Amnesty criticises Algerian killings

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 02 March 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:532
  1. Peter Kandela

    The killing of inmates at Serkadji prison in Algeria last year has been criticised in a report from Amnesty International. Last February a disturbance took place at the prison that the government claimed was the result of an abortive escape attempt. During the disturbance at least 96 prisoners were killed, of whom 80 had been held on charges of terrorist acts. Amnesty says that it has evidence that shortly before the disturbance several high profile prisoners were transferred from other prisons to Serkadji and some of these were killed during the disturbance.

    The decision by Amnesty to investigate this incident was prompted by the fact that 96 detainees were killed, compared with only one member of the security forces and four prison guards. According to official reports, only seven detainees and five security forces members were injured.

    The other source of Amnesty's concern was the level of force that was used to quell the disturbance. It was clear from the investigation that firearms and grenades had been used by the security forces in confined spaces, despite the fact that, even according to government reports, only a small number of detainees had access to firearms and that these prisoners had been dealt with effectively by specially trained members of the security forces when the unrest first started.

    After the unrest the prison authorities did not allow the relatives of the victims access to the bodies. The families were not notified that their relatives were dead until the bodies had been buried in unmarked graves labelled with only “x Algerien.” Members of the Amnesty delegation visited the cemetery just outside Algiers and found that the graves were unmarked and the cemetery records had no names listed for most of these bodies.

    There were allegations that some bodies had been mutilated as a result of grenades being thrown into cramped cells and that some individuals had been summarily executed after the riots ended. After the incident the government set up a human rights body to look into the killings, which later reported its findings to Amnesty.

    The report from Amnesty says that although the government inquiry insisted that the prisoners' bodies had been photographed and fingerprinted before burial, no evidence existed that these activities had been carried out.—PETER KANDELA, physician and journalist, Staines, Middlesex

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