On October 17, 1961, demonstrators staged a peaceful demonstration against a discriminatory nighttime curfew targeting Algerians in the Paris region. About 12,000 Algerians were arrested and dozens were killed, their bodies thrown into the Seine.
Groups for the defense of human rights, the fight against racism and Algerian associations organized a tribute march in Paris on Sunday and called on the authorities to recognize France’s responsibility for the “tragedies and horrors” linked to the war. independence of Algeria.
Participants called on the authorities to open the archives on the bloodshed in the French capital that day.
“It is high time on the occasion of this 60th anniversary that a strong declaration be made at the highest level of the State,” historian Naima Huber Yahi told Al Jazeera.
“An unforgivable crime”
French President Emmanuel Macron has admitted to the crimes committed by French authorities that day, which have been covered up for decades.
“The crackdown was brutal, violent, bloody,” Macron said in a statement on Saturday, calling the massacre “inexcusable”.
Historians say at least 120 protesters have died, according to Macron’s office. The exact number has never been established because the archives remain partially closed. Some estimates suggest that as many as 300 people have been killed.
Macron paid tribute to the victims on Saturday at the Bezons bridge over the Seine north-west of Paris. He was the first president to attend a massacre commemoration event.
Speaking at the event, Macron told relatives and activists that the crackdown on the protest under the command of famous Parisian police chief Maurice Papon was an “unforgivable crime”.
Still, he stopped before giving a public speech and offering a formal apology.
Algerian journalist Maher Mezahi said Al Jazeera Macron’s actions fell short of expectations.
“He just never acknowledged the state’s responsibility for this massacre,” Mezahi said.
While admitting the responsibility of the police, the president failed to recognize the role played by colonialism and state racism.
“The French authorities are always taking half a step,” he added.
The president’s decision was part of a series of steps he took to address France’s brutal history with Algeria, which had been under French rule for 132 years until its independence in 1962.
Earlier this year, he announced a decision to speed up the declassification of secret documents related to Algeria’s war for independence in 1954-1962.
In 2018, Macron officially recognized the responsibility of the French state in the 1957 death of Maurice Audin, a dissident in Algeria, admitting for the first time the systematic use of torture by the French army during the war.
Mezahi said there was still “a lot of unease” in France around integration, with French society not fully accepting Algerians and Algerians not feeling fully French.
Presidential elections are expected in France in April 2022, as the far right is likely to further stir up feelings around immigration.