Minority Rights Group is the leading global organization working for and with ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, and indigenous peoples worldwide.
For over 50 years, we have campaigned alongside these communities to achieve more equitable, inclusive and peaceful societies.
In recent years, we have seen spikes in violent attacks against minorities and indigenous peoples because of their ethnic or religious identities. Online hate speech against these communities is rampant, and those defending minority and indigenous rights are increasingly under attack.
Minorities and indigenous peoples are targeted by populist governments and presented as scapegoats for serious governance failures in addressing economic and social issues and combatting the climate crisis.
Today, rights-based organizations like ours have been forced into defending spaces that were uncontested prior to the rise of populism.
We are strongly committed to defending the human rights of minorities and indigenous peoples and will not rest while these attacks continue. We know that much remains to be done. By 2024, we dare to believe that the world will be a different place for minority and indigenous communities.
Many minority and indigenous rights defenders operate in increasingly hostile environments, often in countries where democratic space is shrinking drastically and where persecution and intimidation are taking new forms. Targeted online hate speech is increasing exponentially, affecting more and more communities – as clearly demonstrated by the role social media played in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.
These tendencies are echoed in countries as varied as Egypt, India and the Philippines, and affect communities as diverse as Roma in Europe and religious minorities in Pakistan which experience online hate daily.
We frequently see minority and indigenous communities forced to live on the outskirts of society, robbed of opportunities and livelihoods, and deprived of access to basic public services such as health and education.
Our work ensures that marginalised communities and those who seek to foster inclusion can gain access to every opportunity.
Supporting communities in this way will ensure a more sustainable world for everyone and means that more people are empowered to challenge marginalisation and exclusion when they arise.
Realising climate justice
The marginalisation of minorities and indigenous peoples is also reflected in the climate crisis the world is experiencing. These communities, which have often contributed the least to the damage being inflicted to the planet, are among those which now are asked to pay the highest price. At the same time, the representatives of minority and indigenous communities are hardly ever in the room when decisions are taken that affect them.
Climate justice can only be achieved by ensuring that the voices, lived experience and knowledge of minorities and indigenous peoples are included in the debates and policies addressing the current crisis.
Making a real difference, to real people
Sanabil is a micro-biology student from Lahore in Punjab, Pakistan.
Over 80 per cent of Pakistani Christians, traditionally from lower agricultural castes, live in Punjab where they face double discrimination on account of their religious and social exclusion. Sanabil had a relatively protected childhood, but after joining college she started facing persecution, including hate speech and insulting stereotypes about her Christian community. At her college, one of her teachers even asked her to change her religion in exchange for better academic grades.
Sanabil felt that she had no choice but to keep quiet.
Eventually she joined a discussion group on hate speech for young people organised by MRG’s partner organization. It encouraged her to speak up. She shared her story, which inspired her peers to talk publicly about their own personal experiences of discrimination. She wrote an article about her own experience, which was published on a news website and was very well received. Ever since, she has been invited by many anti-discrimination organizations as a young panellist and speaker, including on TV.
MRG’s work on hate speech and challenging discrimination on religious grounds will carry on for the next four years, so that people like Sanabil can feel empowered to stand up against persecution. Listen to Sanabil discuss her experiences of hate speech in education here.
Uday is a young indigenous man with a physical disability from Nepal. He is Tamang, a marginalised community living in Nepal’s mountain regions. Many Tamang children do very badly in school due to language barriers and poverty. Since being orphaned as a child, Uday has lived with his brother and sister-in-law, who used to carry him on their backs to school. Despite this support, language and disability barriers resulted in him dropping out of school.
MRG works with local indigenous organizations to document these issues. Together, we lobby and raise awareness on the importance of offering inclusive education in minority and indigenous languages and supporting children with disabilities at local, regional and international levels, with the aim of getting children like Uday back in school.
Kom al-Raheb, a village in Samalut, Upper Egypt is home to around 2,500 Coptic Christians. For decades they have not been able to get a formal permit to build their church. Part of the reason is the resistance of some of the other villagers, on the basis that the presence of a church would be against their own religious beliefs. When in 2018 Copts tried to use a house as a church, it was shut down by security forces. This was followed by violent attacks by some residents on Coptic homes in the village. The assailants were incited through social media to engage in these assaults.
Our work on monitoring and reporting on such cases of intimidation and violence is vital to break the silence and bring justice for these communities. MRG investigated how Facebook was used to spread messages inciting hatred. Our research and findings, published and shared with key stakeholders, included policy recommendations on how to stop the violence, enhance access to justice and build improved relations between communities. Accurate reporting and investigation of such cases are vital to allow decision makers and minority and indigenous communities to find lasting solutions in mutual respect and cooperation.
