clarify the meaning of the terms “national” and “official” language in that respect.
An Expert praised Algeria for having been one of the first countries to ratify the Convention but noted with regret that some of the recommendations which had been made in 2001 had not been taken fully onboard. Information received that no complaints of racial discrimination had been made could be due to a lack of awareness among Algerian people of their rights or could be interpreted as the result of a low degree of confidence in Algerian mechanisms dealing with issues of discrimination. Moreover, what measures were being taken to protect refugees and asylum seekers, especially those arriving from Sub-Saharan Africa?
Concerning the lack of disaggregated data about the ethnic make-up of Algerian society, an Expert pointed out that the absence of such data should not stop Algeria from taking effective measures to promote Tamazight as an important component of Algerian culture.
Another Expert said that Islamic countries sometimes had problems dealing with issues of racial discrimination, because many Islamic countries often wrongly assumed that no discrimination existed in their society. Furthermore, receiving no complaints of racial discrimination did not necessarily mean that all was well and could be due to citizens either being afraid to come forward with complaints or feeling that there was no point in alerting the authorities to discrimination incidents because nothing would be done about them.
Another Expert requested more information on the distribution of agricultural land in Algeria and how that was related to the ethnic background of Algerian citizens. Did members of the Tamazight community have adequate access to land?
An Expert asked how many women were in the Algerian Parliament. She also wanted to know whether a quota system had been put in place to give the opportunity to women to become Members of Parliament. She expressed concern at the fact that Algeria’s National Advisory Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights had been downgraded to B status and said that Algeria should find a way to help the Institution regain its A status.
Response by the Delegation
In response to these questions and comments, the delegation said that Algeria recognized that there were certain gaps in the report submitted and was looking forward to the recommendations of the Committee, which would help in the implementation of the Convention in the country. Algeria was comfortable with the set of issues under discussion, because one of the main principles of the country’s official religion was equality among citizens, which was deeply rooted in Algerian culture. In addition, the numerous invasions of Algeria throughout its history had created a mixed population and made it difficult distinguishing Arab from Berber Algerians. Algeria promoted factors that united rather than elements that divided the population, which explained the lack of disaggregated data on the ethnic background of its citizens. Once a person became an Algerian citizen, no reference to their origin was made in official documents. Algeria’s status as a transit country created particular problems in dealing with refugees, some of whom passed through Algeria on their way to Europe.
Regarding the B status of the National Advisory Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Algeria was working to ensure that it would regain its A status, while operating in harmony with the Paris Declaration Principles. Concerning refugees, there was a specific bureau dealing with applications from asylum seekers and a procedure was in place to ensure that refugees were offered assistance and that their children were given appropriate schooling. While Algeria had taken measures to make its borders more secure, it had also worked to facilitate entry into Algeria of refugees from Mali, in particular, during the crisis in the neighbouring country. With regard to the crisis in Syria, no visa was required for travel between Algeria and Syria, and Algeria had received a number of Syrian nationals escaping the violence in their country. All the necessary facilities were provided to Syrian nationals arriving in Algeria, including children. Regarding illegal migrants, the majority of those aimed to enter the European Union. However, many of those decided to stay in Algeria because there were employment opportunities there. Algeria dealt with them in a way that respected fully the international conventions on immigration.
The delegation said that, while criminal legislation did not provide for specific offences of discrimination, acts of violence, insults, and attacks on members of ethnic or religious groups quoted in Article 4 of the Convention were punishable under Algerian Criminal Code. The judicial system was currently being revised to bring the laws in line with the Convention, and a number of amendments were being introduced so that the provisions of Article 4 of the Convention would be transposed into national legislation.
Concerning the question on nationality, Algeria enabled Algerian citizens to give their nationality to their children and spouse, so for example a child born to an Algerian father or mother was automatically an Algerian citizen. Nationality could be acquired through marriage to an Algerian citizen regardless of the spouse’s country of origin or nationality.
Regarding human rights training, the delegation said that judges were trained in the international human rights system and humanitarian law, and participated in seminars in Algeria and abroad, particularly in Belgium and France. Judicial police officers and other personnel also received appropriate training. The international and regional conventions in the field of human rights were made available free of charge to judges and those working in the Algerian law enforcement system. In response to the access to justice by non-Algerians, it was clarified that legal aid was granted free of charge to non-nationals who resided in Algeria and also to the victims of trafficking. Interpreting services were also available whenever those were required. In the case of witnesses with hearing and other disabilities, they too received assistance from qualified interpreters.
The delegation said that the only condition for access to public service was the Algerian citizenship, and clarified that religion was not a condition for being appointed to public office.
