France slowly comes to terms with its bloody past and admitted yesterday to the use of torture during Algeria's independence war six decades ago.
It admitted yesterday that it instigated a "system" that led to torture during Algeria's independence war, a conflict that remains hugely sensitive. 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 visited Audin's widow yesterday, told her that"the only thing I am doing is to acknowledge the truth."
During the 1954-62 war, which claimed some 1.5 million Algerian lives, French forces brutally cracked down on independence fighters in the colony ruled by Paris for 130 years. Hundreds of thousands of young French men were conscripted to fight in a conflict that left deep scars in France's national psyche as it wound down from being a colonial power after World War II.
The French state has never previously admitted that its military forces routinely used torture during the war. President Macron, the first president born after the conflict, sparked controversy on the campaign trail last year by declaring that France's colonization of Algeria was a "crime against humanity." He later walked back the comments, calling for "neither denial nor repentance" over France's colonial history and adding: "We cannot remain trapped in the past."
An assistant professor at the University of Algiers, Audin was 25 when he was arrested at his home by French paratroopers, accused of harboring armed members of the Algerian Communist Party. He was tortured repeatedly in a villa in the Algiers neighborhood of El Biar. His widow Josette was told 10 days later that the mathematician had escaped while being transferred between jails.
This remained the official version of events until 2014, when Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande acknowledged that Audin died in detention.
Historian Sylvie Thenault said the French state's acknowledgement that Audin's death resulted from a "system" pointed to a broader recognition of wrongdoing. "Through recognition of the state's responsibilities in the disappearance of Maurice Audin, have the state's responsibilities in all disappearances in Algiers in 1957 not been recognized?" she wrote on The Conversation, a news website.