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Algeria to collect 1 million signatures for bill criminalising French colonialism

Protestors hold an Algerian flag during a demonstration, in Bordeaux, southwestern France on December 12, 2020 [THIBAUD MORITZ/AFP via Getty Images]
Protestors hold an Algerian flag during a demonstration, in Bordeaux, southwestern France on December 12, 2020 [THIBAUD MORITZ/AFP via Getty Images]

Algerian MPs have launched a campaign to collect one million signatures to put pressure on the government to enact a law to criminalise the French colonial occupation of the country, which ended in 1962.

The move follows the release of a French report on 20 January last year on the colonisation of Algeria. There has been widespread criticism by Algerians that the academic study fails to highlight France's "colonial crimes". The report was prepared by French historian Benjamin Stora, who delivered it to President Emmanuel Macron. The Élysée Palace is quoted as saying that this does not mean that France is going to issue a formal apology to Algeria.

Belarbi Kamal is one of the MPs who have taken this initiative. He pointed out that he and the other MPs presented their bill to the People's National Assembly on 28 January last year. "The project has been frozen for a whole year, and it was not considered for unknown reasons. The initiative to collect signatures is a reaction to the stalling of the bill, which affects the rights of the martyrs and the veterans of the war of independence."

He pointed out that the invitation to sign the petition also came after comments by presidential advisor Abdel Majid Sheikhi, who is in charge of the national memory file. "The Algerians have already criminalised colonialism decades ago in their hearts without the need for a legal text," said Sheikhi weeks ago.

Kamal insisted that France's recognition of its colonial crimes is its own affair. "What concerns us is restoring the rights of Algerians that were lost, such as the national archives and financial compensation. One million signatures will convey the people's message to the government and the legislative authority."

Algeria made no official comment on the French report. The matter was limited to media reports and comments made by various personalities unconnected to the government.

The French colonisation of Algeria lasted between 1830 and 1962. The Algerian authorities and historians say that nearly five million people were murdered during the occupation, with wealth, historic documents and artefacts plundered and taken to France. Some of the items date back to the Ottoman rule of Algeria from 1515 to 1830.

French officials have reiterated on several occasions the need to turn the page on its colonial past in Algeria, but the North African state has demanded from France official recognition of its colonial crimes.

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