France admits role in torture and murder of mathematician during Algerian war

President Macron’s acknowledgement that the army killed Maurice Audin prompts wider admission that torture was ‘legally’ used during the conflict.

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Mathematician Maurice Audin

Mathematics lecturer Maurice Audin (right) was disappeared in 1957 during the Algerian war.Credit: Alamy

French President Emmanuel Macron has officially recognized that the French army tortured and killed Maurice Audin, a mathematician and communist-party member who disappeared in 1957 during the Algerian War of Independence.

Macron presented a carefully worded text to the Audin family at the home of Maurice’s 87-year-old widow, Josette, this afternoon in the Paris suburb of Bagnolet.

The statement also went further to acknowledge — for the first time — that the French army systematically used torture as “a legally instituted system” during the war, which led to Algeria gaining its independence from France. The statement adds that all records for people who disappeared during the conflict would be opened to anyone who wants to view them.

Audin was a French university lecturer in Algiers and a member of the Algerian Communist Party. He disappeared in June 1957, and the authorities claimed that he had escaped after being arrested for harbouring communist-party members.

The official summary of the statement says that the French president “has decided that it is time for the nation to tell the truth about this subject.”

It adds: “He recognizes in the name of the French Republic that Maurice Audin was tortured then executed or tortured to death by the soldiers who arrested him at his home.”

“This is a historic moment in a highly sensitive case,” says Cédric Villani, mathematician and member of the French parliament, who has campaigned for six years for the state to acknowledge responsibility for Audin’s death. “It took about six months for the text to be finalized. It has been an extremely rigorous process,” he says.

Others who have championed Audin’s cause include mathematician Gérard Tronel, who died last year. “I promised him and and the family’s lawyer Roland Rappaport, who also died last year, that I would continue the fight,” Villani says.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06690-w

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