French forces “tortured and murdered” Algerian freedom fighter Ali Boumendjel during his country’s war for independence, President Emmanuel Macron admitted Tuesday, officially reappraising a death that was covered up as a suicide.
Macron made the admission “in the name of France” during a meeting with Boumendjel’s grandchildren.
The move comes after Macron stoked outrage in January when he refused to issue an official apology for abuses committed during the occupation of Algeria.
Instead, he agreed to form a “truth commission” as recommended by a report commissioned by the government to shed light on France’s colonial past.
France is home to millions of people with links to Algeria — including descendants of former French colonists — and the brutal eight-year Algerian War of Independence has been a deeply divisive issue between France and her former colony as well as within France’s large Muslim population.
Torture, disappearances and deaths in custody as well as during security operations marked the war, but successive French presidents have steered clear of a conflict associated with national humiliation and brutality.
Boumendjel, a nationalist and lawyer, was arrested during the battle of Algiers by the French army, “placed incommunicado, tortured, and then killed on 23 March 1957,” the Elysée Palace said in a statement.
“Ali Boumendjel did not commit suicide. He was tortured and then killed,” Macron told Boumendjel’s grandchildren, according to the statement.
A ‘devastating’ lie for many years
It is not the first time the real cause of death was acknowledged.
In 2000, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses confessed to ordering Boumendjel’s death and disguising the murder as a suicide, according to the statement.
It added that Macron on Tuesday had also reiterated his desire to give families the opportunity to find out the truth about this chapter of history.
Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle.
‘Never-ending memory war’
French historian Benjamin Stora, who wrote the government-commissioned report, has said there is a “never-ending memory war” between the two countries.
The report has been described by the Algerian government as “not objective” and falling “below expectations.”
While campaigning for president in 2017 Macron caused a sensation by declaring that the colonisation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity.”
A year later, he acknowledged that France had instigated a system that facilitated torture during the 1954-1962 Algerian war, which ended 132 years of French rule.
But Macron has since ruled out an official apology, maintaining that there was “no question of showing repentance” or of “presenting an apology” for for the occupation of Algeria or the war.