The human rights status of the Tamazight Speaking in Libya


This report is released to the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council sub-commission in order to present an important missing part of Human Rights violation issues and clarify the valuable aspiration of Imazighen (Berber) people of Libya. The human rights status of the Tamazight Speaking in Libya was submitted by The Libyan Working Group to the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights-Geneva in May 2005.
In the heart of North Africa, Libya is a well-known name in history and geography; Herodotus, the great historian, called Africa “Libya� during his time.

The name “Libya� goes back to the Libico tribes “Libo� who are Libyan Amazigh tribes originally inhabited the North African regionand in which the majority of the Libyan society is originated from. Moreover, the Tamazight language is still used in North Africa and the great Sahara desert.

Historically, Libyans have interacted with African and Mediterranean civilizations. These long interactions have varied and fluctuated from one era to another. Libyans ruled Egypt during the era of the 22-23 pharaohs family and the Phoenician civilization was raised in Libya s shoreline. It was also occupied by the Romans, Vandals, and the Bizantine. More than 1400 years ago, Arabs invaded Libya under the banner of preaching to the Islamic religion and under the same banner Turks occupied it later on. The “modern� Romans “Italians� repeated history and occupied it in the recent history back in 1911 and they were pushed out in the aftermath of the WWII.

Libya gained its independence in 1956 with uniting the three provinces Tripoli, Barqa, and Fezan under the Sonousi monarchy which was named the Kingdom of Libya; a bordered country that is well known in today s modern political map. Not so long, a military coup toppled the Sonousi Monarchy and took power in 1969. That coup turned Libya s remains of its historical civilization up side down, neither a kingdom not a republican nor emirates; and not under any system that is adopted internationally. No constitution, neither a government nor a legitimate ruler; nothing but a dictatorship that is ruling it since September 1969.

The distribution of the population is somehow sparse compared to its total geographical area. Libya with over than 2.6 million square kilometers is inhabited by more than 5 million people. This is an approximate figure since no officially trusted figures are available.

The vast majority of population is distributed largely at the coastal areas of the nation and this distribution gradually decreases towards the areas under the coast line followed by the south desert where the population is dispersed over a larger geographical area.

Despite the economical wealth of Libya, especially in the oil and gas industry and the other natural resources with a very low population density, the economical situation of an average Libyan citizen is still hurtful. The average standard of living; the condition of the infrastructure in Libya is terribly at low levels, the education, health care, and the general services are dreadful. Furthermore, the degree of advancement in the institutions and civil services are very slow and in most parts ineffective; this is because of the regime backwardness and the high level of state bureaucracy and dictatorship. As a result, a considerable percentage of illiteracy in the Libyan society still exists and the educational level is also limited; political activities are forbidden and the current regime uses all kinds of oppression and fear against all basic human rights and freedoms.

Throughout history and because of the historical association of Libyans with other civilizations and with the dynamics of historical events, Libyans believed in many religions and adopted many faiths such as Judaism, Christianity under different sects including Islam in which today Islam represents the official state religion and the fate of the vast majority of Libyans. Under this religious umbrella of Islam, and because of the political, ideological, and the religious Arabism control, in what so called Arab nationalism, Libya officially belongs to what s called the “Arab world� that actually represent an enormous geographical area with different cultures, ethnicities, and languages; yet its forcefully called the Arab world and identify these societies, with different cultures and languages, as an Arab. This was also represented politically in what so called “the Arab league organization� with all its branches and different organizational unites.

Today, the only ideologies that are strongly emphasized and heavily advertised in the political and the cultural arena are Islamo-Arabism and the ideology of Arab Nationalism which marginalizes, oppresses and suppresses any others who are different. These situations lead to the change in the identity, cultural and linguistic elements of the majority of Libyans which in turn was one of the reasons why most Libyans lost their sense of national belongings and their affiliation to their nation. They also lost the feeling of being part of their land and culture and the ability in holding on to their language; even their regional and international relationships were somehow being affected. These conditions gradually led most Libyans to distance themselves from their true identity and cause them to let go their sense of being affiliated to their land and leave behind their mother tongue. In view of that, the spread of Arab Nationalism and the Islamo-Arabism ideologies amongst many Libyans created an atmosphere such that, they relate and interact amongst themselves and with others only from these narrow, racial and religious points of views which resulted in vanishing all past collection of being connected with other civilizations and their lose of being able to amenable and accept other different cultures, religions, and languages. These conditions had also led most Libyans to adopt only Arab language and believe only in Islam by being repressively rejecting any citizen who does not speak Arabic or believe in its ideologies as well as who does not profess Islam or any of its sects.

Under these oppressive conditions, the “Tamazight speaking� Libyan society, who are attempting to defend and protect their original Libyan identity, culture and language, had become a linguistic minority that is marginalized, targeted, and oppressed by the political agencies of the current regime and its security apparatus as well as from some of the political and human rights groups of the opposition who claims to be the political opponent of the current regime outside Libya.

In this regard, as we are classifying the Tamazight speaking population of Libya as a “linguistic Minority�, we meant it and we understand what this means very well. Any outside observer to the daily life of Libyans will see no differences between the vast majority (if not all) Libyans in their distinctive culture, and unique social customs and traditions even in much of its details: their countenance and appearances, their names and surnames, names of their geographical areas and places, towns, villages and landmarks, their customs and traditions, their heritage and public literature and style, their art and music, their rituals and believes, their costumes and cuisine. The only difference being exist is between the “Arabized� majority of Libyans who are allied with the extreme Islamo-Arabism and the Arab nationalism ideologies, and the minority of Libyans who are still maintaining their Tamazight spoken language whom their existence being targeted along with their language and all what includes in that culture and language from history to civilizations and traditions.

Tamazight Language:
Tamazight Language is the Libyan language that is still used in North Africa since the dawn of history. Its alphabet is called “Tifi-nagh� in old Libyan or “Libico� language according to many historical references. The Tamazight language had existed historically with most ancient languages that is been used by humankind, it had been influenced by these languages and vise versa; such languages are Greek, Phoenicians, and the hieroglyphic language and many others. The Tamazight language and its scripts is fortuitously preserved and still used today, mainly by women of Touarq Amazigh population in the south of Libya.

Most of the ancient languages, stated above, were vanished or being reserved inside museums or ancient landmarks except our Tamazight language, with its different dialects. This language is still remains alive and widely spoken in many areas of North Africa, a unique challenge that had to put up with throughout its historical existence, age, and many other effects. This is what we consider a cultural and linguistic phenomenon that we need to stop at, in order to address it for further analysis and studies. We could safely conclude that Tamazight language is one of the ancient languages that is still spoken and written amongst Imazighen therefore, it is considered a valuable and unique cultural and human inheritance. It is the duty of the international community and all the concerned international institutions to protect this valuable language and culture, stop all kinds of oppression and negligence that is imposed against this language and its speakers, and assist by all means to its recognition, protection, and development.

This is only a simple summary that we hope will attract your valuable attentiveness to the kind of oppression, racial discrimination and tyranny that is imposed on human rights in our beloved Libya, keeping in mind the comparison between this simple effort of ours and what the Libyan regime is capable of in suppressing and oppressing it s own citizens. Our discontent is even deeper when we see these practices are taking place while the international community and the international human rights institutions are silently watching.

The following are just few examples of human rights infringements that the Libyan regime is practicing against an important component of its society whom its citizen had no choice but born to be with an Amazigh origin with their mother tongue being Tamazight language.

