France admits to using torture during Algeria's war of independence

President Macron admits state's responsibility for torture and death of dissident academic Maurice Audin

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) walks next to Michele Audin, daughter of late Maurice Audin, as he leaves the home of Josette Audin, widow of Audin, on September 13, 2018 in Bagnolet. President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged that mathematician Maurice Audin, a Communist pro-independence activist who disappeared in 1957, "died under torture stemming from the system instigated while Algeria was part of France", his office said. Macron, who was due to visit Audin's widow on September 13, will also announce "the opening of archives on the subject of disappeared civilians and soldiers, both French and Algerian". / AFP / Thomas SAMSON

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.

FILE - In this May 27, 1956 file photo, French troops seal off Algiers' notorious casbah, 400-year-old teeming Arab quarter. French President Emmanuel Macron has formally recognized that the French state was responsible for the death of a dissident mathematician in Algeria in 1957, admitting for the first time the French military's "system" of torture during Algeria's independence war. (AP Photo)
French troops seal off the casbah in Algiers in 1956. AP

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.


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