President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday admitted for the first time to France's systematic use of torture in its former colony Algeria and its responsibility for the disappearance of a dissident mathematician in 1957.
“It is time for the nation to accomplish its duty of truth on this matter,” Mr Macron said in a statement. “It is important for this history to be known, to be looked at with lucidity and courage.”
Mr Macron, the first French leader born after Algeria’s independence in 1962, on Thursday visited the widow of Maurice Audin, a young mathematician, communist and anti-colonial activist who was arrested in Algiers more than 60 years ago. Audin, a member of the settler community who supported the fight against colonial rule, was tortured and killed by French authorities, according to a witness.
The French presidency’s statement acknowledged a legal framework that allowed the armed forces to commit such acts. Mr Macron said the state will open its archives to allow the search for information about other people who disappeared during the war.
The presidency also promised it would stop blocking access and allow historians to investigate the subject freely, a close aide to the president told reporters after his visit to the Audin family. The number of people who were disappeared is unknown, the aide said.
Algerian rebels began their fight for independence in 1954 and by 1958 the French army had largely crushed the uprising. But the massacre of Algerian civilians by French forces and the use of torture undercut public support for the war, prompting then president Charles de Gaulle to begin secret talks with rebel leaders which ultimately led to independence.
France’s last three presidents have struggled to frame relations with Algeria since 2003 when the country’s president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, demanded an apology for the “long, brutal and genocidal” rule.
Le Monde newspaper said Mr Macron's decision will mean the end of a "state lie".
The presidential aide said Mr Macron’s gesture mirrored former president Jacques Chirac’s admission in 1995 of France’s role in deporting Jews during the Second World War.