France admitted on Thursday that it instigated a “system” that led to torture during Algeria’s independence war, a conflict that remains hugely sensitive six decades on.
President Emmanuel Macron is set to acknowledge that mathematician Maurice Audin, a Communist pro-independence activist who disappeared in 1957, “died under torture stemming from the system instigated while Algeria was part of France”, his office said.
Macron, who was due to visit Audin’s widow later on Thursday, will also announce “the opening of archives on the subject of disappeared civilians and soldiers, both French and Algerian”.
During the 1954-62 war, which claimed about 1.5-million Algerian lives, French forces brutally cracked down on independence fighters in the colony ruled by Paris for 130 years.
Hundreds of thousands of young French men were conscripted to fight in a conflict that left deep scars in France’s national psyche as it wound down from being a colonial power after World War II.
The French state has never previously admitted that its military forces routinely used torture during the war.
Macron, the first president born after the conflict, sparked controversy on the campaign trail last year by declaring that France’s colonisation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.
He later walked back the comments, calling for “neither denial nor repentance” over France’s colonial history and adding: “We cannot remain trapped in the past”.
On Thursday he will visit the widow of Audin, whose disappearance has long been a source of fascination in France.
An assistant professor at the University of Algiers, Audin was 25 when he was arrested at his home by French paratroopers, accused of harbouring armed members of the Algerian Communist Party.
He was tortured repeatedly in a villa in the Algiers neighbourhood of El Biar.
His widow Josette was told 10 days later that the mathematician had escaped while being transferred between jails.
This remained the official version of events until 2014, when Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande acknowledged that Audin died in detention.
Historian Sylvie Thenault said the French state’s acknowledgement that Audin’s death resulted from a “system” pointed to a broader recognition of wrongdoing.
“Through recognition of the state’s responsibilities in the disappearance of Maurice Audin, have the state’s responsibilities in all disappearances in Algiers in 1957 not been recognised?” she wrote on The Conversation, a news website.