In countries like Egypt, our work during the next four years will encompass monitoring and denouncing violence but also seeking solutions to bring peace and protection to vulnerable communities.
Nyiraminani is Batwa, a community in Rwanda which has long been extremely marginalised. Batwa were evicted from their forests, losing their traditional hunting, gathering and pottery-making culture. Not having any new land to settle, many community members work as daily agricultural laborers and are paid very low wages. The minimal income makes it difficult for Batwa parents to meet the cost of their children’s education – schooling is free, but families must pay for shoes, books and pens.
Nyiraminani completed secondary education in 2014 with good grades. However, her parents could not afford to fund her university studies. MRG worked with Batwa partners (see here) to advocate for government support to allow young Batwa and others like them to access higher education. As part of the scheme that resulted from this lobbying, Nyiraminani’s district offered her a scholarship and she is now studying technology at university.
Our work over the next four years will seek to support and amplify the voices of minority and indigenous human rights defenders in advocating access to education while holding duty bearers responsible for dismantling the barriers that prevent this.
Nyiraminani took part in an interview with actor Paterson Joseph on her experiences in education, which you can listen to here.
Said & Yarg
Said and Yarg are brothers, born into slavery in Mauritania.
Slavery, underpinned by deep-seated discrimination and marginalisation, remains a common practice in Mauritania regardless of its prohibition under the law. Slave status is hereditary – passed from mother to child – and the brothers, born in 2001 and 2003, became slaves to the El Hassine family at birth.
The boys escaped their enslavement in 2011, and later that year, their master was found guilty in the Criminal Court for holding them in slavery and depriving them of schooling. In the first ever successful prosecution under Mauritania’s 2007 anti-slavery legislation, he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay compensation. The sentence and compensation awarded were far below the penalties provided in law and were appealed with the support of MRG in 2010.
In 2016, while the Court of Appeal increased the level of compensation, the former slave owner’s sentence remained unchanged, requiring him to serve only the remainder of his original two-year sentence. MRG and other NGOs took their case to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which in January 2018 delivered a landmark ruling compelling Mauritania to provide Said and Yarg with appropriate compensation, psychosocial support and education while ensuring that all perpetrators were brought to justice. Mauritania was also obligated to take wider steps to eradicate child slavery, including through providing special measures to address the needs of child victims.
Fair compensation and justice were important for Said and Yarg and for the many still entrapped in slavery in Mauritania. In the coming years we will continue working in Mauritania while seeking to expand this work to Niger and Mali, where freed slaves have no land or jobs and face exploitation even after their slavery has been formally ended.
Archana Soreng is a passionate and skilful young environmental activist who has witnessed the marginalisation of her community. She is determined to ensure that her community’s way of life, especially as environmental custodians, can have a meaningful impact. Archana belongs to the Khadia tribe in Odisha, India. The tribe is an Adivasi community (India’s indigenous peoples) that lives in a mineral-rich part of the country. The consequence of this wealth is that successive governments – colonial and post-colonial – have seen greater value in the land than the people. Archana is determined to document, preserve and promote traditional indigenous knowledge, and galvanise awareness and action towards bringing indigenous world views to bear upon the urgent global climate crisis.
Archana’s activism is based on her own deep understanding of indigenous cultural know-how and a formal education that includes a Masters degree in regulatory governance. In recognition of the authority she brings to her work, Archana was selected as one of seven members of the Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change established by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to advise on global environmental policy.
Human rights-based approach
We identify rights holders and duty bearers, assess power dynamics and capacities, and embed the principles of community ownership, transparency and accountability into all our projects.
‘Do no harm’ perspective
We do this by identifying and highlighting risks continuously with support from our partners and ensuring that we mitigate against those risks wherever possible.
We only respond to needs identified directly by communities through their representatives and always involve those affected when planning our activities.
We recognise that there are people who may face additional discrimination within minority and indigenous communities and make sure that no one gets left behind.
We realise that we too are implicated in a system that has produced and upheld racism and continues to do so today. We have committed to reflecting on and evaluating the stances we take as well as our policies and practices. We also commit to making our progress public and transparent, so that we can guard ourselves against contributing, even indirectly, to racial injustice and hold ourselves accountable.
We form partnerships with organizations which share our objectives and values. Some approach us and ask for our support; other partnerships are formed when we identify communities at risk and establish contact with their representatives. Relationships can also build on connections that are made when activists attend our training and other events.
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