“For 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a brutal and unfair system: colonization. I acknowledge the suffering it caused,” Hollande told the Algerian parliament on Thursday on the second and final day of a landmark visit to the North African country.
“We respect the act of memory, of all the memories. There is a duty of truth on the violence, the injustices, the massacres and the torture,” he said of the 1954-1962 Algerian war which ended in Algerian independence and France’s withdrawal.
Referring to specific atrocities, Hollande cited the massacres at Guelma, Kherrata and Setif where nationalist unrest that broke out at the end of World War II was brutally suppressed by French forces, leaving thousands dead.
“On May 8, 1945, when the world triumphed over brutality, France forgot its universal values,” Hollande said.
The truth “must also be spoken about the circumstances in which Algeria was delivered from the colonial system, in this war whose name was not mentioned in France for a long time, the Algerian war” of independence, he added.
“Establishing the truth is an obligation that ties Algerians and French. That’s why it is necessary that historians have access to the archives.”
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris, said that Hollande’s statement marked a landmark shift in France’s attitude to Algeria by recognizing in clear unequivocal terms that the colonial system was profoundly unjust and brutal.
Rowland said Hollande’s statement was met by a rapturous applause and has begun a new chapter for relationships between the two countries, but that there is still room for more development in coming years.
The French president said after arriving in Algeria on Wednesday that he had not come to say sorry for the crimes committed during the colonial period.
But he stressed the importance of recognizing what happened as a way of beginning a new era in relations between the two countries, bound together by human, economic and cultural ties.
More than half a million Algerians live in France, and hundreds of thousands of others hold French nationality, but many are also frustrated at not being able to obtain visas and seek a better life in Europe.
Read more: Aljazeera