Algeria will commemorate Friday the massacres of 8 May 1945, crimes against humanity that will remain forever etched in our memories as an indelible stain in the history of colonial France, and which developed Algerians’ awareness and conviction that only armed struggle could shake off the colonial yoke, allow them to snatch their independence and recover their dignity.
The commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the massacres -not subject to any statute of limitations under the international law- comes at a time when the issue of France’s recognition of these crimes, apart from a few isolated statements, is still pending.
On 8 May 1945, and as the French celebrated the Allied victory over Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, tens of thousands of Algerians took to the streets in Setif, Guelma, Kherrata and other cities to peacefully claim Algeria’s independence, as France had promised if they supported it in her fight against Nazism.
The response of the French government at the time was bloody, incredibly brutal, as 45,000 Algerians were massacred.
For several weeks, the colonial forces and their militias carried out mass killings, sparing neither children, nor women, nor the elderly.
Unarmed people shot at close range, others transported in trucks to be pushed down into ravines, or taken out of cities and executed, before their bodies were burned, then buried in mass graves.
Lime kilns were also used by the French army to get rid of the victims’ bodies.
According to Article 212-1 of the French Penal Code, crimes against humanity include “deportation (…) or massive and systemic practice of summary executions, abductions of persons followed by their disappearance, torture or inhumane acts inspired by political motives (…) organized according to a concerted plan against a civilian population.”
French officials do not use this legal classification while it is “perfectly appropriate” to the practices of the French army during the Algerian war (1954-1962) and to the crimes committed before 8 May 1945 in Setif, Guelma and Kherrata, according to French historians.