Macron admits use of torture in Algeria war
France has formally acknowledged its military’s systemic use of torture in the Algerian War in the 1950s and 1960s, a step forward in grappling with its colonial legacy.
President Emmanuel Macron issued the statement in the context of a call for clarity about the fate of Maurice Audin, a 25-year-old mathematician and anti-colonial activist who was tortured by the French army and forcibly disappeared in 1957, during Algeria’s bloody struggle for independence from France.
Audin’s death is a specific case, but it represents a cruel system put in place at the state level, the Elysee Palace said.
“His disappearance was made possible by a system that . . . allowed law enforcement to arrest, detain and question any ‘suspect’ for the purpose of a more effective fight against the opponent,” read Macron’s statement.
Benjamin Stora, a leading French historian of Algeria, said Macron’s recognition represented a move away from “the silence of the father” stance that has characterised France’s relationship to its colonial past for decades.
“It permits us to advance,” he said. “To exit from denial and to advance in the service of truth.”
Stora accompanied Macron yesterday on an official visit to Audin’s widow, Josette Audin, 87.
Macron, 40, is the first French President born after the war and has shown a rare willingness to wade into the memory of Algeria, arguably the most sensitive chapter in the French experience of the 20th century and one that has had a profound influence on the country’s current political institutions.
Conquered by France in 1837, Algeria was a colony but also cast as an integral part of the country. By the 1950s, it was home to millions of French settlers, and when France was forced to give up overseas possessions in West Africa and Southeast Asia, it always held on tightly to Algeria.
When the country revolted in
1954, the suppression was savage. “Everyone knows that in Algiers the men and women arrested in these circumstances did not always return. Some were released, others were interned, others were brought to justice, but many families lost track of one of their own that year, in the future capital of Algeria,” the Elysee statement read.
The shadow of the Algerian war on French society has been compared to that of the Vietnam War for the United States.
On a visit to Algeria in February
2017, Macron, then a presidential candidate, called French colonialism “a crime against humanity”, a remark that reignited a bitter national debate.
In addition to recognising state authorised torture, Macron called for the opening of archives concerning those who disappeared, such as Audin.