• Indigenous peoples in Algeria

    Indigenous peoples in Algeria

    The Amazigh are the Indigenous Peoples of Algeria that has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Still, the Indigenous status of the Amazigh is not recognised by the Algerian government, and they continue to face a number of challenges.

The Indigenous World 2023: Algeria

The Amazigh are the Indigenous people of Algeria and other countries of North Africa. The Algerian government does not, however, recognize the Indigenous status of the Amazigh and refuses to publish statistics on their population. Because of this, there is no official data on the number of Amazigh in Algeria. On the basis of demographic data drawn from the territories in which Tamazight-speaking populations live, associations defending and promoting the rights of Amazigh people estimate the Tamazight-speaking population to be around 12 million people, a third of Algeria's total population.

The Amazigh of Algeria are concentrated in five territories: Kabylia in the north-east (Kabyls represent around 50% of Algeria's Amazigh population), Aurès in the east, Chenoua, a mountainous region on the Mediterranean coast to the west of Algiers, M'zab in the south (Taghardayt), and Tuareg territory in the Sahara (Tamanrasset, Adrar, Djanet). Many small Amazigh communities also exist in the south-west (Tlemcen, Bechar, etc.) and in other places scattered throughout the country. It is also important to note that large cities such as Algiers, Oran, Constantine, etc., are home to several hundred thousand people who are historically and culturally Amazigh but who have been partly Arabized over the years, succumbing to a gradual process of acculturation and assimilation.

The Indigenous populations can primarily be distinguished from Arab inhabitants by their language (Tamazight) but also by their way of life and their culture (clothes, food, songs and dances, beliefs, etc.). After decades of demands and popular struggles, the Amazigh language was finally recognized as a “national and official language” in Algeria’s Constitution in 2016. But, in practice, the Amazigh identity continues to be marginalized and folklorized by State institutions. Officially, Algeria is still presented as an “Arab country” and “land of Islam”, and anti-Amazigh laws are still in force (such as the 1992 Law of Arabization).

Internationally, Algeria has ratified the main international standards, and it voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. However these texts remain unknown to the vast majority of citizens, and thus not applied, which has led to the UN treaty-monitoring bodies making numerous observations and recommendations to Algeria urging it to meet its international commitments.

Algeria joins UN Human Rights Council but rejects universal nature of human rights and does not respect its international commitments

The only candidates for the four vacant seats for Africa on the Human Rights Council (HRC), Algeria, Morocco, South Africa and Sudan joined the UN's highest human rights body on 11 October 2022 for a three-year term commencing 1 January 2023.[1] Civil society organizations and the Algerian media expressed their surprise at this election of Algeria to the HRC since “there is no more freedom of expression in the country, the press is silenced, political parties are under a blackout, there is no more democratic life, the population is terrorized by police hunts and justice is instrumentalized”.[2] In a joint report published in October 2022, international NGOs[3] even considered that a number of countries, including Algeria, were not qualified to apply for the HRC because they were violating fundamental rights and freedoms and failing to demonstrate their respect for high standards of human rights.

Moreover, Algeria, which has ratified the main international legal instruments, refuses to recognize the universal nature of human rights. During the submission of the fourth report of the Algerian State under the Universal Periodic Review in November 2022, the Algerian Minister of Justice, Mr. Abderrachid Tabi, said that his government “rejects any unilateral vision of foreign values that do not recognize the philosophical, civilizational, historical, cultural and religious features” of his country.[4] The argument of an allegedly “specific vision” of Algeria in terms of “values” and rights and freedoms is being used as justification for the Algerian government’s failure to respect its international obligations and in order to allow it to adopt laws and administrative, judicial and police practices that are at odds with democratic principles and universal human rights.

During the Universal Periodic Review of Algeria in November 2022, representatives of several governments (Canada, United States of America, Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, Norway, Australia...)[5] expressed their concern at human rights violations in the country and made recommendations that the Algerian government should comply with international law. They called for the repeal of Article 87(a) of the Criminal Code, which contains an excessively broad and vague definition of terrorism; the release of human rights defenders; amendment of the law on associations to bring it into line with the Constitution and international law; the repeal of the law restricting the international funding of civil society organizations; and the adoption of concrete measures to guarantee exercise of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly. They also urged Algeria to stop abusing pre-trial detention orders and harassing members of religious minorities, to establish an independent process for appointing judges and prosecutors, and to facilitate visits by UN mandate holders.

