On 18 March 1962, in Évian-les-Bains, the French Government and its Algerian counterparts signed an agreement that paved the way for Algerian independence, heralding the end of 132 years of colonisation and a war that had begun in 1954. It did not lead to the immediate cessation of violence and clashes, however.
Why should the Algerian War not be remembered on the anniversary of the Évian ceasefire, on 19 March 1962? This is a question that has divided French veterans’ organisations since 19 March 1963. According to the National Federation of Veterans in Algeria and the Republican Association of Veterans, wars are remembered on the date of the ceasefire agreement that brings them to an end, as in the case of the two World Wars, remembered on 11 November (1918) and 8 May (1945). According to other organisations, however, 19 March should not be commemorated, because it did not put an end to the Algerian War but ushered in its worst period.
The Évian Accords were the result of a long process of negotiations, initiated following the referendum of 8 January 1961, which mandated the French Government to prepare the self-determination of Algeria by creating an embryonic Algerian State. Negotiations with the GPRA lasted nearly 15 months.
They were delayed by the “generals’ putsch” of 22 April 1961 in Algiers, then opened publicly in Évian on 20 May 1961, and were twice suspended, first by France in June, then by the GPRA in July. After several months of great uncertainty, the negotiation process was secretly resumed in November 1961, leading to preliminary agreements signed on 18 February 1961 in a chalet in Les Rousses, then renegotiated at Évian on 7 to 18 March 1962. During that time, French opponents to negotiations with the FLN (National Liberation Front) founded the OAS (Secret Army Organisation), the only organised force trying to prevent the agreements from being implemented by force.
The Évian Accords were, in the words of one of their French signatories, Robert Buron, “a very strange document”. Indeed, they comprised not only a ceasefire agreement between two armies, but also a procedure for the transition from French to Algerian sovereignty over a period of three to six months, as well as clauses setting out the broad outline of future cooperation between the two countries for the coming years.
The Accords thus consisted of a number of documents: a bilateral ceasefire agreement, together with “government declarations concerning Algeria”, which were drawn up by common accord but published separately by the two parties.
The general declaration summed up the key aspects of the agreements. It set out the structure of government during the transition period (coexistence of a French high commissioner, with ultimate responsibility for maintaining law and order, and a majority-Muslim, provisional Algerian executive) and the guarantees of the referendum on self-determination which would ratify the Accords and create the Algerian State within a period of three to six months.
It proclaimed the full sovereignty of the future State, guaranteed the freedom and security of its population (particularly the Algerian French), and set out the principles of cooperation between the two States, the resolution of military issues and the settlement of disputes.
The statement of guarantees promised total impunity to all inhabitants for acts committed prior to the ceasefire and views expressed prior to the vote on self-determination, as well as total freedom of movement between the two countries.
It granted the Algerian French the right to exercise their Algerian civic rights (with representation proportional to their number) for three years before choosing their permanent nationality, and guaranteed respect for their civil rights, religion, language and property, as well as those of other French nationals with foreign status.
A statement of principle established economic and financial cooperation on a contractual basis of reciprocal interests. Other declarations set out the principles of cooperation for the exploration of mineral resources in the Sahara, respecting acquired rights, by means of a Franco-Algerian technical body; cultural cooperation aimed at developing education, vocational training and scientific research, and cultural exchanges; and technical cooperation, involving French officials being sent to Algeria and Algerian trainees sent to France.
A declaration on military matters determined the reduction of French forces to 80 000 men one year after self-determination, and their complete evacuation two years later, with the exception of the Mers-el-Kebir and Bou Sfer naval and air bases, which were granted concessions for 15 years, the Saharan rocket and atomic-bomb testing sites for five years, and stop-over rights at some airfields for five years. A final declaration provided for the settlement of disputes by conciliation, arbitration or appeal to the International Court of Justice at The Hague.