Nov 08, 2021

Kabylia : UNPO calls for investigation into deadly fires and withholding of medical supplies by Algerian government

UNPO firmly condemns the Algerian government’s response to recent incidents in Kabylia and wishes to see a full international investigation into the Algerian response to Covid-19 and forest fires in the region, as well as the Algerian government’s decision to designate the MAK-Avanad, as a terrorist organisation. The Algerian military junta continues to show a gross negligence to its commitment on human rights and support for civil society actors.

Last month UNPO received the President of the MAK, Ferhat Mehenni and the Prime Minister of the MAK Provisional Government, Zidane Lafdal, in our office for an update on the situation in Kabylia. During the meeting, the representatives for the Kabyle nation at UNPO detailed the growing escalation of issues in the Kabyle region that the Algerian government and international community are failing to address. Among those are the response to the Covid-19 crisis, the increase in forest fires that the MAK believe are deliberate arson attacks and the continued repression of activists, including in some cases murder.

Kabylia was, as detailed in our report on Covid in our communities, especially impacted by the public health crisis in Algeria. Kabyles in France and the USA had sent medical supplies to help the population in the region, only to see these supplies diverted by the Algerian government officials to allocate among themselves. Ordinary people in Kabylia are finding themselves without oxygen tanks or protective equipment when being admitted to hospital for Covid-19. The Delta variant has struck Kabylia particularly hard in this respect, and thus the urgency of action is undeniable.

Alongside this, the previous months have seen an increase in wildfires across the Kabyle region. This has profound effects on Kabylian homes, with entire villages such as Agoulmime devastated. Agoulmime has now become a site to pay respects for the dead. The Algerian government’s response has been to refuse international offers for help given they have no Canadairs to try and extinguish the fires.

The wildfires have also caused significant economic devastation, due to grapevines and olive trees being a core part of the Kabyle economy. Very little recovery funds have found themselves going to either the Kabyle region’s reconstruction or their public health infrastructure. Algeria’s repeated refusal for help in tming the wildfires to save the agricultural wealth in Kabylia is terrible development for what is already a fragile economy.

Finally, the Algerian government has continued a heavy handed approach to any kind of activism relating to Kabyle self-determination. On 18 May 2021 the Algerian government declared the MAK a terrorist organisation, with an extradition attempt on its leader Mr Mehenni, that was rejected outright by the French government. More concerning still is the 10 June law criminalizing the demand to the right to self-determination and extending internment without arrest to 12 days. Algeria’s criminal justice system is now deeply unbalanced towards repressing activism first and foremost.

Algerian police forces in the region continue to fiercely repress Kabyle activists, with the latest reports from the region stating that 8 MAK militants had been ordered to serve jail terms for their political activities. Some 220 Kabyles are in prison for offenses related to their political activities for Kabyle self-determination, many of them in their early 20s. Worse, MAK activists have been found dead in mysterious circumstances with Algerian police blaming the MAK itself.

UNPO is committed to ensuring Kabyles achieve justice in these matters and are no longer threatened whenever they wish to express their views on self-determination. The criminalisation of the MAK as an organization in unacceptable given the President Mehenni has repeatedly called for non-violent protest. UNPO also would like to see a full independent UN-led investigation into forest fires, and will be taking the case of the wildfires in Kabyle to the UN. In the week where leaders discuss deforestation on the agenda of COP26, such acts need to be scrutinized by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment to ensure these are not man made fires intent on harming the livelihoods of others.

Lastly, we want to include Kabylia into our general campaign to ensure Covid-19 is dealt with a in a fair and responsible manner by governments around the world and thus that communities have access to the same possibilities as others when it comes to all facets of tackling Covid-19 and the recovery thereafter. Algeria must allow supplies and vaccines into Kabylia.