Boupacha, Djamila (1942—)

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Boupacha, Djamila (1942—)

Algerian nationalist heroine who was arrested as a terrorist in 1961. Name variations: Djamilah. Born in Algeria in 1942; married.

Born into a middle-class Muslim family in 1942, Djamila Boupacha was more French than Algerian in her earliest years. The onset of the Algerian war of independence in November 1954 forced her to choose between cultures; like virtually all Muslim Algerians who had been raised in the French cultural and linguistic tradition, Boupacha joined the National Liberation Front (FLN) which fought a bitter and bloody guerilla war against French military forces. She was convinced that France and the pied noir settlers would never treat the Muslim majority as equals.

In 1961, Boupacha was arrested and accused of having bombed the "Brasserie des Facultés," a café near the University of Algiers. Because she refused to confess to the charges, she suffered a series of tortures including being beaten, kicked and subjected to electric shocks. To make her confess, cigarettes were ground out against her legs and breasts, and she was raped with an empty bottle. When she came to trial,

Boupacha had as her attorney Gisèle Halimi , a woman determined to fight for justice even in a colonial society under martial law. Largely due to Halimi's legal skills, eloquence and passion for the truth, Boupacha had her case taken through a series of courts in Algeria. Eventually, Boupacha was transferred to France and won release from prison at the time of the amnesty that accompanied the achievement of Algerian independence in 1962.

French public opinion, although long aware of the torture used by French military authorities in Algeria, was nevertheless incensed by the nature of the atrocities committed against Boupacha. The determination of Halimi, which resulted in a book on the case coauthored with Simone de Beauvoir , led to the creation of a Djamila Boupacha Committee in Paris, which received the support of many of the luminaries of French intellectual life, including Simone de Beauvoir, François Mauriac and Germaine Tillion . Despite the determination of Halimi to secure justice for her client by exposing the individuals who had tortured her, the French Army refused to cooperate in the investigation, and the magistrates who were attempting to secure justice found themselves faced by a stone wall of official resistance.

As a young radical woman, following the war of independence, Djamila Boupacha could not help but become embroiled in the often chaotic world of post-independence Algerian politics. Always outspoken, she made powerful enemies and on at least one occasion was briefly under arrest. When she married, her close friend Gisèle Halimi was one of the guests of honor.

Although it was discouraging to see how little progress the majority of Algerian women had made since the achievement of independence from France in 1962, Djamila Boupacha continued to speak and write on the subject of women's emancipation in a Muslim society. In this work, she exhibited much of the same courage and energy that had impressed the world in the days she had risked her life as an FLN guerilla, and some observers noted that the obstacles in this new struggle for equality were at least as great as in the war of national liberation several decades earlier.


Beauvoir, Simone de, and Gisèle Halimi. Djamila Boupacha: The Story of the Torture of a Young Algerian Girl which Shocked Liberal French Opinion. Translated by Peter Green. NY: Macmillan, 1962.

Horne, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954–62. Rev. ed. NY: Penguin Books, 1987.

Vidal-Naquet, Pierre. Torture: Cancer of Democracy: France and Algeria 1954–62. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1963.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia