Today, much the same as 15 years ago, demonstrators in Algiers, Algeria, still campaign for the whereabouts of their loved ones.
A bloody civil war in the 1990s, culminating in a military coup in 1992 stopping Islamists from taking power, killed over 100,000 people.
Amidst this, families fell apart as relatives simply disappeared. Many were murdered. Others were captured.
As a recent Human Rights Watch report notes, since the end of the war there is still widespread impunity and trauma among many Algerians. Reporting in Human Rights Watch’s ‘Dispatches’ series, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division Eric Goldstein reports on his first entry to Algeria for almost a decade. He paints a bleak picture of a country refusing to approach its past.
“I find the families of those disappeared during the war still holding regular demonstrations, chanting ‘Give us back our sons’ on a sidewalk in downtown Algiers,” Eric says.
“The demonstrators have aged. Every several months since my last visit, an email arrives announcing that a parent of one of those disappeared has passed away, without having learned the fate of his or her child.”
In 2006, Algeria’s Law on Peace and National Reconciliation helped 7,000 families receive compensation for the trauma caused by the disappearances. However, the law also provided amnesty to the perpetrators of torture and forced disappearances.
Because of this, there is no justice for the victims. The truth has therefore never surfaced.
“There are those who reject compensation as long as the state does not disclose the fate of their children,” Eric says.
“For many, the truth means much more than learning if, and how, their children died, and at whose hands.”