May 16th marks the International Day of Living Together in Peace, an initiative first introduced to the United Nations General Assembly by Algeria based on our experience and efforts to create an inclusive society in the wake of a fractious, bloody civil war that nearly destroyed our country.
It is fitting that only last week, the World Peace Gardens Network opened their inaugural North African garden in the heart of Algiers. It is my hope that through these commemorations, the world can reflect on the vision and ideals that underpinned Algeria’s painful transition from a nation torn apart by the scourge of terrorism to a proponent of amnesty and reconciliation.
Sadly this approach remains unique among the many countries that believe they can confront and kill their way through extremism.
Since his election in 1999, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika brought an end to a decade-long civil war and spearheaded a comprehensive strategy to stem to violent extremism and heal a wounded nation. At a time when ideologists of apocalypse wanted to substantiate their thesis of an imminent clash between the Western and Muslim civilisations, the President preferred to see a world moving towards happiness and understanding.
But Algeria’s path to becoming a tolerant and open society was fraught with adversity as we rose from the ashes of a tragedy that bled the country for over a decade.
Some of the most barbaric acts of terror in the 1990s were perpetrated on Algerian soil, as extremists targeted men, women, and children, intellectuals, and state officials, and continued to destroy infrastructures, schools, public buildings and even farmers' crops as they sought to rebuild.
Algeria’s peace-building and counterterrorism efforts went largely unaided by the international community, whose eyes were turned towards the battlegrounds of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was only through the resilience of Algerian people, rallied around the security forces and the People's National Army, and after heavy sacrifices, that internal peace turned from a distant dream into an everyday reality.
However if I were to attribute Algeria’s healing to one factor it would be the nation’s firm adherence to President Bouteflika’s vision of a country ruled by tolerance, reconciliation, and social harmony. These principles underpinned every facet of Algeria’s path forward, from its military endeavours and regional peacekeeping operations, to its reconciliation charter.
Indeed, in a politically risky move, President Bouteflika chose to grant amnesty to former fighters who laid down their arms and engaged in political solution. It worked. In a public referendum, over 97% of voters – which comprised 80% of the population – voted in favour of the reconciliation charter, and catalysed wide-spread societal healing.
Today, Algeria’s innovative model of restorative justice and closely-linked counterterrorism strategy are studied as a model across the world, particularly as both were advanced within these broader frameworks of peace and national reconciliation. Indeed, our approach to combating terrorism marries diplomatic, legal, and military solutions rather than pursuing a defence-based strategy – targeting the root of the problem, rather than the symptoms.
It is underpinned at the same time by a widespread network of de-radicalization programs which ensure that former extremists are welcomed back into the folds of society, equipped with the tools and opportunities that they require for success.
To augment this growing stability, we continue to implement domestic frameworks which foster justice and equality for all members of society. In recent years we have passed several laws that embrace and advance the nation’s diversity, particularly through the enshrinement of Tamazight as an official national language and the creation of an international academy of the Amazigh language.
Algeria also adopted a legal requirement that one-third of parliamentary seats be filled by women. Internationally, Algeria has ardently sought to advance the same principles of restorative justice and reconciliation by contributing to peace talks between warring factions in conflicts in Mali, Tunisia, and Libya.
In the coming days, when the world celebrates UN “International Day of Living Together” we hope it will happen in the spirit of the lessons learned through Algeria’s peacemaking and post-war transformation. It is fact a day of action, to be seen both as a culmination of Algeria’s international efforts to advance its message of harmony and a sign of what is possible in other nations that face the scourge of violent extremism.
It is a time worth reflecting on the words spoken by President Bouteflika thirteen years ago at a UNESCO during a conference on dialogue among civilisations:
“Our dream depends on our capacity to understand each other and accept the others in all their diversity – a diversity that could be a source of progress for humanity.”
By Abdelkader Messahel, Minister of Foreign Affairs, People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria