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Increased risk for minorities as war against terrorism spreads to Africa – new global survey

2 July 2009

Minorities in Africa are at greater risk than ever before from the war against terrorism as well as from repressive governments, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says as it launches its annual ‘Peoples under Threat’ ranking.

Half of the top 20 countries in Peoples under Threat 2009 are African states, reveals MRG in its internationally acclaimed global survey released today. The Peoples under Threat ranking lists countries based on the threat to civilian life of genocide, mass killings and/or violent repression.

“Ethnic and religious minorities are at major risk in Somalia and Yemen, as well as in Sudan. The threat is also rising in Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose governments’ involvement in regional conflicts is compounding the risk of repression at home”, says Carl Söderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications.

Somalia leads the table, whilst Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria are amongst the 10 top countries. In each of these states violence against minorities of a widespread or systematic character is ongoing, MRG says.

According to MRG, although the rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’ may have been abandoned, the military response to violent extremism as promoted by the US and other countries has resulted in a new generation of identity conflicts that have placed whole communities in peril in the Middle East and West Asia, and now also in the Horn of Africa.

Marginalized minorities outside the clan system in Somalia are at particular risk from the growing conflict.

“The threat to civilians in much of south and central Somalia is now at crisis point. Historically poor or marginalized minorities with no militias to defend them, such as the Bantu or Gaboye, are at particular risk,” Söderbergh says.

The threat is not only limited to the Horn of Africa, but is prevalent throughout the continent. Niger, Zimbabwe, Guinea and Kenya have shown some of the biggest rises in the ranking compared to previous years.

Niger has shot up 12 places since 2008. Despite peace talks in 2009 between Tuareg rebels and the government, MRG says it is too early to count on de-escalation in a conflict that had led to allegations of widespread human rights abuses.

A power-sharing deal in Kenya, a major riser this year, helped end the wave of violence in the first part of 2008 sparked by a disputed election. However MRG warns that, without some resolution of the land issues that underpinned discontent, there may be a revival of violence, particularly in the Rift Valley and around Mount Elgon.

The survey also finds that recent military coups in both Guinea and Guinea-Bissau have raised the spectre of wider revenge killings and also of existing ethnic tensions turning violent.

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which ranks seventh in the table, escalated in the second half of 2008, displacing a further 250,000 people.

“Despite the arrest of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, joint military operations in the Kivus by Rwandan and Congolese troops have failed to end gross human rights violations that have torn the east of the country,” Söderbergh says.

Notes to the Editor

  • The Peoples under Threat survey will be launched at a press conference in Uganda: 2 July 2009, 1.30 PM, Grand Imperial, Kampala
  • The Peoples under Threat survey seeks to identify those peoples or groups that are most under threat of genocide, mass killing or other systematic violent repression in 2008.
  • For an embargoed copy of the survey please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected]
  • Carl Söderbergh, MRG Director of Policy and Communications and Tezera Getahun, Executive Director of Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia (PFE), will be present at the press conference
  • This is the fourth year MRG has compiled the ranking. 2008 ranking can be found here.
  • 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.

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