Emmanuel Macron has admitted French soldiers tortured and killed a well-known Algerian lawyer and activist during the country’s independence war.
Ali Boumendjel, 37, died after falling from a sixth-floor window in 1957 during the Battle of Algiers. Until now, his death has been recorded as suicide.
“At the heart of the Battle of Algiers, he was arrested by the French army, hidden, tortured then assassinated on 23 March 1957,” the Elysée said in a statement.
In 2000, Paul Aussaresses, the former head of French intelligence in the Algerian capital, Algiers, confessed to ordering Boumendjel’s murder.
“Paul Aussaresses admitted himself that he had ordered one of his subordinates to kill him and disguise the crime as suicide,” continued the statement.
“Ali Boumendjel did not kill himself. He was tortured and then killed.”
Macron made the admission “in the name of France” while meeting Boumendjel’s grandchildren. It comes after a truth commission led by the historian Benjamin Stora recommended measures to shed light on France’s colonial past.
Stora’s government-commissioned report has been dismissed by the Algerian government as “not objective” and “not up to expectations”.
The Elysée also announced that it would continue encouraging historians to delve into the archives “in order to give all the families of those who disappeared, on both sides of the Mediterranean, the means to know the truth”.
France has a large Algerian diaspora but has been slow to acknowledge the atrocities committed during the country’s struggle for independence. For decades, like the UK’s Troubles in Northern Ireland, the French referred euphemistically to “Algerian events”.
On a visit to the north African country during his successful 2017 election campaign, Macron caused a storm when he declared colonisation “a crime against humanity”.
“There’s a fitting phrase that is said about Algeria: France established human rights in Algeria. It simply forgot to abide by them,” he said at the time.
Although he rejected calls for France to make an official apology for the occupation of Algeria or the war, the president has indicated the admission of Boumendjel’s assassination will not be an isolated mea culpa.
“No crime, no atrocity committed by anyone during the Algerian war can be excused or remain secret,” the president’s office said. “This work will be extended and deepened in the coming months, so we can move towards peace and reconciliation.”
Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadéla Boumendjel-Chitour said the French state’s lie about her uncle’s death had been devastating for the family.
The Battle of Algiers was a campaign of guerrilla warfare by the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) against the country’s French colonial administration and military between 1956 and 1957.
After a series of FLN bombings, French forces carried out mass repression and arrests leading to torture, disappearances and summary executions. The French won the battle but the war continued until 1962, when Algeria became independent.