Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Minority Rights Group International was founded in 1969 by David Astor, the then editor and proprietor of the Observer newspaper in the United Kingdom.
Troubled by the regular reports of ethnic persecution around the world that crossed his desk, Astor wanted to publish information about human rights violations and discrimination in order to shame governments into improving their record.
With a first major grant secured from the Ford Foundation, a press conference in London in November 1969 launched Minority Rights Group, ‘an organization for the defence of oppressed minorities worldwide’.
MRG has since gone onto publish original research and well-respected publications, advocate for the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples around the world, and campaign with over 50 in-country partner organisations.
Highlights from MRG’s 50-Year History
1969-70s: A focus on research to inform the world
1969: David Astor founds Minority Rights Group International1st January 1969
David Astor, editor and proprietor of the Observer newspaper, was troubled by the regular reports of ethnic persecution crossing his desk. Astor brought together a small group of journalists, academics and anti-apartheid campaigners to found MRG with the goal of addressing these issues.Read more
1969: MRG hires its first staff member13th January 1969
Minority Rights Group (MRG) was run in a purely voluntary capacity prior to receiving funding from the Ford Foundation in 1968. This grant was used to hire MRG’s first paid employee, Laurence Gandar, a journalist and editor from South Africa best known for his work as editor at the South African newspaper The Rand Daily Mail. In November of 1969, Gandar was named Director of Minority Rights Group International in London where he implemented a new research and publication programme on minorities facing serious discrimination as a result of their race, ethnicity, religion, language or minority identity. Gandar’s work dubbed MRG “the organisation for the defence of oppressed minorities worldwide”. Gandar stayed in this position for 3 years before returning to South Africa. Photo credit: International Press InstituteRead more
1970: MRG publishes its first report,”Religious Minorities in the Soviet Union”18th April 1970
MRG published its first report in December of 1970 with author Michael Bourdeaux. This report would go one to be updated and reprinted numerous times.
1971: “The Two Irelands- the problem of the double minority”18th April 1971
The Two Irelands: the double minority (1971) is the second report ever published by MRG. It was written by author Harold Jackson and was described by Chatham House as ‘the best pages on Ireland’s contemporary political problems that have found their way into contemporary literature’. The report was welcomed by Catholic and Protestant commentators for its balanced representation of the problems encountered by both communities in Northern Ireland. This work on Ireland was later reported to have influenced analyses and to have contributed to discussions surrounding the Good Friday Agreement.Read more
1974: MRG gains consultative status with the UN3rd January 1974
MRG gained consultative status with the UN, and with a direct focus towards advocacy, MRG made the most of its new-found status by successfully supporting minority and Indigenous peoples’ initiatives at the international level. MRG affiliate groups emerged in Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden as a result.Read more
1975: MRG publishes “The Palestinians” and “The Kurds”1st January 1975
These reports by David McDowall were ground-breaking for their day, generating international coverage on issues that were fairly unknown at the time.
1977: Birth of the first World Directory on Minorities3rd January 1977
The release of this directory was the culmination of work that began in 1975, and would be the first section in a three part volume called World Minorities later known as the World Directory on Minorities.
1980s: A focus on advocacy for concrete change
1987: MRG Publishes a report titled “The Armenians”1st February 1981
At the time of its publishing, “The Armenians” by David Marshall Lang and Christopher J. Walker was one of few accessible accounts of this genocide. It went on to win the UNA Media Peace Prize.
1982: MRG is awarded the UNA International Media Peace Prize23rd April 1982
MRG is awarded the UNA Media Peace Prize for its work publishing reports exposing little-known minority rights issues. MRG’s report “The Armenians”, which focused on the ‘hidden holocaust’, and Armenian culture more generally, was a recipient.
1988: An MRG mentee becomes the first Roma TV presenter of the former Czechoslovakia1st May 1988
A graduate of a Roma mentoring and capacity building project is appointed as the first Roma presenter on national TV in what was then Czechoslovakia.
1990s: A focus on building capacity at the grassroots level
1990: MRG relocates to its Brixton office23rd April 1990
MRG moved to its new office space in Brixton in the early 1990s, a community in South London known for its multiculturalism.
