France widens access to declassified Algeria war archives to 'include minors'

AUG 28, 2023 LISTEN

The French government has made access to its archives from the Algerian war of independence more flexible by authorising the consultation of files involving minors.

The move to broaden the scope of declassified files relating to the Franco-Algerian war of the 1950s and 60s was announced in Sunday's Journal Officiel, and has been long called-for by historians and families. 

In December 2021, following announcements made by President Emmanuel Macron the previous March, France opened its legal archives relating to the war, covering the period between 1 November 1954 and 31 December 1966, fifteen years ahead of the legal deadline. 

However in practice, access to the declassified documents remained "as difficult as ever" for families and researchers, according to historian Marc André in an article published in Le Monde in November 2022.

'Majority of files closed'

One of the main obstacles was the exclusion of files involving minors – those under the age of 21, due to the legislation in force at the time – which were still subject to the 100-year classification period.

Due to this statutory limitation, coupled with several others obstacles, "the majority of files are closed", the historian noted. 

"This management through bureaucracy means that the reality of a war fought by young people is ignored. This is as true for Algerian immigrants in France as it is for the maquis, urban networks and prisons, where many of the independence fighters, their supporters, draft dodgers and conscripts were aged around 20 when they signed up. 

Marc André, whose criticisms have been picked up by the Algerian media, remains indignant: "He was old enough at the time to have his head cut off, but now he is 'minor enough' to have his case removed from the general exemption."

'Security clause'

The new legal order, published on Sunday but dated 25 August 2023, removes the exclusion of files involving a minor from being consulted.

There is, however, one major caveat: Files where the disclosure of which "affects the privacy of individuals" or "the security of named or easily identifiable persons involved in intelligence activities" will remain classified. 

Marc André has pointed out that this relates to a large number of cases, which will therefore remain closed.