CRSV: Algerian Civil War (1991-2002)

This case note is a part of our series of case notes that document the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

Background of the Conflict

The Algerian Civil War was fought between the Algerian government and various Islamist rebel groups between December 26, 1991 and February 8, 2002. The war began when the government cracked down on the Islamist movement. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) seemed poised to defeat the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party in the national parliamentary elections. However, the elections were cancelled after the first round. The military took control of the government, forcing pro-reform president Bendjedid from office. The FIS was banned. This paved the way for Islamist guerrillas to begin operating – and with the emergence of armed forces, by 1994, the violence could no longer be contained (Kepel 2002). By 1997, the Islamist resistance lost its popular support. However, fighting continued for five more years thereafter (Kepel 2002). Known as the “dirty war” (Prince 2012), the civil war paved the way for extreme violence and brutality against civilians (Cavatorta 2008). Children were widely used, especially by the rebel groups (Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers 2001). The war was known to have caused 44,000 to 200,000 fatalities (Ajami 2010).

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

Figures obtained from the Ministry of Interior suggested that 1013 women were raped between 1994 and 1997, and another 2000 were kidnapped, raped, and killed between 1997 and 1999 (Collectif 95 Maghreb-Egalite 1999). Another source suggests that 5000 rapes were reported (Benoune 2018). Young women were kidnapped and kept as sex slaves, and women were raped and assaulted, with the claim that they were “sent to [the women] by [their] God” (Nesroullah and Mellah 2000). Thousands of women were abducted by the fundamentalist armed groups (Helie-Lucas 2001). Abducted women who survived their kidnappings were known as “sabayas,” and considered part of the spoils of war (Rachda 2004). They were forced into slavery (Rachda 2004; Boukra 2002).

Basis of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence was carried out on all sides, by all parties to the conflict. Women were specifically targeted by the Islamist armed groups to intimidate, torture, and humiliate them and their communities. Women were also subject to abduction and kidnapping for temporary pleasure marriages with fighters – where women were kept in captivity and forced into sexual slavery, before – often – being killed. Several women in the initial phases of the conflict were targeted owing to their religious and/or political affiliations or their refusal to wear a veil. After 1995, all women began to be targeted regardless of their affiliations (Benoune 2008). Several women were also subject to rape and sexual assault at the hands of the security forces for their political affiliation and to intimidate them into making confessions or statements. Women were systematically raped and assaulted at the word of religious leaders who cast aspersions on their character. Women were also attacked by the societies that repudiated them upon their return home, owing to the stigmatization and shaming prevalent in society (Benoune 2008).