After intense debates, the French Senate voted in first reading a bill to ask “forgiveness” and try to “repair” the damages suffered by the harkis. Many elected officials have however hammered that it could not be valid for “balance of any account”.
The text was adopted overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday by unanimous vote (331 votes for, 13 abstentions).
Almost sixty years after the Algerian War (1954-1962, nearly 500,000 dead), this text is the legislative translation of a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron, who, on September 20, had asked ” forgiveness” to these Algerians who fought alongside the French army, but who were “abandoned” by France.
This text is “that of the recognition by the Nation of a deep tear and a French tragedy, of a dark page in our History”, underlined the Minister in charge of Memory and Veterans Affairs Geneviève Darrieussecq.
For the rapporteur Marie-Pierre Richer (right), if it “includes important advances”, the bill “has a taste of unfinished”.
“Unworthy reception conditions”
The text, to which the National Assembly had given a first green light on November 18, recognizes “the conditions unworthy of the reception” reserved for the 90,000 harkis and their families, who fled Algeria after independence in 1962.
Nearly half have been relegated to camps and “foresting hamlets”, directly managed by the state.
For these, the bill provides for “reparation” of the damage with, as a result, a lump sum taking into account the duration of the stay in these structures. The number of potential beneficiaries is estimated by the government at 50,000, for an overall cost of 302 million euros over approximately six years.
The senators included “certain prisons converted into places of reception for returnees” in the list of structures eligible for the reparation mechanism.
But the disappointment crystallized on those who are not included in the scope of compensation, the some 40,000 returnees who did not stay in these structures, but in “urban cities”.
“Their only wrong is not having lived surrounded by barbed wire,” protested right-wing senator Philippe Tabarot, castigating a repair mechanism “both partial and biased”.
The Senate adopted two amendments aimed at broadening the prerogatives of the Recognition and Reparations Commission created by the bill.
That of the government tends to guarantee “all harkis combatants” access to this Commission, which will be able to examine their individual situations and offer them “any appropriate measure of recognition”.
The leader of the right-wing senators (Les Républicains) Bruno Retailleau wanted to see further by entrusting him, for all harkis, with the task of “proposing any measure of recognition and reparation”.
But the minister warned against “false hopes” that this addition could arouse, because “the Commission will not be able to decide itself to award compensation”.
Agree on a compromise
Deputies and senators will now try to agree on a compromise text. In case of failure, the Assembly will have the last word.
Up to 200,000 harkis had been recruited as auxiliaries to the French army during the conflict. A day of homage of the nation is dedicated to them every September 25, since a decree of 2003.