Taking advantage of the impunity it enjoys, Algeria shows little respect for the recommendations of UN bodies and obstructs visits by UN mandate holders. For example, according to Amnesty International,[6] of the 229 recommendations made to the Algerian State in 2017 during the third session of the Universal Periodic Review, 103 were either not met or were only partially met, giving a compliance rate of only 55%. In October 2022, the Human Rights Committee adopted its report on the follow-up to the concluding observations made to Algeria as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[7] In this report, the Committee regrets that its recommendations made in 2018, particularly regarding the amendment to Law No. 91-19 on associations to bring it into line with good practice, the lifting of restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and the cessation of prosecutions of human rights defenders and journalists, have not been followed.

The visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, scheduled for 12-22 September 2022, has been postponed to an unspecified date at the request of the Algerian government. This visit was originally scheduled for 2011 and has subsequently been postponed year on year. For the representative of the Algerian League of Human Rights, “It is a disguised refusal of the visit of the Special Rapporteur to Algeria because the situation of public freedoms is so catastrophic, especially for the rights under the mandate of this special rapporteur.”[8]

Mr. Mohammad Alnsour, head of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) section of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was, however, able to visit Algiers for a visit described as “technical” from 28 November to 2 December 2022. No report on this visit has been made public to date.

In April 2022, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considered that Kamira Nait Sid, co-president of the NGO World Amazigh Congress, who has been in pre-trial detention since 24 August 2021, was being held arbitrarily.[9] For the Working Group, Mrs. Nait Sid’s activities to defend the rights of the Amazigh are protected by the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, guaranteed by Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and by Articles 19, 22 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It accordingly called on the Algerian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mrs. Nait Sid, to ensure that she receives the necessary medical care, and to grant her the right to obtain redress, including compensation, in accordance with international law. To date, however, none of the demands of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have been met and Kamira Nait Sid remains in prison.

At its 73rd Ordinary Session held in Banjul, The Gambia, from 21 October to 10 November 2022, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR)[10] adopted a report on the human rights situation in Africa. Concerning Algeria, the “African Commission recalls the urgent appeal letter it sent to the Algerian government on 2 September 2021 concerning the devastating effects of COVID-19 on the Indigenous Amazigh populations, the arson attacks in the territory of Kabylia and the repression against the Amazigh, to which no response has been given to date”, and notes that “the repression against the Amazigh and particularly against the Kabyl community has increased in recent years, with some 300 Kabyl imprisoned often without trial, some for two years”. The report also notes that “Kamira Nait Sid, co-president of the NGO World Amazigh Congress, has been detained for more than 13 months, in an arbitrary manner according to the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (A/HRC/WGAD/2022/15)”. In conclusion, the African Commission called on the Algerian government to “conduct independent investigations into the issues raised in the urgent appeal letter of 27 September 2021, to significantly reduce the length of pre-trial detention, and to release Amazigh detainees who are in arbitrary detention”. In November 2022, the Algerian authorities released some 50 Amazigh political prisoners.

A dark New Year for Amazigh human rights

Over the past two years, the government has adopted reforms to the Criminal Code that are highly restrictive of freedoms, justifying them by the need to “criminalize acts that threaten the security and stability of the country, public order and security, undermining State security and national unity.”[11] Heavy penalties are provided for any person or civil society organization that receives financial aid from abroad (Article 2) or who disseminates “fake news” (Article 3). Concerning terrorism, Article 87(a) uses such a broad and imprecise definition that any person using his or her freedom of expression is likely to be prosecuted for “apology for terrorism”. The government has now classified the Amazigh political organization the “Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia” (MAK) as a terrorist organization, even though this movement has always acted by peaceful means. The Algerian legal arsenal has enabled the authorities to carry out hundreds of arrests, detentions and convictions of Kabyls, including members and sympathizers of the MAK but also human rights defenders, leaders of Amazigh associations, journalists, writers, artists, and others.

Kamira Nait Sid, co-president of the NGO World Amazigh Congress, detained since 24/08/2021 and prosecuted for membership of a terrorist organization and apology for terrorism was tried and sentenced on 5 December 2022 by the Court of Sidi-Mhamed of Algiers to five years in prison and a 100,000 Dinar fine (approx. 685 euro). Her lawyers have filed an appeal against this judgement.