On the issue of illegal immigration, the delegation said that Algeria as a country of transit experienced a large flow of illegal immigrants hoping to enter the European Union. However, many of them stayed in Algeria. Therefore, illegal immigration continued to increase and remained a challenge for Algeria. To combat that problem, Algeria had set up a coordinated system which covered both the human and security aspects of immigration. Illegal immigrants on Algerian soil fully enjoyed their rights and experienced no discrimination in terms of access to healthcare regardless of nationality or religion. Algeria allocated a substantial budget to the fight of illegal immigration and had provisions in place to facilitate the repatriation of illegal immigrants, always respecting the human dignity of the persons involved. Algeria recognized that illegal immigrants were victims of violence and poverty in their country of origin, which rendered them vulnerable to criminal networks and organized cross-border crime. Cooperation at the regional level and also between Europe and Africa was ongoing but there were still many challenges facing Algeria in that respect. A cross-border committee had been set up to ensure that the populations in the regions around the Algerian borders could engage in an exchange of experiences and also in trade exchanges.
On the issue of external funding received by non-governmental organizations, the delegation said that the law identified civil society as a fundamental actor in Algerian democracy and granted authorization to various associations to operate and receive funding, provided that they remained committed to avoiding discriminatory behaviour. As it was important to guarantee the transparent operation of non-governmental organizations and given security threats posed by international terrorism, authorization was needed for organizations to receive funding from abroad. The activities of foreign non-governmental organizations were facilitated and they were welcome in Algeria provided that they respected Algerian laws.
Algeria paid special attention to the equality of opportunities and women occupied important posts in the public service. Reforms continued to be implemented in that respect. For example, a new law had been adopted in January 2012 to increase the opportunities available to women to participate in elected assemblies and to set specific quotas for the participation of women in legislative elections. The law also provided for the possibility of financial assistance provided to political parties according to the number of women who had been elected.
Concerning the question of the ethnic composition of the population, the Algerian administration did not provide for the identification of citizens on the basis of ethnic background mainly for historical reasons. Algeria sought to consolidate its national identity and to promote social cohesion through the promotion of three basic components, the Arab dimension, the Amazigh dimension and the Muslim dimension, to ensure that there was no discrimination in terms of access to public jobs, housing, education and healthcare on the basis of ethnicity. The population census carried out every 10 years was aimed at helping the authorities to monitor and evaluate the policies of national and local authorities. The latest census was held in 2008.
In response to the question about the protection of citizens wearing traditional clothes, steps had been taken to register Algeria’s cultural heritage, and traditional costumes and jewelry had been designated as world cultural heritage. Incidents of the relegation of persons on the basis of wearing traditional clothes needed to be officially reported; otherwise such incidents could only be treated as allegations.
Replying to the question about the celebration of Africa Day, the delegation clarified that Africa Day was celebrated on 25 May to commemorate the creation of the African Union.
Concerning the participation of civil society in the preparation of the report, the delegation stressed that civil society was a partner working closely with national and local authorities at all levels, and said that their active participation was a principle enshrined in Algerian law.
Concerning newly arrived Sub-Saharan refugees, 390 persons had arrived from Mali and there were a further 1,000 persons who were being hosted by Algerian families. There was a secular tradition in the country of receiving families in a vulnerable situation, and Algeria strove to meet the needs of those refugees with the help of the Red Crescent. Sub-Saharan refugees fully enjoyed their rights without any discrimination on the basis of their origin. Whenever complaints were received about incidents of discrimination, which remained for the most part isolated, appropriate action was taken by the authorities. Allegations of abuse of Sub-Saharan refugees had no basis. A verification process was in place and close cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in that and other respects was ongoing. In addition to refugees, it was reported that displaced persons from Mali had temporarily moved to Algeria during periods of drought but then returned to their country of origin. Algeria provided food and other assistance in response to the needs of displaced persons and refugees, even in cases where refugees moved on and entered other neighbouring countries such as Mauritania.
On the matter of the National Advisory Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the delegation said that $ 38 million had been allocated to the Commission to be used independently by the institution to promote a human rights culture in Algeria. The Commission was heavily involved in the organization of awareness-raising events and activities. Concerning the status of the Commission, its status was downgraded to B. The competent Algerian authorities were working with the Commission to ensure that it was fully in line with the Paris Principles and hoped that it would regain its A status in the near future.
Concerning questions about local development, the policy of land reform had been changed in order to provide better land distribution for people and to facilitate economic activity. Particular attention was paid to the input of civil society, whose role in the whole process had been strengthened. Therefore, reforms were expected to give a new impetus to democratic practices in Algeria and to strengthen the place of women in Algerian society. Several programmes and policies were in place to promote investment and to boost economic growth. Despite the global financial crisis, the general living standard of Algerians, especially the weakest segments of the population, had been improved. Algeria had also made significant progress in reducing child mortality rates, enhancing maternity health, and fighting against HIV/AIDS, and the State provided free of charge a number of health services to its population. Moreover, a fund had been set up for future generations, bearing in mind that Algerian economy was heavily based on oil revenues and oil would eventually run out.
