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Minority groups in Asia at grave risk of mass killings: MRG

28 April 2014

Minorities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma remain at serious risk of mass violence or even genocide, according to this year’s internationally acclaimed Peoples under Threat index, produced by Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

All three countries remained in the critical top ten in this year’s index. Several minority groups were identified as extremely vulnerable to future atrocities. These include non-Sunni Muslims and Christians in Pakistan, Burma’s Muslim Rohingya, and communities on either side of Afghanistan’s ethnic fault-lines, including the Hazara.

‘The situation for minorities has improved in some parts of Asia over the past year, but significant dangers still exist,’ said Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director. ‘Ethnic conflict and sectarian violence have been a persistent problem in Pakistan and Burma, where minorities have been systematically failed by the state, and are at risk of rising again in Afghanistan.’

Intended as an early warning tool, the Peoples under Threat index seeks to identify peoples or groups that are most under threat of genocide, mass killing or violent repression in 2014. In previous years it has been widely used or cited by UN officials and other human rights and conflict prevention practitioners, and is for the first time on Tuesday being launched as an online map.

Conflict-torn Afghanistan has featured among the top ten countries for several years in a row. The Pashtun-dominated Taliban stepped up its attacks on civilians in the run-up to the presidential elections in April 2014. As the country faces major potential political re-alignment, there is a legitimate risk that ethnic conflict between Pashtun, on the one hand, and Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras will re-emerge.

Pakistan faces increasing sectarian and religious killings. Most international media attention has focused on the deadly conflict with armed Islamist groups, partly overshadowing other threats to religious and ethnic minorities. The Pakistani Taliban and other extremist Islamist groups continued their campaign of violent repression against Pakistani Shi’a, including Hazaras, as well as Christians and the Ahmadiyya sect, claiming the lives of hundreds of victims last year.

Burma, which is emerging from five decades of military rule, made mixed progress on its treatment of ethnic minorities over the past year – falling to number eight (from seven) in the survey. The government pushed ahead with ceasefire negotiations with armed ethnic groups, but violence continues to flare in the northern Kachin and Shan states, forcing thousands from their homes.

Meanwhile, a worrying trend of xenophobia and hate speech against its Muslim minority, especially the stateless Rohingya, continues to escalate. Last year was marked by episodes of violence against the Muslim population, fuelled by a disturbing campaign of hate speech and intimidation by Buddhist nationalists.

‘The government has turned a blind eye to the extremist rhetoric spouted by Buddhist nationalists while reinforcing discriminatory policies against its Muslim population,’ said Lattimer. ‘Unfortunately, all the conditions are in place for mass atrocities against Burma’s Muslim community, especially the stateless Rohingya, who are already subject to grave abuses.’

Peoples under Threat has been compiled every year since 2005 to provide early warning of potential future mass atrocities.

Notes to Editors

  • Interview opportunities:
    • UK: Mark Lattimer, Executive Director, Minority Rights Group International
    • Burma: Chris Lewa, Coordinator, The Arakan Project – [email protected]
    • Pakistan: Moazzam S. Bhatti, Advocacy Outreach Advisor, Sustainable Development Policy Institute – [email protected]
  • Visit MRG’s new online map that 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. EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01 (GMT+1) or 06.01 (ICT) on 29 April 2014.
  • Download the full Peoples under Threat survey, with a description of how it is compiled.
  • 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.

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