Political and Human Rights Status of the Tamazight Speaking Population in Libya

Despite the fact that Libya is an Amazigh country by name, identity, and its history, and despite the fact that most Libyans are originally from an Amazigh roots, and despite the presence of an important components of Tamazight speakers amongst the Libyan society who are involved in many professional, scientific, and in other public service areas in the country; all this yet no precise statistical data or information that could clarify or present the demographic composition of the Libyan population. Libya was always excluded in all census compared to other countries in the region i.e. Algeria and Morocco, in which their governments showed a sign of tolerance in addressing the Amazigh linguistic and human rights issues. Nevertheless, the despotism regime in Libya is still associating with Tamazight speakers and the Tamazight language by ignorance and oppressive measures.

1. The current political regime of Libya fundamentally rules the country as a pure “Arab State� officially named “Libyan Arab Jamahirya�, a member state of what so called “Arab League�, and with only Arabic as an official language. This regime does not officially recognize any Amazigh identity of the country not even from a historical or geographical or anthropological point view. Not even one official document nor a historical or educational reference nor in the official school curriculum that mentions or point out such recognition of the Amazigh identity or language or culture in Libya. Currently and ironically, the regime s attempts to cancel the country name “Libya� and put in use only “Al-Jamahirya� after serious and unsuccessful attempts to alter the name “Libya� by arabizing it and change it to an Arab name “Aribya�. All official and historical books, records, and references, that focuses in Libyan history, conveys the start of Libyan history only from the date of the Arab invasion under the banner of Islam; moreover, the regime s head and their intelligent and security groups classify those Amazigh scholars and activists as traitors and spy agents to the west and considered them as collaborator to the European and American intelligent services.

2. The current political regime of Libya does not recognize the Amazigh existence amongst the population composition of Libya whom we are, without any doubt, a representative sample out of hundreds of thousands of Libyan Tamazight speakers inside and outside of Libya. The regime of Libya denies, rejects, and suppresses the existence of a linguistic minority of Imazighen in Libya and consequently denies their legitimate rights and up till now uses the ultimate means and tools of oppressions, rejections, and denials. All the civil registrations and citizenship documents are issued to all Libyans solely on the basis of Arab citizenship, furthermore, all civil rights, ownership and citizenship rights are limited to those who are considered by the current regime of being an Arab even if they were born or raised as Libyans, i.e. a clear racist approach which criminalizes and oppresses those who loudly affiliate themselves as non Arab or do not hold an Arabic identity.

3. The current political regime is brutally waging a war against Tamazight language; this is being documented in the state media as part of the speeches of colonel Gadafi. The following is what we consider as cases of the Libyan regime practices against human rights of the Tamazight speaking minority of Libya:

• Changing the names of many geographical areas, names of cities and towns, names of many historical landmarks as well as the names of historical figures and events, all being targeted to erode its original and historical identity. For this purpose, the regime mobilizes what so called Arabization campaign which being heavily funded and aggressively imposed to all levels of the state institutions and departments, as a result, the names and the identity of many cities and geographical areas had been changed and many of those names were purposely and forcefully Arabized from their original Amazigh terminologies. In this regard the regime also funded and established many local, regional, and international institutions to support these efforts and in many cases those were established under the umbrella of promoting the Islamic faith.

• Enforcing a law that forbids the registration of new born with an Amazigh names and rejects the rights of those children, who carry Amazigh names, from their basic human and civil privileges. The regime also uses this law to takeaway their educational rights by turning down their registrations in school system unless and in condition that they change their Amazigh names to an Arabic one. Furthermore, the regime is imposing a heavy financial penalty to those who do not comply with this law and their families being subjected to police and security intimidation. Until this day, there are many cases of those children who are denied from their rights to a Libyan citizenship just because they carry an Amazigh name. In this regards, we would like to draw your attention to

• The political regime of Libya forbids and bans teaching or studying of Tamazight language in any shape or form, at the same time, chances and opportunities are open to other languages to be taught in different Libyan schools, colleges, and universities even in specialized levels. In addition to the modern languages such as English, French, and Italian languages, thy offer programs to learn and specialize in even other old languages such as Hebrew and many different African languages such as Sawahily and Hawsa, etc. However, the original Libyan Tamazight language does not exist and it is not recognized in any of the Libyan educational or scientific institution or system.

