Forgetting History

Parmendies Fallacy has a good post talking about Algerian President Abdel Azziz Bouteflika’s recent adjustment of the Constitution to allow him a third term.  The post  also  wonders what impact this will have on the Amnesty programs.  In 2000 and 2005, about 12,000 former members of militias were released from jail, essentially with no questions asked:

Essentially the Algerian amnesty flies in the face of most conventional thinking about transitional justice.  Under Bouteflika’s careful maneuvering the amnesty has basically thrown out every single suggestion regarding transitional justice that would be promoted by most academics or professionals in the field in order to get the major rebel groups to lay down their arms.  These are some bad guys: the GIA and GSPC committed horrible massacres, murders, bombings, rapes and essentially terrorized the country for 10 years. (For an interesting paper exploring the strategic “logic” behind the campaign of massacres checkout a paper by Kalyvas here) Not surprisingly the government has also provided almost de facto immunity for government troops and government sponsored local militias who were responsible for their fair share of egregious violence including torture, disappearances and murder……..

In short the Algerian amnesty doesn’t do much in terms of reconciliation, or justice.  All of these mechanisms have been sidelined in an attempt to maintain the peace.  Even when there has been a concession, for example the promises of compensation for the families of victims who were “disappeared” this process has been hopelessly muddled by the government, which has had to my knowledge, no clear consistent position, on the disappeared  even though President Bouteflika has acknowledged officially that there were individuals who were “disappeared” during the civil war….

The must-read post then goes on to offer more criticism and analysis of the program…. 

My feeling is that the current amnesty program is about as good as can be expected.    Will Algeria really benefit in the future from knowing the Truth?  Or will knowing the Truth open up old wounds and make it more difficult for the society to move on?   South Africa had a Truth Commision and that worked for them but I’m not sure how much Algeria would get out of a similar aggressive attempt to examine the past.  Then again, I don’t know much about Algeria, and maybe those who do are saying otherwise.

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