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New data shows rising authoritarianism is causing instability and violence for minorities worldwide, says MRG

16 December 2021

The rise of authoritarianism across the globe in recent years directly impacts societies struggling with division, conflict and violence, according to new data gathered by Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

The 2021 Peoples under Threat index underscores the ways in which authoritarian actions cause greater threat and insecurity for minority and indigenous communities, from repressive nationalistic security practices and power conflicts to heightened surveillance, violent enforcement and weaponization of migration, often facilitated by external support.

‘The contours of authoritarianism vary based on context, but one element resonates everywhere – an imposition of actions that cannot be contested,’ says Joshua Castellino, Executive Director of MRG. ‘At a time of complexity and fragmentation, minorities and indigenous peoples are being used as scapegoats to generate artificial majorities in an attempt to distract from governments’ inabilities to respond to complex technical challenges such as environmental change and poverty in their societies,’ he adds.

This year, three countries make their first appearance in the Peoples under Threat table – Armenia, Morocco and Belarus. It also marks a clear rise for countries such as Azerbaijan, jumping 19 places to 25th position, Mozambique, jumping 13 places to 22nd position and Côte d’Ivoire, now 46th, up 12 places compared to the 2020 edition. The highest-ranked countries remain mostly the same as last year – with Syria, Somalia, South Sudan and Afghanistan at the top, closely followed by Yemen, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, with marked deterioration in the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Myanmar. Over half of the countries among the top fifteen are on the African continent.

A major trend is the evident reversal of positive changes across the world. Fragile democratisation and forward-looking development processes saw a relapse into political violence and authoritarianism. This is particularly evident in Afghanistan, where the new Taliban regime is suppressing the freedoms and rights of women, while ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Shi’a Hazara, face heightened persecution. Besides extensive life loss and mass displacement, the ongoing large-scale armed conflict in Ethiopia has also led to increased inter-ethnic violence across the country. While in Myanmar, the military coup and the resultant violent suppression of pro-democracy protests have further impacted the existing conflicts of ethnic minorities with the government, including in Rakhine state, the epicentre since 2017 of the military’s genocidal campaign against the Rohingya.

‘While authoritarian states do receive varying degrees of popular support, often anchored in ideological uptake and economic inducement, their authority is essentially rooted in the credible threat of violence exercised in the name of security against relatively vulnerable segments of society, who have limited capacity to resist such practices and receive little help from domestic or external sympathizers,’ says Derek Verbakel, author of the Peoples under Threat 2021 briefing.

Europe has also evidenced a relapse towards conflict and nationalist political agendas. Following a period of relative peace, the grievances between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the secessionist Nagorno-Karabakh rekindled into a full-out war last autumn at great loss of life and political deterioration in both countries. Repeated border clashes continue to put at risk the civilians in conflict areas, primarily inhabited by Armenians, and cast doubts over the peace process. Meanwhile, in Belarus, migration has resurfaced as a weapon. Thousands of asylum seekers have been trapped for months at the border with Poland following Alexander Lukashenko´s strategy to counteract sanctions imposed by the European Union in response to alleged fraudulent elections and subsequent violently suppressed mass protests.

­­‘As a global community we have long known and understood that threats towards communities, be they large or small, create conditions of instability that heighten risk and damage prospects for peace. Yet the inability to act is driven by the fact that political power is attuned to the needs of elite wealth generation,’ Castellino concludes.

Notes to editors

  • Visit MRG’s online map which visualizes data from Peoples under Threat. View the map by year or by country, and find links to reports, press releases and further information on the communities under threat.
  • Download the full Peoples under Threat 2021
  • The Peoples under Threat index calculation includes indicators of democracy or good governance from the World Bank; conflict data from the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research and the Center for Systemic Peace; data on the number of refugees, internally displaced persons and other populations of concern from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); indicators of group division or elite factionalization from the Fund for Peace and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; the US State Failure Task Force data on prior genocides and politicides; and the country credit risk classification published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) 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.

Photo: Migrants gesture and hold signs as they protest against repatriation outside the transport and logistics centre Bruzgi on the Belarusian-Polish border, in the Grodno region, Belarus, 25 November 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel.

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