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Global ‘war on terror’ has become a global war on minorities

8 September 2006

The global ‘war on terror’ has turned into a war on minorities as millions of people from minority communities face blatant human rights violations in the name of counter terrorism, Minority Rights Group International says.

The London based human rights group says that since September 11th 2001 governments have increasingly used the ‘war on terror’ to target minorities, particularly ethnic and religious ones, and clamp down on their rights. The past five years have also seen minority communities erroneously stigmatised as terrorists.

‘Too often the ‘war on terror’ has come at the expense of human rights. In most cases people from minority communities have been the target, often suffering in silence because of their minority status,’ Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of MRG says.

‘The indiscriminate or cynical use of the term “terrorism” is also effectively criminalizing and repressing minority groups. Too often entire minorities are being labelled terrorists,’ he adds, ‘in the place of effective international cooperation targeted at groups such as al-Qaeda.’

MRG says that the ‘war on terror’ has provided a convenient cover for many countries to escape their human rights obligations and engage more easily in attacks against minorities. In Latin America, the term ‘terrorist’ has in many places replaced ‘communist’ as means to justify suspension of the basic rights of indigenous people and to avoid dialogue over issues such as land and resources. Countries such as China, that don’t have a visible terrorism problem, have used anti-terror laws to repress minorities, including Uyghur Muslims, Tibetans and Mongolians.

According to MRG, in most cases anti-terror laws target Muslim minority groups and have resulted in an increase in arbitrary arrests, detention without charge or trial and torture of people from these communities. The United States, Canada and some European states including the United Kingdom, Spain and Holland have seen anti-terror laws produce violations of the rights of Muslim, Asian, north African and Middle Eastern minority communities. The Muslims and South Asians living in these countries often feel targeted and isolated potentially leading to an increase in sympathy with extremist groups, the silencing of moderate voices and setbacks for women’s rights.

MRG says the UK has cooperated in the ‘rendition’ of suspects arrested without charges to countries where they may face torture and other human rights violations.

In other countries that have been directly affected by the ‘war on terror’, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, minorities have suffered particularly badly as the security situation has deteriorated and violence has increased, MRG states.

In some states a poor human rights track record, particularly in treatment of minorities, has been effectively overlooked by Western states in return for support in the ‘war on terror.’ Central Asian countries where Muslim groups face increased persecution and other Asian countries including Pakistan have avoided censure in the past five years for violating human rights and democratic abuses, MRG adds.

‘The high-profile violations of the rights of minorities by the US and other Western states in the name of the ‘war on terror’ have given a licence to other states around the world to excuse or justify their own repression of minorities,’ Lattimer says.

‘For decades the international community worked tirelessly to establish universal standards of human rights and safeguards for minorities. The last five years have seen a steady erosion of these safeguards in the name of the ‘war on terror,’ Lattimer adds.

For further information or for interview requests please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].

Notes to editors

  • To mark the anniversary of September 11 2001, see MRG’s latest table showing more details and regional and country specific examples of how the ‘war on terror’ has affected minorities.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.