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African countries dominate global ranking of communities facing greatest risk of mass killings

28 April 2014

African countries dominate the list of major risers in this year’s release of the internationally-acclaimed global ranking Peoples under Threat, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

Risks have climbed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), Mali and Guinea Bissau, as recorded in Peoples under Threat, which identifies communities facing the greatest risk of genocide, mass killing or systematic violent repression. In countries at the very top of the list, including DRC, South Sudan and CAR, mass killing is already ongoing.

‘Both South Sudan and the Central African Republic had risen prominently in the index over the last two years and subsequently faced episodes of extreme ethnic or sectarian violence,’ says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director. ‘Recent events have sadly proved the prescience of the Peoples under Threat ranking.’

The Peoples under Threat index has been compiled every year since 2005 to provide early warning of potential future mass atrocities and, for the first time is being launched today by MRG as an online map.

Despite hosting the largest UN peace-keeping mission in the world, the threat levels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in fourth position, remain high. This is due to at least three related reasons: the proliferation of different armed groups, leading to dozens of separate conflicts particularly in the east over ethnicity and natural resources; the track record of neighbouring states in consistently supporting such armed groups; and the repeated practice of integrating former rebels into the Congolese armed forces who are now often as feared by local communities as the militias from which they came.

When the newly-independent state of South Sudan, which comes in at twelfth position, sprang straight near the top of the index two years ago it seemed that pessimism had prevailed over hope. A dispute between President Salva Kiir and his deputy, Riek Machar, quickly degenerated into open ethnic conflict in December, pitting Dinka forces controlled by the government against ethnic Nuer. An estimated 10,000 people had been killed by January, and by March over one million had been displaced.

In the Central African Republic, says Lattimer, both UN and French officials warned in November of the risk of genocide. ‘Abuses by Anti-Balaka have now left the minority Muslim communities, often accused of supporting Séléka, at the greatest risk of mass killings,’ he adds.

Mali, despite holding successful presidential elections, continues to face instability from both Islamist rebels and the Tuareg fighters of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). In recent months some 200,000 people have returned to Northern Mali after the end of conflict, but the MNLA withdrew from a ceasefire agreed in June and clashes with Islamist fighters continue.

After five coups in the last three decades, hopes that elections in Guinea-Bissau this year will bring stability have to be tempered with caution. The country’s rise in the index is partly due to declines in governance, as corruption and drug-trafficking have become further entrenched. Internal politics is also characterised by strong ethnic allegiances.

Despite everything, Somalia is grimly stuck on to its place at the head of the Peoples under Threat index again this year. The Federal Government of Somalia and the AU mission AMISOM celebrated pushing the rebel Shabaab out of many towns and cities, but al-Shabaab continues to control large rural areas – imposing a fundamentalist version of shari’a.

MRG is concerned that minorities, including the Bantu, remain highly vulnerable, although with control over different parts of south-central Somalia shifting between a range of religious and/or clan-based militias, sometimes allied with Ethiopian or Kenyan troops, almost all Somalis remain at risk of violence.

Notes to Editors

  • Interview opportunities:
    • UK: Mark Lattimer, Executive Director, Minority Rights Group International (English) – [email protected]
    • South Sudan: Paul Oleyo, Boma Development Initiative (English) – [email protected]
    • DRC: Pacifique Mukumba, Réseau des Associations Autochtones Pygmées (French) – [email protected]
    • CAR: Joseph Bindoumi, Centrafricaine des droits de l’homme (French) – [email protected]
  • Visit MRG’s new online map which visualizes data from the Peoples under Threat index at View the map by year or by country, and find links to reports, press releases and further information on the communities under threat.
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].