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Asian governments must combat hate crime towards minorities and indigenous peoples, says annual survey

3 July 2014

Hate crime towards minorities and indigenous peoples is a daily reality across Asia but is often ignored by the governments of the region, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) warns in its annual report.

This year’s flagship report, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014 , is themed around ‘Freedom from Hate’ and shows that a worrying trend of vilification and hostility towards minorities and indigenous peoples has spread across the region.

A key aspect of hate crime and hate speech is its invisibility, especially when governments or societies overlook or tolerate entrenched patterns of discrimination against particular communities, says MRG. Across Asia, governments have failed to provide adequate protection to its minority and indigenous populations.

‘Hate crimes have been able to flourish in Asia largely as a result of the complicity or support of politicians who stand to gain from the persecution of minorities,’ says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director. ‘Hate speech goes unchallenged and crimes are often under-acknowledged and under-reported, enabling perpetrators to operate with impunity.’

Many Asian countries do not have hate speech laws, instead relying on blasphemy and criminal defamation legislation, which are more commonly used to silence political dissent than to protect victims of abuse.

Minority and indigenous communities in South Asia were feeling the effects of political transition in 2013. In India – where 26 sitting legislators have past charges of hate speech — the use of inflammatory language increased ahead of this year’s general elections. Research undertaken on behalf of MRG exposed the role played by political parties in encouraging anti-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh last September.

In January, Bangladesh also held national elections amid violent protests and popular anger over the proceedings of the International Crimes Tribunal, which saw attacks on Hindu minorities in the Muslim-majority country. Pakistan is witnessing a surge in violence against its Shi’a and Hazara communities, despite undergoing its first-ever transition of power between two democratically elected governments.

In Sri Lanka, Buddhist nationalists are conducting an increasingly vocal hate campaign against the country’s Muslim minority, including calling on people to boycott halal food and Muslim-owned businesses. The government has done little to stop them.

Hate crimes send a message not only to the individuals targeted, but also to their communities. This is especially evident in gender-based violence against minority and indigenous women, with rape and sexual assault employed as a weapon of war or an instrument of oppression to fragment and humiliate entire civilian populations, warns MRG.

In July 2013, a Dalit woman in Nepal who reported her attempted rape by an upper-caste man was covered in soot and garlanded with shoes by a mob of 60 people, with the assault videotaped and uploaded onto YouTube.

In Southeast Asia, minorities were used as scapegoats to advance xenophobic political agendas, culminating in attacks on communities viewed as ‘foreign’ in several countries. In Cambodia, anti-Vietnamese invective was used by the opposition party in a bid to discredit Prime Minister Hun Sen, while ‘yellow shirt’ protesters in Thailand whipped up anti-Cambodian sentiments.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak blamed a ‘Chinese tsunami’ for the electoral losses he suffered in May 2013, aggravating ethnic tensions in the diverse Muslim-majority country.

But it was in Burma, where a slow process of reform has opened up some degree of free expression, that the situation for minorities was arguably most acute. In addition to reports of ongoing military abuses against ethnic minorities, a large number of Muslims, including the stateless Rohingya, were killed or displaced during the year by Buddhist vigilantes.

‘Normalised discrimination and hate speech lead inexorably to violence towards minorities and indigenous peoples,’ added Lattimer. ‘That is why it is imperative for countries to curb the use of demeaning or inflammatory language in political discourse, sermons, the media and online.’

In Australia, hostile rhetoric against refugees and asylum seekers in the media and among politicians has driven increasingly negative popular attitudes towards these groups and harsher policies of containment, including offshore processing centres.

While this year’s report documents disturbing levels of violence and propaganda targeting minorities and indigenous peoples in Asia, it also includes many examples of how hatred is being countered by legislators, politicians, journalists, and local communities.

Notes to editors

  • Interview opportunities:
    • Mark Lattimer, Executive Director, Minority Rights Group International
    • Nicole Girard, Asia Programme Coordinator at MRG and co-author of the South Asia chapter (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh)
    • Hanna Hindstrom, Asia Information Officer at MRG and author of the South-East Asia chapter
    • Mome Salim, Research Co-ordinator at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (Pakistan) – [email protected]
    • Chris Lewa, Co-ordinator at The Arakan Project (Burma) – [email protected]
  • State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014 is available for free download
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization 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.

To arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected] .