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Berber language education in Morocco a positive beginning

17 September 2003

Teaching of the Berber language (Tamazight) in some primary schools represents an important step towards recognizing and acknowledging the cultural and linguistic rights of the Moroccan Berbers or Imazighen who, to date, have been denied this basic education provision (1). However, this initiative must be extended from its limited initial programme, and matched by the fulfilment of other crucial economic, social and cultural rights in order to establish full equality and non-discrimination in Morocco. Teaching of Tamazight should become widespread, to include more remote areas of Morocco, and should extend throughout the school system.

The Imazighen self-identify themselves as indigenous people and have long claimed their cultural rights as such. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has highlighted the issue of cultural and linguistic rights in Africa among others including religious rights and full participation in public affairs in a recent briefing paper (2). MRG has welcomed this step by Morocco as an important foundation for further progress and a positive example, which should be followed by other African states. It stresses however that such rights are well established in international human rights law including the UN Declaration on Minorities and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which establish legal and customary obligations upon states.

The African Commission has referred to the UN Declaration on Minorities when stating that: ‘Language is an integral part of the structure of culture; it in fact constitutes its pillar and means of expression by excellence. Its usage enriches the individual and enables him to take an active part in the community and in its activities. To deprive an individual of such participation amounts to depriving him of his identity.’

Failure to provide education in appropriate languages results in high levels of illiteracy, further marginalizing communities and contributing to disproportionate levels of economic, social and political exclusion. MRG has called for the recognition of minorities and indigenous peoples existing in African states as a vital first step towards identifying their particular concerns and exclusion, and establishing policies to secure their rights and sustainable development.

Minority Rights Group International believes that recognition of minorities and indigenous people in Africa and acknowledgement of their rights, are important means for stability and conflict prevention. It is widely recognized that there is a direct link between conflicts and the violation of minority rights. Morocco and other African states must constructively address the full range of economic, social and cultural rights of minorities and indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities in view of this link and their obligations under standards of international human rights law.

Notes for editors

  1. 317 primary schools will begin teaching lessons in the Berber language (Tamazight) to first year pupils from the beginning of the new academic year on 15 September. The government’s stated aim is to have Berber classes taught at all levels in all schools within 10 years.
  2. The briefing ‘Recognizing Minorities in Africa’ by Samia Slimane is available online in English and French.