France will formally recognize the French military’s systemic use of torture in the Algerian War in the 1950s and 1960s, an unprecedented step forward in grappling with its long-suppressed legacy of colonial crimes.
President Emmanuel Macron announced his watershed decision in the context of a call for clarity on the fate of Maurice Audin, a Communist mathematician and anti-colonial militant who was tortured by the French army and forcibly disappeared in 1957, in the midst of 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. “It was nonetheless made possibly by a legally instituted system: the ‘arrest-detention’ system, set up under the special powers that been entrusted by law to the armed forces at that time,” reads a statement to be released by Macron’s office Thursday, seen by Le Monde newspaper.
Macron, 40, 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, after entering the political arena.
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.
On a visit to Algeria in Feb. 2017, Macron, then a presidential candidate, went so far as to call French colonialism “a crime against humanity,” a remark that reignited a bitter national debate.
In addition to recognizing state-authorized torture, Macron also called for the opening of archives concerning those who disappeared, such as Audin.
“A general dispensation, by ministerial decree, will be granted so that everyone — historians, families, associations — can consult the archives for all those who disappeared in Algeria,” the Élysée statement read. “We’re putting the issue of the missing in the center.”
Macron is slated to visit Audin’s widow, Josette Audin, 87, on Thursday.