The Tunisian government has come in for stern criticism from the United Nations over failures in its efforts to protect the country’s indigenous Amazigh population.
The UN report, which was only made public yesterday accuses the Tunisian government of doing little to preserve the Amazigh culture and language and to halt their absorption within the “Arab and Muslim identity of the Tunisian state.” Specifically, the report called for a census to be taken of the country’s Amazigh population, from which the success of future initiatives could be measured.
The report also called for the repeal calls of numerous decrees banning the registration of Amazigh names in the registers of civil status.
Responding to the UN’s concerns, Mehdi Ben Gharbia, the Minister responsible for relations with the constitutional bodies and civil society and human rights, said that “minorities, including Amazigh, enjoy the same constitutional rights as the rest of the population, but the problem now is that of recognition of minorities. No studies have been conducted on this issue. ” He added “all minorities are welcome in Tunisia. There is an Arab-Muslim identity but the Constitution protects minorities.”
Despite, Ben Gharbia’s assurances, there is no specific reference to the Amazigh people within the Constitution, an oversight that led to protests on its passing in 2014.
The Amazigh, (in Roman, Berber) population are indigenous to Tunisia and North Africa and predate the Islamic conquest of North Africa in the 7th Century. Though the Amazigh language is no longer spoken universally, Amazigh culture is experiencing something of a boom through social media, with many members of the community using tools such as Facebook to explore their heritage.