PARIS – France has recognized the use of torture by its military during the Algerian War in an attempt by the government of President Emmanuel Macron to heal the wounds of its colonial past.
Macron’s office said the president planned to meet Thursday with the widow of Maurice Audin, a mathematician who died in French military custody during a campaign to suppress a rebellion that began in 1954 and eventually led to Algeria’s independence.
During the meeting, the president is set to hand her a “declaration recognizing that Maurice Audin died under torture because of a system instituted by France at the time in Algeria,” the president’s office said, adding that Macron also planned to open state archives related to the disappearance of French and Algerian nationals during the war.
The highly complex conflict has been studied closely by scholars and military war planners as a modern example of what happens when an insurgency practicing guerrilla warfare squares off with a colonial power willing to use scorched-earth tactics.
For decades, France’s conduct in the Algerian War remained a third rail of French politics. Political instability festered in mainland France during the war, leading to the 1958 collapse of the Fourth Republic, which had been erected in the wake of France’s liberation from Nazi Germany.
That led Gen. Charles de Gaulle to come out of retirement and return to power, rewriting France’s constitution to strengthen the president’s executive powers under a Fifth Republic.
The legacy of colonial rule in Algeria and other parts of Africa continue to loom large in France. Algerians migrated to France in droves during and after the war as France became home to one of Europe’s largest Muslim minorities. Many French Muslims reside on the outskirts of French cities in socially isolated neighborhoods known as banlieues, where unemployment runs high.
While many French presidents have avoided discussing France’s campaign in Algeria, Macron showed early signs of departing from that practice.
During his 2017 presidential campaign, he traveled to Algeria and called France’s colonial history “a crime against humanity.” As criticism rained down on Macron for the comments, he insisted that France would continue to have “a big issue” with minorities as long as it refused to confront its conduct in North Africa.
Audin was detained in 1957 during the Battle of Algiers. One of the last people to see him was journalist Henri Alleg, author of the 1958 book “La Question,” which described waterboarding and other methods of torture used in Algeria. Alleg reported crossing paths with Audin in French military custody and quoted the mathematician saying of his torture: “It’s tough, Henri.”
Audin’s body was never found. Months later, Josette Audin, his wife, filed a complaint to a French court, alleging her husband had been killed, but the French justice system dismissed her case.
In 2007, she wrote to Nicolas Sarkozy, who had recently been elected president, seeking clarification on the disappearance of her husband. However, it was Sarkozy’s successor, François Hollande, who finally ordered an investigation into Audin, dismissing theories that he had escaped.