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Middle East and North Africa: Protecting minorities and freedom of religion

Duration: January 2013-December 2015

Location: Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

Minorities: Religious minorities in the region, for example: Shi’a Muslims across the Gulf region; Armenian and Chaldo-Assyrian Christians, Sabean-Mandaeans, Yezidis and Feyli Kurds in Iraq).

What was this programme about?

This programme promoted minority protection and religious freedom in the Middle East and North Africa. We did this by increasing the capacity of religious minority activists in the MENA region to undertake effective advocacy in their countries and at the regional and UN levels.

What did we do?

  • Online training course for activists, covering minority rights, UN systems and regional structures relevant to MENA.
  • Networking meetings and training events for religious minority rights activists – the aim of these are to strengthen collaboration between civil society organizations
  • Research, publication and dissemination of rapid response briefings on the situation of religious minorities.
  • Support for participants to run government/civil society roundtables, and local advocacy campaigns.
  • UN-level advocacy training events in Geneva, Switzerland, held in conjunction with the annual UN Forum on Minority Issues.

Why are we implementing this programme?

There have been dramatic shifts in the political landscape of the Middle East and North Africa in recent years. Democratic advances may have been made; however, the transitions to democracy have not been smooth.

At least 90,000 lives have been lost due to conflicts across the region, and religious minorities in particular (both Muslim and non-Muslim) remain fearful from the growth of political Islam and the spread of new nationalisms.

Religious minorities in the region face attacks, limits to their freedom of religion, and discrimination. For example in Iraq, religious minorities are specifically targeted for killings, kidnappings or forced expulsion, usually by non-state actors such as militias and other insurgent groups (sometimes in collusion with the authorities), often espousing extreme forms of Islamic belief. 

Find out more…

Read the briefing The leaves of one tree: Religious minorities in Lebanon