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France further relaxes access to archives from brutal Algerian war

A soldier of the French army is shown in position at the corner of a building in the St. Eugene district of Oran in Algeria, April 28, 1962.
A soldier of the French army is shown in position at the corner of a building in the St. Eugene district of Oran in Algeria, April 28, 1962. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AFP
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Cases of abuse and killings involving minors will now be open to further scrutiny after decades of campaigning.

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France is to make access to its archives on the Algerian war more flexible, by authorising consultation of files involving minors, according to a decree published on Sunday in the Journal Officiel.

Historians and families have been calling for the move for decades.

In December 2021, following announcements made by Emmanuel Macron in March 2021, France opened its legal archives relating to the war, covering the period between 1 November 1954 and 31 December 1966, fifteen years ahead of the legal deadline.

But in practice, access to these documents remained "as difficult as ever" for families and researchers, lamented historian Marc André in an article in Le Monde in November 2022.

One of the main obstacles was the exclusion of files involving minors – those under the age of 21, per legislation in force at the time – which were still subject to the 100-year classification period. Because of this limitation, coupled with several others, "the majority of files are closed", noted the historian.

"This bureaucratic management means that the reality of a war fought by young people is ignored," he wrote. "This is as true for Algerian immigrants in France as it is for the maquis, the urban networks the prisons where many of the independence fighters, their supporters, draft dodgers and conscripts were aged around 20 when they signed up."

André, whose criticisms were picked up by the Algerian media, was indignant: "He was old enough at the time to have his head chopped off, but now he is minor enough to have his case removed from the general exemption".

The new order, published on Sunday and dated 25 August 2023, removes the exclusion from consultation for files involving a minor.

However, files the disclosure of which "affects the privacy of individuals" or "the security of named or easily identifiable persons involved in intelligence activities" remain classified.

As André points out, this also closes a large number of cases.

This new relaxation is in line with the policy of appeasement decided on by Emmanuel Macron during his first five years in office, following the recommendations of Benjamin Stora's report on the conflict of memories between Algeria and France over the colonial past.

But the relationship between France and Algeria remains difficult and marked by misunderstandings and things left unsaid.

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