EU uses rights as weapon against Algeria

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN and the European Union will keep up the pressure on Algeria by focusing on its human rights record, following last week's fruitless visit by the EU ministerial team led by the Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett.

The first move will come tomorrow in Brussels when, at British instigation, EU foreign ministers will adopt a statement attacking Algeria for refusing to admit a United Nations human rights team. Technically the problem is fixing a date; in fact the Europeans are convinced the military-backed regime has no intention of allowing the UN into the country.

The emphasis on human rights represents a change of tack by the EU, and an acknowledgement that its scope for reining in the slaughter in Algeria is next to non-existent. Moreover, last week's mission, and the pooled resources of European embassies in the country, came up with no evidence to support allegations of direct government complicity in some of the massacres, which have taken 75,000 or more lives since 1992. If sins there are in the regime's conduct, they are sins "of omission, not commission", the EU has concluded.

With the Algerian economy - for the richer strata of society at least - in reasonable shape as oil and gas revenues pour in, there is little scope too for economic sanctions, which would mainly affect the poorest. The beneficiaries would be the Islamic GIA movement, blamed for most of the carnage.

Faced with that dilemma, the EU reckons that the regime's human rights shortcomings - notably the brutal treatment of its citizens by security forces, documented by the Independent on Sunday - offer the one small chink in Algeria's defences against the outside world.

The lever would be the association agreement Algiers is negotiating with the EU, which contains trade carrots but also a clause on human rights. Even so, the Europeans acknowledge, given the present mutual suspicion and the innate touchiness of the regime, chances of real progress are minimal.

Last Tuesday the EU delegation was humiliatingly barred from the massacre sites. After the team had left the country Ahmed Ouyahia, the Prime Minister, accused London and other EU capitals of not clamping down on emigre GIA sympathisers who provide money and arms for the insurgency.

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