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Risk of mass killing rises in African countries following foreign military intervention – 2013 Peoples under Threat global survey

10 July 2013

The risk of mass killing has risen sharply in Libya and Mali, following recent foreign military intervention, and the threat to populations remains critical in other African states, such as the Central African Republic, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there is a prolonged history of international military involvement, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in its 2013 acclaimed global survey, Peoples under Threat.

According to authoritative indicators factored into the Peoples under Threat analysis, which lists countries where communities are most at threat of genocide or mass killing, Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic have all risen significantly in the table.

The survey illustrates starkly just how little we know about the efficacy of international action to prevent atrocity. While it is possible that foreign military action may halt an episode of mass civilian killing or decrease its intensity, it may also prolong or intensify killing, or even initiate a conflict where there was none before. In some cases, it may have the effect of shifting violence away from one people or population group onto another or others, says MRG.

‘Foreign armed intervention is now the norm in states with peoples at risk, but there is a widespread failure to track the effect on civilians,’ says Mark Lattimer. ‘If we fail to count the dead, how can we be sure that interventions are not doing more harm than good?’

Libya and Mali are recent cases where success has been claimed for large-scale foreign military interventions, the first in support of rebels and the second in support of the government. Both countries were major risers in the index last year too.

Although NATO air power helped topple Libya’s President Gaddafi in 2011 and led to democratic elections in 2012, large areas of the country remain under the effective control of different militia groups. Security for the population has worsened and dark-skinned Libyans, including former residents of Tawergha, are vulnerable to racist attacks and arbitrary detention.

In Mali, French President François Hollande’s decision to send troops to regain the north of the country from Islamist rebels led to the looting of Arab properties in Timbuktu and much of the Arab population being forced to flee, as were Tuaregs who were perceived to have initiated the rebellion. The UN estimates that some 470,000 people have fled the fighting, with Arabs and Tuaregs remaining at risk of reprisal attacks as well as inter-ethnic clashes in the north.

In the Central African Republic, despite benefitting from military support from both neighbouring Chad and France over the years, the eventual overthrow of the government of President François Bozizé in a rebellion in March 2013 has seen the victorious fighters of the Séléka alliance commit a wave of human rights abuses. Tens of thousands of people remain displaced and the humanitarian situation in the country has deteriorated markedly in one of the world’s forgotten crises.

MRG urges the international community to first consider peaceful means of influencing a state’s human rights performance before engaging in military intervention.

‘Foreign military intervention lies at one end of a spectrum of possible international engagement, such as diplomatic pressure, expulsion from international organisations, severance of diplomatic relations, economic sanctions, arms embargoes, international prosecutions of military or political leaders, and travel bans or asset freezes,’ says Mark Lattimer.

Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, countries that have perennially been among the top ten in the rankings, have all been subject to multiple military interventions by both foreign armies and by inter-governmental organisations, over the course of decades.

Nigeria re-entered the Peoples under Threat top ten this year, as the threat rose from conflict between Christian and Muslim communities, much of it over land, in Plateau and neighbouring states and in the north-east.

The Islamist group Boko Haram issued an ultimatum calling on Christians to leave in January 2012 and then launched a campaign of attacks on Christians in the north-east, killing hundreds and displacing thousands. Following the imposition of a state of emergency in three states in north-eastern Nigeria in May 2013, accompanied by a media blackout, the Nigerian army has been accused of arbitrary killings and disappearances in its operations against Boko Haram.

Elsewhere on the continent, Kenya is among the significant risers in this year’s global rankings.

Notes to Editors

  • Interview opportunities are available with:
    • UK: Mark Lattimer, Executive Director, Minority Rights Group International
    • Libya: Mariam Elhadri, Coordinating Officer, Lawyers for Justice in Libya – [email protected]
    • DRC: Didier Kamundu Batundi, Secrétaire Général, SOPROP – [email protected]
    • Nigeria: Benjamin Terhemen Utim, Humanity Knights Network[email protected]
    • Egypt: Mamdouh Nakhla, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Al-Kalema Centre for Human Rights – [email protected]
    • Kenya: Wilson Kipkazi, Programme Officer, Endorois Welfare Council
  • 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 2013. It is created by compiling authoritative data on the known antecedents to genocide or mass political killing. As an early warning tool, it has been widely used or cited by UN officials and other human rights and conflict prevention practitioners. The survey, with a description of how it is compiled, will be available at 03.01 (East Africa Time) 10 July 2013 on MRG’s website. Download the full briefing here and the full table here.
  • Minority Rights Group International is a non-governmental organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • For more information: MRG Press Office – [email protected]

Peoples under Threat is funded by the European Union. This content is the sole responsibility of Minority Rights Group International and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.