Algerian prisoners — Algiers, 1960
Algerian prisoners — Algiers, 1960

The following takes place 50 years ago, when France was still an imperialist country with colonies.

During the Algerian War [1954-1962], the French essentially fought the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), engaged in violent acts of guerrilla warfare, bombings and assassinations.

At the time, the French military denied using torture, or rarely admitted it but justified it with claims that they were leading an operation of peace against terrorism by the FLN. Later though, several high-ranked officers aknowlegded there was generalized torture by the French military, following orders of the politicians in charge of the country.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
(Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5)
The social-democratic government of Prime Minister Guy Mollet had given a free hand to the occupying forces in Algeria to carry out torture. In June 1956, the National Assembly accepted Mollet's proposal to set aside individual freedoms in Algeria and permit the gendarmes and soldiers stationed there to use what was officially called extended questioning, coercive measures or special treatment.

Because FLN fighters were not looked upon as enemy forces but terrorists, The French Republic did not consider its military tied by the Geneva Conventions, France had signed several years earlier. Detainees were thus not granted prisoner of war status. On the contrary, since they were looked upon as terrorists, they were deprived of the rights that are legally entitled to belligerents during a war.

Shortly said, torture was an integral part of France's war policy in Algeria. Part of the daily practice included mass rapes, submerging victims in freezing water or excrement, and repeated use of electric shocks. Even in the Algerian hinterland, where there was no electricity, electric shock torture was carried out using the so-called Gégène, using the generation system intended to radio stations.

Yet when the use of torture became public knowledge in France, support for the war in Algeria quickly dwindled. After the French military won the battle of Algiers, French Président Charles de Gaulle decided the French should leave Algeria and give it back to the Algerians — which was the only possible solution, for that matter. In a March 1962 referendum, almost 90 percent of voters in mainland France backed the Évian Accords that ended the hostilities and gave Algeria its independence.

At least 400,000 Algerians were killed during the war — some say one million. In 2008, after several decades, many dramas and slaughters, Algeria still is not really a democratic country.

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