Call for help for the women workers of Hassi-Messaoud
International Labour Organization, Geneva
Attention Mr Juan Somavia, General Director,
Paris, April 21st, 2010
Subject: Call for help for the women workers of Hassi-Messaoud, Algeria
Dear Mr Juan Somavia:
I am writing to alert you to the extremely grave crimes that are being perpetrated against large numbers of defenceless women workers in the town of Hassi-Messaoud, an oil field in the south of Algeria.
For more than two months, women who arrived from the rest of the country in order to provide for their families by working for the oil companies, have been subjected to regular night-time attacks. They have been raped, tortured, burned alive, badly injured and, in some cases, murdered. Their houses have been sacked and pillaged by men armed with clubs, axes and knives, their heads masked and even some with their faces unmasked. For the most part, when the women have screamed loudly none of their neighbours have come to their aid. When they go to the police stations, they have to beg for their complaints to be filed by contemptuous police officers. Nobody is ever prosecuted for these crimes.
We know that murders have also taken place. About a fortnight ago, a woman was set on fire and is currently in a coma in Ourgla hospital. On the night of Sunday 12 April, the attacks intensified. The women to whom we have spoken by phone have mentioned an imam who is said to have incited the men of the town to commit these brutal and inhumane acts.
These crimes are a direct consequence of the tragedy of 13 July 2001, the facts of which are important to recall here: more than a hundred women were raped, tortured and buried alive by a group of between 400 and 500 men. Of those who took part in this pogrom, only 29 men were charged with any offence and only 3 have served sentences. The others were either never sought out by the police, were sentenced in absentia, or even worse, declared innocent.
Today, when impunity reigns, the women workers who are the victims of these savage assaults do not know where to turn. Faced with the total inaction of the authorities, we ask you to urgently intervene with the Algerian government to see that it provides assistance to, and guarantees the safety of, all its female workers.