• The political regime of Libya refuses the freedom to use Tamazight language amongst Tamazight speakers in institutional settings, even in social and community gatherings such as sports clubs, youth camps, scouts programs, etc. Tamazight spoken language is prohibited in these organizations and gatherings. Furthermore, Tamazight speakers are prohibited from using their language in music, singing, art performances, and even in writing billboards and other advertisement boards or in arts and drawings. It is also prohibited to form any kind of conferences, clubs, social or cultural or human rights associations or any form of gathering that allows building a civil society; all these are prohibited by the current regime of Libya.

• The political regime of Libya prevents and restricts any historical and research studies related to the Libyan Amazigh history or Tamazight language including the restriction of those local and foreign historian and scholars from doing their jobs. The regime also bans any attempt for any exploration or research in anthropological and historical ruins or sites. In this regard we should also report the abuse, negligence and the illegal trades of all the valuable historical items that were found by locals during their construction and excavations where historical items were discovered and destroyed under the current regime watch. This disregard and negligence has only one purpose to serve which centers in neglecting, ignoring, and suppressing any ancient historical discoveries when it relates to the Libyan Amazigh culture and language; sites such as Ghdamis and Akakos mountains were classified by the UNISCO as ancient human remains which must be respected.

• The current political regime of Libya bans, restricts, and ceases all books, newspapers, magazines, and any press documents or articles which relates to Tamazight history, culture and language, even media items such as tapes, videos, etc. The regime criminalizes any person who is involved in such activities or tries to introduce such tools inside Libya. Furthermore, the current regime of Libya bans and restricts the production or use of any Tamazight music or arts and the use of the “tefe-nagh� alphabet in any performances. The regime bans any use of Tamazight music in social events such as parties, weddings, and regular colander events; in addition the regime arrested individuals during social events while they were singing and celebrating in Tamazight language. The current regime also banned and prevented live performances and music parties for some Amazigh artist and refused to give a permit to some foreign cultural centers in Libya nothing but the artists are using Tamazight language in their performances. During the past 35 years, the regime of Libya never broadcasted in local state media any part of music or literature or poetry or even a piece of news regarding Libya s ancient tradition or culture or Tamazight language. .

After this brief summary, it is becoming apparent to you the level of ruthless misery and oppression of the Tamazight speaking minority in Libya under the current tyranny regime. It is also quite obvious that the current political regime has no regards to the human dignity of its citizen and no respect to the human rights of the Tamazight speaking population of Libya. It is also clear that the current political regime violates the international charters of human rights by adopting such tyrannical behavior.

The dangerous and the heartbreaking situation of the Tamazight language and culture in Libya is more than what this simple report is outlining. We call upon you and all the international community to stand behind the oppressed citizens of Tamazight speaking minority in Libya and deploy an immediate and necessary actions in order to rescue and save the Tamazight language, identity, culture and historical heritage of Libya from the tyranny of politics, ideology and oppressive religious ideas; the salvation from the enemies of freedom, pluralism, and peace.

It is for your information that whatever is taking place recently in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world, from radical changes to moves towards democratization, and the emphasis on freedom and human rights, yet the citizen of Libya, especially the Tamazight speaking population, are far behind these positive changes and noble values.

The Tamazight Movement is tolerantly and genuinely struggling inside Libya. It is a peaceful movement that does not adopt any type of violence in its efforts towards its goals for freedom and democracy despite its presence inside a country that is ruled by one of the harshest regimes that remained in the international community today. The Tamazight movement is a civilized and popular opposition against all kinds of eradication and marginalization and abuse of Tamazight identity, language and culture. This movement is a promise of continues struggle and approach towards democracy and unlimited rally to freedom, human rights, peace, and harmony with all people around the world.

Libyan Working Group

The human rights status of the Tamazight Speaking in Libya

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