The High Commission for Amazigh Affairs had been established in 1995 and its mission was to introduce the Tamazight language in the teaching system and communications and to promote Amazigh culture. Fifty-five officials were employed in the Commission and were operating at various levels. The Commission had its own budget which had increased steadily: from 41 million dinars in 1996 to 117 million dinars in 2012. In addition to cultural and scientific meetings organized regularly by the High Commissioner for Amazigh Affairs, the Commission had also been involved in the publication of literary and other works in the Tamazight language. A review was published annually and counted 23 editions so far, and consulting work was carried out in terms of vocabulary. Newborn babies were registered with the local authorities in the area where their parents resided and a regular update of the electoral lists was carried out, so the authorities were aware of the number of persons residing in their area.
There were no texts prohibiting the use of Amazigh names and refusal of such names was by no means systematic or widespread. Nevertheless, isolated incidents had indeed been reported and the High Commissioner was working with the Ministry of Interior to come up with a sustainable solution that would tackle the problem. In the meantime, any grievances of citizens reported in that respect were addressed and resolved. Tamazight had been recommended to become a national language and, in addition to the initiatives taken by the High Commissioner, a number of events had been organized to fulfill that recommendation and to ensure that the history of Tamazight was recognized and respected in all aspects of public life. Tamazight had been introduced into the education system but despite progress made in that respect significant challenges remained, such as the lack of training and the lack of teachers. The radio channel which broadcast in Tamazight had contributed to preserving and promoting the language. The set-up of a Tamazight television channel was another significant achievement, although a lot still had to be done to improve the way the television channel operated.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert said that the information provided on Amazigh affairs was interesting and stressed that the use of Tamazight should be promoted further, taking into account the needs of Tamazight speakers. Did the High Commission for Amazigh Affairs consult Tamazight speakers to ensure that their views were taken into account?
Another Expert said that the Committee was impressed by Algeria’s efforts to promote unity and cohesion among the population, but also pointed out that collecting statistical data did not necessarily jeopardize unity. On the contrary, more detailed knowledge of the ethnic background of the population could strengthen national unity, which, in any case, was not supposed to be the same as uniformity.
Response by the Delegation
Regarding the promotion of Amazigh affairs, decisions were taken both at the local and national levels and the participation of all components of the Algerian population concerned was actively sought. The right of access to education in Tamazight was enshrined in the Algerian Constitution and teaching in Tamazight had been introduced into the education system at all levels, from primary to higher levels. Subjects in Tamazight were part of the curriculum and training in Tamazight was also available at university level. Algeria strongly felt that the entire population of the country had the right to benefit from the gains of Algeria’s independence.
Mandatory education was available to all children of school age (6 years old) regardless of their nationality. Primary education was provided in refugee camps, for example for refugee children from Western Sahara and Mali. The Convention as such was not being taught in schools but discussions relating to human rights were a core element of Algerian education. One thousand university scholarships were offered by Algeria to students from the African continent, primarily from French-speaking countries, on an annual basis.
The Civil Code had provisions in Articles 64 and 28 (dating back to the 1970s) for registering Algerian Christian names, and it was not the case that Amazigh Algerians were not able to register their children’s names. Moreover, Algeria was aware that the country was open to external, non-Algerian influences, which had ramifications for the names chosen by parents for their children. Information was continually being collected about Tamazight and French names and how those would be transcribed.
Recommendations had recently been made about adopting a new approach to collecting information based on ethnicity, but there were still difficulties in that area. The current system of registration and census was working well for Algeria and would not be changed completely but, rather, would be improved upon as much as possible.
Concerning a question asked earlier about the freedom of religion, the delegation stressed that that was guaranteed by Algerian legislation, especially by Article 36 of the Constitution.
WALIAKOYE SAIDOU, Country Rapporteur for Algeria, said that the dialogue with the Algerian delegation had been open, frank, and fruitful, and was pleased to note that the delegation comprised representatives of several ministries and other administrative bodies. He praised the willingness of Algeria to transpose Articles 1 and 4 of the Convention into national law. He also noted that many positive measures had been taken by Algeria since the last report, and expressed the hope that additional measures would be included in the framework law on national education.
BOUDJEMAA DELMI, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the assessment of the Committee was valuable because it was an objective, external assessment. The dialogue with the Committee had been fruitful and would help significantly Algeria in its fight against racial discrimination. He thanked Experts for their questions and expressed his deep respect for the work of the Committee, which was based on the principles of the United Nations. He also thanked the representatives of non-governmental organizations who had participated in the meeting and helped Algeria in improving the living conditions of its people.
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