1992: MRG’s decade of advocacy influences the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities18th December 1992
After years of advocacy, in 1992 the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. This was a major step forward for minority rights and demonstrated MRG’s growing influence.Read more
1994: MRG publishes “Cutting the Rose”25th April 1994
In 1994, MRG published Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation – The Practice and Its Prevention, a ground breaking report which raised world attention to the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM). It was written by Efua Dorkenoo, affectionately known as “Mama Efua”, and was selected by an international jury in 2002 as one of “Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century”. Dorkenoo went on to become a global expert on FGM and pioneered the global movement to end the practice and worked internationally for more than 30 years to see the campaign “move from a problem lacking in recognition to a key issue for governments around the world.”Read more
1995: The “No Longer Invisible” report is released23rd April 1995
This report focused on the distinct and extraordinary diverse ethnic and cultural identities of Afro-Latin Americans that had received little official recognition up until this point. Despite being published in 1995, it remains ground breaking and relevant to this day.Read more
1996: MRG expands its European work in earnest23rd April 1996
MRG hires its first staff member out of Budapest, and its work based in Europe begins in earnest. This European sister office of MRG aims to promote and protect the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples across Europe and Central Asia.
2000s: A focus on strategic litigation
2001: MRG appoints its first staff member in Kampala23rd April 2001
MRG appoints first member of staff in Kampala, Uganda. MRG’s African office aims to strengthen the voices of marginalised people – addressing capacity building of partners, mentoring, legal empowerment through paralegal training and national and regional advocacy. Photo: Colleagues from Minority Rights Group Africa (MRGA) stand outside the office in Kampala, Uganda.Read more
2006: First annual report on “The State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples” is published24th April 2006
The first “Peoples Under Threat” analysis published in the first “State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples Annual Report” which would become an ongoing and important project for MRG.
2007: The Minority Forum is created23rd April 2007
MRG lobbying contributes to the creation of the UN Working Group on Minorities, which would then transform into Minority Forum. The Forum meets annually, with two working days allocated to thematic discussions and consultations with regional groups.
2008: MRG’s “World Directory” goes digital23rd April 2008
The World Directory is established as on online database, allowing for more continuous updating and wider readership. The World Directory is now one of MRG’s most used resources.
2007: MRG contributes to the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples23rd April 2019
MRG contributes particularly to the Asian Indigenous input as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is adopted. UNDRIP defines the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, including their ownership rights to cultural expression, identity, language, employment, health and education .Read more
2009: Key legal victory regarding discrimination in participation at the European regional legal level24th April 2019
The landmark Sejdic and Finci case was won at the European Court of Human Rights, with MRG representing Jakob Finci. The Court found that that applicants’ ineligibility to stand for election to the House of Peoples violated their rights.
2010s: A focus on tackling discrimination through cultural actions
2011: MRG launches online advocacy training programme25th April 2011
MRG realises the effectiveness of online training and completes its first online course, developed and run for over 600 individuals in 36 countries across 3 continents
2012: MRG establishes Eastern Partnership Minorities Network24th April 2012
MRG establishes a network of 80 organisations to work on the Eastern Partnership, a European Union initiative aimed at tightening relationships between the EU and its Eastern partners.The establishments of this partnership provided a substantial opportunity for minorities to influence decision-making on issues affecting them.Read more
2016: MRG produces its first resource on intersectional discrimination, “Life at the Margins”8th March 2016
“Life at the Margins: The Challenges of Multiple Discriminations” is an online story pack highlighting multiple forms of discrimination that minorities and indigenous peoples face on account of their age, gender, livelihoods, disabilities, sexuality and gender identities.Read more
2017: MRG wins key legal victory for the Ogiek Community in the then newly established African Court on Human and Peoples Rights26th March 2017
After an 8 year legal battle, the Ogiek indigenous community won a historic lands rights case against the Kenyan government at the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights with the help of MRG.
2018: Said & Yarg legal case victory26th January 2018
After having worked on the case, MRG and Anti-Slavery international welcomed the landmark ruling of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in the case of Said and Yarg Salem against Mauritania.
2015: MRG changes perceptions on racism through street theatre projects24th April 2019
MRG projects reach audiences of 100,000 across the Middle East and North Africa through street theatre against racism performances.