During the forest fires that ravaged Kabylia in August 2021 and which claimed between 200 and 300 lives, Djamel Ben Smail, a young man from another region of Algeria, died in unresolved circumstances in Larvaa-Nat-Iraten, a locality in Kabylia. The police then proceeded to arrest 100 Kabyls, accusing them of having set fire to the forest and killing Djamel Ben Smail. Following a summary trial before the Criminal Court of Algiers on 24 November 2022, 54 people were found guilty and sentenced to death for terrorism, arson, murder and membership of the MAK, 28 others were sentenced to terms ranging from 2 to 10 years in prison and the rest of this group’s members were acquitted. Algeria has observed a moratorium on capital punishment since 1993 but has not abolished the death penalty.

During the trials, the defence lawyers all denounced violations of the law and procedures governing justice, including a lack of material evidence; the acceptance of confessions obtained through use of torture; charges and convictions based on Article 87(a) of the Criminal Code, which is considered unconstitutional and repeatedly denounced by the relevant UN bodies; and a ban on defendants or their lawyers speaking Tamazight during the hearings. Lawyers have called these trials “shams” or “political trials” with “phantom offences”.[12]

An unknown number of Amazigh, particularly human rights defenders, are being prevented from leaving the country even though they are not subject to any legal proceedings, and others are actively being sought by police search and intervention brigades (BRI). Others are leaving the country by whatever means, including clandestinely, in order to reach Europe. This is the case of, among others, Said Salhi, vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH), who was forced into exile in Europe on 23 June 2022.[13] Algeria leaves human rights defenders no choice but to remain silent, go into exile or go to prison.

A policy of conservation and of establishing protected areas that does not take Indigenous populations into account

Algeria became a Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on 3 November 2004. On the domestic legislative level, the issue of conservation and protected areas is framed in the context of Law No. 11-02 of 17/02/2011on protected areas.[14] This distinguishes between different types of protected areas: national park, nature park, nature reserve, strict nature reserve, habitat and species management reserve, natural site and biological corridor.

Algeria has 11 national parks, five of which are classified as biosphere reserves, five nature reserves, 42 wetlands of international importance and two specially protected areas of Mediterranean interest. Some of these areas fall under the Ministry of Agriculture and others under the Ministry of Culture.

Numerous problems weigh on these areas, such as population growth and urbanization, pollution, fires, overgrazing, poaching, rural poverty, the effects of global warming, a lack of interest, militarization, a lack of financial and human resources, etc.[15] To this must be added their sole management by the State and the lack of involvement of local populations in the creation and management of protected areas. “The decision is entirely top-down and centralized, without involving Indigenous people in the decision-making process.”[16]

There is an urgent need to “reconcile biodiversity conservation with the social concerns of the people through proper integration, including their involvement in the decision-making process”.[17] Failing this, government projects are perceived locally as intrusive and the populations feel “attacked” and dispossessed of their land assets and their living environment, the legacy of their ancestors. In addition, the sociocultural and linguistic features of the Indigenous Amazigh populations need to be taken into account along with their ancestral knowledge and know-how. The government is also obliged to respect the Amazighs’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for all projects that affect them. This is not currently the case.

The conservation of natural ecosystems through the establishment of protected areas for the preservation of natural resources is not new in Algeria but is not a priority for the country. For example, Algeria has more than doubled its military budget for 2023 but does not have a single aircraft for fighting forest fires.


Belkacem Lounes holds a doctorate in Economics and Social Sciences, is a university professor (Grenoble Alpes University), expert member of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities and Minorities in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, member of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and author of numerous reports and articles on Amazigh and Indigenous Peoples’ rights.


This article is part of the 37th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2023 in full here.



