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Annual Review 2003

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Much of the urgent work of a human rights organization is to expose abuses of rights wherever they occur, and to push for them to be stopped. The appalling treatment of Haitian migrants in the Caribbean, the threat to the intellectual property rights of indigenous and tribal peoples in Asia, and the grave situation faced by the Batwa people of Central Africa are just three of the issues which Minority Rights Group International (MRG) publicized in 2003.

But an equally important part of our work is to promote cooperation and understanding between communities. If there is a base of mutual cooperation between different ethnic or religious groups, conflict is less likely to develop. If majority populations understand the needs and concerns of minorities, abuses will decrease. And preventing violations of human rights is a lot better than publicizing violations after they occur.

Although politicians and governments often talk about promoting harmony, they rarely appreciate what is needed to translate fine words into genuine cooperation on the ground. This may include technical issues, such as designing the constitutional structures that can enable the public participation of all groups in society or achieve an appropriate balance between national unity and local autonomy. Last year MRG sought to address these questions in the complex processes of building new societies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No two societies are the same, and each will have its own pattern of ethnic, religious and linguistic traditions. The Constitution and laws of each country need to reflect and manage that diversity. But common to all is the need to ensure protection for minorities. That includes implementing safeguards for the lives, freedoms and identities of minorities and establishing effective means of redress if their rights are violated. This is a particularly difficult task in societies with recent experience of inter-ethnic conflict – as our work in the former Yugoslavia demonstrates – but one that is absolutely essential for reconciliation and future stability.

MRG works all over the world with partner organizations representing minorities and indigenous peoples who are anxious to play a fuller part in the societies in which they live. Yet too often, through poverty or through prejudice, they are excluded from the institutions of government, the media and the economy. This annual review highlights our efforts to overcome these barriers and our work in tandem with international development agencies to promote genuine cooperation between communities. If minorities are able to feel a valued part of society, then mutual understanding and cooperation will flourish. The benefits in terms of peace, democracy and development are those in which all society can share.

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