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MRG briefing – Helping or harming minorities: The Millennium Development Goals

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Current strategies towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) could increase existing inequalities and may harm some minority communities that are amongst the poorest of the poor, warns Minority Rights Group International (MRG). Globally minorities should gain from progress towards the goals, yet are in fact being left behind, stated MRG in advance of ‘MDG+5’, a UN consultation and assessment process beginning in New York in June. The MDGs can be met more effectively by ensuring that the needs and rights of minorities are respected through strategies that reflect their uniquely vulnerable and marginalized status within many societies.

In a Working Paper presented to the UN Working Group on Minorities in June, MRG called for an urgent effort to address the needs of minorities in time to make a difference. MRG states that the particular causes of minority poverty and low human development, such as discrimination and exclusion, are little understood or inadequately addressed, leading to failure of existing MDG strategies to benefit minority communities. While a key MDG goal is to eradicate extreme poverty for 50% of the world’s poorest people by 2015, minorities are likely to find themselves disproportionately represented amongst the remaining 50% for which there is no progress. A key message that MRG takes to the UN consultation is that development that benefits minorities will help to achieve the MDGs and is a valuable contribution to rights, stability and conflict prevention.

MRG reveals that most country reports on the MDGs do not mention minorities and that discrimination against them in their daily lives may be reflected in MDG strategies that ignore their plight. Some of the factors contributing to minority neglect include their exclusion from political participation, governance structures which favour some communities and failure to fully recognise the problems of minorities. Many development actors have not widely considered the link between protection of minority rights and realization of the MDGs, adding to concerns over the lack of clear policy guidelines for governments on exactly how to achieve the eight MDG goals.

According to the author of MRGs paper, Corinne Lennox, ‘The focus on aggregate results, rapid development and achieving the greatest good for the greatest number could mean that the particular needs of the most excluded groups – of which minorities form a major part – will be ignored in the interests of meeting the targets on paper’.

Development policies that exploit local resources and ignore land rights of minorities and indigenous peoples can lead to mass displacement and to conflicts between governments, corporations and minority and indigenous peoples. The Ogoni and other minorities in Nigeria’s Niger Delta have suffered losses of their lands without adequate compensation and high health and environmental costs resulting from the oil exploitation of the region. In 1995 nine of MOSOP’s leaders were executed and ten yeas on their struggle continues against the actions of the government and multinational oil companies. As recently as March 2005 a Port Harcourt shantytown housing thousands of Ogoni and other minorities was demolished with residents given inadequate notice and no compensation. Residents claim that the government and a multinational oil company conspired to clear the land and used harassment and violence against them.

There is a risk that on paper the goals can be ‘achieved’ for a country while their impact on minorities and indigenous peoples is negative since resources are allocated to majority groups. Displacement of minorities and indigenous peoples from their homes or land to make way for developmental or conservational programmes that benefit other communities is common. Minorities are rarely appropriately consulted or receive adequate compensation, and face increasing poverty and negative human development. The pastoralist Endorois community of Kenya was forcibly removed from its land into arid areas not suitable for pastoralism, to make way for the Lake Bogoria National Park and subsequent tourism development. The government has gained additional revenue, yet the Endorois received no compensation or benefit and now suffer food insecurity, raised infant mortality rates and a serious threat to their way of life. The Endorois are now challenging recent destruction of their ancestral lands due to government-sanctioned mining activities, and MRG are assisting the community to claim their rights at the African Commission.

Minority Rights Group International has called for a review of how the MDGs are being implemented from a human rights based approach, integrating key minority principles such as non-discrimination and participation. The collection of disaggregated data to measure minorities’ progress towards the goals and the establishment of participatory mechanisms to enable minorities to help devise and implement MDG strategies need to be given a high priority.

Notes for editors

  • In September 2005, Heads of State will meet for the Millenium+5 Summit to consider the progress and the means to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The Secretary General’s report Towards Larger Freedom: Development, Security and Human Rights, launched in March 2005 sets out various proposals and recommendations on what States and the UN must to do to achieve freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to live in dignity for all people. Civil society have not been invited to participate at the summit but representatives from NGOs worldwide will participate in a hearing with states and the private sector from the 23rd to the 24th June at the General Assembly in preparation for the summit.
  • Download MRG’s Paper ‘The Millennium Development Goals: Helping or Harming Minorities
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