Notes and references 

[1] “12 countries elected to serve new terms on Human Rights Council.” UN News, 11 October 2022, https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/10/1129457

[2] “CDH : l´Algérie devenue membre au côté de Cuba,Quatar, la Chine...” Le Matin d´Algérie, 11 November 2022, https://lematindalgerie.com/cdh-lalgerie-devenue-membre-au-cote-de-cuba-qatar-la-chine/

[3] “Report rejects Algeria, Sudan, Venezuela, Vietnam for top U.N. human rights posts.” UN Watch, 3 October 2022, https ://unwatch.org/report-authoritarian-regimes-set-to-win-top-u-n-human-rights-posts/

[4] “L´engagement de l´Algérie en faveur du renforcement et de la protection des droits de l´homme souligné.” Algérie  Presse Service, 12 November 2022, https ://www.aps.dz/algerie/147502-l-engagement-de-l-algerie-en-faveur-du-renforcement-et-de-la-protection-des-droits-de-l-homme-souligne

[5] Zerrouky, Madjid., and Mustapha Kessous. “Droits humains: l’Algérie essuie des critiques à Genève”, Le Monde, 11 November 2022, https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2022/11/11/droits-humains-l-algerie-essuie-des-critiques-a-geneve_6149486_3212.html

[6] Amnesty International. “Algérie: rétrécissement de l’espace civique.” Information presented at the 41st session of the UPR Working Group, 7-18 November 2022, https://www.amnesty.org/fr/documents/mde28/5313/2022/fr/

[7] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. “Evaluation of the information on Follow-up to Concluding Observations.” Human Rights Committee, 5 December 2022, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/FollowUp.aspx?Treaty=CCPR&Lang=en

[8] Makedhi, Madjid. “Fixée pour le 12 septembre en cours: La visite du rapporteur special de l´ONU sur les libertés reportée.” El-Watan, 8 September 2022,  https://elwatan-dz.com/fixee-pour-le-12-septembre-en-cours-la-visite-du-rapporteur-special-de-lonu-sur-les-libertes-reportee

[9] Human Rights Council. “Avis adopté par le Groupe de travail sur la détention arbitraire à sa quatre-vingt-treizieme session (30 mars-8 avril 2022). Avis nº 15/2022, concernant Kamira Naid Sid (Algérie).” Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, 21 June 2022, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/issues/detention-wg/opinions/session93/2022-10-10/A-HRC-WGAD-2022-15-AdvanceEditedVersion.pdf  

[10] African Commission on Human and Peoples´ Rights (ACHPR). 73rd Ordinary Session. Banjul (Gambia), 21 November to 10 November 2022, https://achpr.au.int/en/sessions/73-ordinary

[11] Lounes, Bekacem. “Algeria.”  In The Indigenous World 2020, edited by Dwayne Mamo, 28–35. Copenhagen: The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), 2020, https://www.iwgia.org/en/algeria/3574-indigenous-world-2020-algeria.html

Lounes, Bekacem. “The Indigenous World 2021: Algeria.” The Indigenous World 2021, edited by Dwayne Mamo, 24–36. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), 2021, https://www.iwgia.org/en/algeria/3993-iw-2021-algeria.html

[12] “Algérie: procès de l’injustice à l´encontre les Kabyles.” Amazigh World Congress, 15 November 2022, https://www.congres-mondial-amazigh.org/2022/11/15/alg%C3%A9rie-proc%C3%A8s-de-l-injustice/

[13] Kessous, Mustapha., and Madjid Zerrouky. “En Algérie, pour les militants des droits humains, l’exil ou la prison.” Le Monde, 11 November 2022, https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2022/11/11/en-algerie-pour-les-militants-des-droits-humains-l-exil-ou-la-prison_6149419_3212.html

[14] Loi n°11-02 du 14 Rabie El Aouel 1432 correspondant au 17 février 2011 relative aux aires protégées dans le cadre du développement durable. Journal officiel de la République Algérienne n°13, http://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/alg106152.pdf

[15] R, Attig. “Gestion participative des aires protégées en Algérie: parc national d´El-Kala.” Thesis, Centre de documentation méditerranéen (CIHEAM), 2011, https://www.iamm.ciheam.org/ress_doc/opac_css/index.php?lvl=notice_display&id=31697 ;

Kerbiche, Fatima., and Aknine Souidi Rosa. “The management of national parks in Algeria through human and financial means: Illustrated by the case of the Djurdjura national park (PND).” Revue de Financement, Investissement et Développement Durable, June 2022, https://www.asjp.cerist.dz/en/downArticle/631/7/1/194091

[16] Alileche, Ahmed. “There is a lack of value placed on protected areas.” El-Watan, 18 December 2018, https://www.elwatan.com/pages-hebdo/magazine/il-y-a-un-manque-de-valorisation-des-aires-protegees-13-12-2018

[17] Ibid.

Tags: Global governance



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