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Why is the West silent about Algeria?

Johan Galtung, Feb 13,2012, IPS: 0:09 IST

Since the military seized power, a quarter million people have been killed in Algeria.

The killing of nonviolent demonstrators and civilian bystanders is escalating in Syria. Assad should resign immediately, a coalition government should be formed, and hundreds of mediators should hold dialogues with the many parties, to try and form a federation.

But the situation in Algeria is even worse. Since the military seized power and cancelled the second round of elections in January 1992 — with Western consent — when the Islamic Salvation Front was headed for a victory, a quarter million people have been killed.

Why is there no Algerian Spring? Maybe because the repression is too atrocious. Why have there been no protest from the West? Maybe because the Algerian government did what the West wanted: granted access to oil and gas, to bases, and a made a promise of possible recognition of Israel. Syria did none of this.

Dubious request

Swiss-based Dr Mourad Dhina is a physicist at CERN, the European organisation for civilian nuclear research and at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic Institute and is Executive Director of Alkarama (“dignity”), a Swiss foundation working for human rights in the Arab world. Though he is a totally nonviolent campaigner for human rights, Dhina was arrested on January 16, 2012 at Orly airport in response to a dubious extradition request from Algeria, who charge that he belonged to an armed terrorist group in Switzerland in the 1990s.

On January 15, 2012, French minister of foreign affairs, Alain Juppé, met Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence in Rangoon and decorated her with the insignia of Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honour.

The day after, the French minister of interior, Claude Guéant, ordered the arrest of Dhina, who has done essentially the same that Aung San Suu Kyi, resisting a miliary dictatorship with peaceful means. Such similar conflicts, such similar resisters, yet very different treatment by the French.

Numerous international and national human rights organizations, including Algeria Watch, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Centre Libanais pour les Droits de l’Homme, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, the International Federation for Human Rights, the International Commission of Jurists, the Ligue des droits de l’Homme and the World Organisation Against Torture, have addressed an open letter to French Prime Minister François Fillon, in which they call on him not to extradite Dr Dhina.

In addition to being Alkarama’s executive director, Dhina is also a founding member of Rachad, a peaceful political association that is legally registered in France and that seeks democratic change in Algeria. Dhina had been attending a meeting of Rachad in Paris when police arrested him.

Mourad Dhina has played a key role in exposing human rights violations in the Arab world through his work at Alkarama. In addition, his political activities have been carried out in lawful exercise of his freedom of expression and association, as guaranteed under international law. Dhina had travelled freely to France on numerous past occasions. It is feared that the request by Algerian authorities may be motivated by the desire to muzzle him because of his political activities. His arrest and possible extradition may be an effort to silence his critical voice.

There is also reason to fear that Dhina would be at risk of torture if he were sent back to Algeria, given the documented use of torture by the Algerian authorities — most recently referred to by the committee against torture during its review of Algeria in 2008.
The letter points out that this would be contrary to France's obligations under article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture.

Moreover, Algeria’s military junta has a record of convicting suspects in manifestly unfair trials in cases involving allegations of terrorism. Sending Dhina to Algeria would thus also violate the prohibition of sending refugees to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened.

Paris is the place where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. France shows great respect for human rights domestically. France can again demonstrate its commitment to human rights by ensuring that Dhina is not extradited to a military dictatorship. And if there is no credible evidence that he has committed any crimes that are recognised as such under international standards, the French authorities ought to release him immediately.

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