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Somalia tops list of countries where minorities most under threat

20 March 2007

Somalia is the world’s most dangerous country for minority communities and has overtaken Iraq to top a global ranking of countries where minorities are most under threat, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says in a new global survey.

Fierce fighting and the threat of state repression have seen Somalia, Iraq and Sudan lead this year’s ranking of ‘Peoples under Threat’, which is a major feature of MRG’s annual State of the World’s Minorities report. Last year Iraq led the list and Somalia was in third place.

‘A new government in Somalia has raised hopes for democracy, but it is also a uniquely dangerous time. There is the spectre of a return of large-scale clan violence – and groups that supported the old order are now under tremendous threat,” Mark Lattimer, Director of MRG says.

Key allies of the US in its ‘war on terror’, including the governments of Pakistan, Turkey and Israel, intensified repression of particular ethnic communities in 2006. Pakistan is in the top 20 list and Turkey and Israel/OT have both shown major rises in the rankings.

“US allies have managed to barter their support for the war on terror in return for having their human rights record ignored,” says Lattimer.

“The debate continues to rage about whether the ‘war on terror’ has made the world a safer place for the West, but it has certainly made it a much more dangerous place for minorities,” Lattimer adds.

According to the report one of the main spill-offs of the war on terror has been the rise in Islamophobia in the EU including the UK – affecting millions of ethnic Arab and South Asian and other Muslim minorities.

African States make up more than half of the top 20 list. Sudan is third in the list – a consequence of the continuing appalling levels of violence in Darfur, targeted at farmers such as Zaghawa, Masalit and Fur tribes, by government forces and Arab militia (Janjaweed), and the continuing failure of the international community to find ways of stopping the violence.

Iraq continues to see targeted killings of people from minority groups including Christians, Yezidis and Mandaeans. Other minority groups in Iraq face daily violence, torture and political assimilation, which has led to an exodus of these communities from the country.

Another major riser in the rankings is Turkey where tensions surrounding the EU accession process are driving a growth in virulent religious and nationalist extremism. These were thrust into the international spotlight by the murder of Turkish-Armenian human rights lawyer Hrant Dink in late December 2006. But the biggest jump of all is Sri Lanka which saw a return to conflict last year and which moved 47 places since 2006 to be ranked 14th in 2007. Minority Tamils and Muslims are not only caught up in fighting between government and rebel forces but are targeted for human rights abuses including abductions and disappearances because of their minority status. Afghanistan, Burma and Thailand are other Asian countries leading the list.

“In three-quarters of the world’s conflicts, the killing is now targeted at particular ethnic or religious groups. Because they are usually minorities their suffering is largely ignored,” Lattimer says.

“International leaders must wake up to the fact that many of today’s conflicts, particularly in Africa, are the result of decades of economic marginalization of minorities and indigenous peoples.”

Notes to editors

  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • The report will be launched at a press conference at the UN in New York on Tuesday, 20th March at 10:30 a.m.
  • Details of minority groups in each of these countries can be found in the ‘Peoples under threat’ rankings attached with this release.
  • Interview opportunities are available with: Ishbel Matheson, MRG spokesperson in New York; Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Director, in Geneva. Specialist interviews with MRG experts on particular regions or countries can also be arranged.

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