Indigenous peoples in Algeria
The Amazigh are the indigenous peoples of Algeria. Their language, Tamazight, has been recognised as official and in the Constitution. Also, Algeria has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Despite this progress, the indigenous status of the Amazigh is not recognised by the Algerian government, and thus, they continue to face a number of challenges.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted
Algeria voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 13 September 2007. However, the texts remain unknown to the vast majority of Algeria’s citizens and are not applied in practice. Because of this, the UN treaty monitoring bodies are making numerous observations and recommendations to Algeria in this regard.
The Amazigh peoples
Because the Algerian government does not recognise the indigenous status of the Amazigh, there are no official statistics concerning the number of Amazigh peoples. However, associations defending and promoting the Amazigh peoples estimate the Tamazight-speaking population to be around 11 million peoples, or one third of Algeria’s total population.
The majority of Algeria’s Amazigh peoples live in Kabylia in the north-eastern part of the country. The rest lives in the Aurès region in the east, the Chenwa region on the Mediterranean coast, the M´zab region in the south, and in the Tuareg territory in the Sahara. Many small Amazigh communities also exist in Tlemcen and Bechar in the south-west of Algeria as well as in other places scattered throughout the country.
Tamazight is the language of the Amazigh peoples
In 2016, the Algerian parliament adopted a new Constitution, in which Article 4 states that Tamazight is also a national and official language. Article 3, however, indicates that Arabic is the national and official language.
According to many observers, the way in which Articles 3 and 4 are formulated demonstrates the lack of equality between the two official languages.
Main challenges for the Amazigh peoples
The Amazigh peoples are continuosly marginalised by state institutions, and anti-Amazigh laws are still in force.
A continuous struggle of the Amazigh peoples is arbitrary arrests in the the M’zab region by the Algerian police. In 2016, the total number of Mozabite, Amazigh peoples in the M’zab region, political prisoners reached around 140. They are incarcerated without trial. In protest of their unlawful detention and inhuman detention conditions, some Mozabite prisoners have resorted to repeated hunger strikes.
In Kabylia, activities and traditional events of Amazigh non-governmental organisations, for example Yennayer, Amazigh New Year and Amazigh Spring, are disrupted, banned or forcibly prevented by the police. Also, members of the Amazigh World Congress (CMA) living in Kabylia have been arrested, questioned and then released time and again over the past year. At the police offices, they are threatened with prison and violence against their families, if they do not halt their activism.
Further, obstacles to free movement at Algeria’s border with Northern Mali and Niger continue to prevent traditional exchanges between indigenous populations and deprive them of family and community relationships.