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Spread of conflict makes Africa’s peoples the most threatened in the world – new global survey

25 February 2008

Over half of the top twenty countries in the world where people are most under threat of genocide or mass killing are in Africa, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG) as it launches the first ever online database of the world’s minorities and indigenous peoples.

The spread of cross-border conflicts has emerged as a major destabilising factor in Africa and sees states such as Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad and the Central African Republic dominate the top twenty list of MRG’s 2008 global ranking of Peoples under Threat, published to accompany the World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples on 27 February.

Chad has risen fourteen places up the rankings table since 2007. Widening inter-communal violence in the eastern part of the country has seen civilian communities targeted in the fighting between ‘black’ toroboro militias and Arab fighters – a cruel replica of the ethnic conflict now familiar across the border in the Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan.

“The international failure to respond to the human rights crisis in Darfur has now cost tens of thousands of lives, not only in Sudan, but in Chad and the Central African Republic,” says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director, “and the killing threatens to spread further in 2008.”

Ethiopia also figures prominently in the major risers – sporadic conflict in the Ogaden region bordering Somalia has led to widespread criticism of the Ethiopian military’s treatment of ethnic Somalis. UN reports have also highlighted human rights abuses against the Anuak minority group in Gambella state.

Alarmingly, states widely considered to be stable, such as Kenya, have been catapulted up the table – disputed elections in December 2007 exposed the tribal fault-lines in Kenyan society where competing political interests over-lapped with ethnic differences.

“Lesser known indigenous groups in Kenya such as the Ogiek have suffered as militias, profiting from the general insecurity, have attempted land grabs”, says Lattimer.

In Asia, Burma, Afghanistan and Pakistan feature amongst the top seven countries in the rankings.

In Burma the state crackdown against demonstrations led by Buddhist monks made the international headlines during 2007, but the continuing violent repression of minorities was barely reported. At least two UN experts have drawn attention to violations targeting ethnic groups including the Karen, Rohingya and Shan, MRG’s survey says.

Pakistan and Iran, both bordering Afghanistan, have risen significantly in the rankings this year. “The fall-out from military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq continues to spread to neighbouring states,” says Lattimer, “and is now engulfing whole new communities in the threat of violent conflict.”

Sri Lanka continues to march up the table where tough anti terror laws have fed into the increasingly deteriorating human rights situation, resulting in hundreds of killings, abductions and disappearances, mostly of ethnic Tamils and Muslims.

In the Middle East Iraq remains the most dangerous places for all peoples. However almost one-third of Iraqi refugees fleeing the conflict are believed to come from smaller minority groups and the most deadly suicide bomb attacks since the beginning of the war killed over 400 members of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi minority in August 2007, says the survey.

Notes to editors

  • 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 2008.
  • The survey is part of MRG’s newly launched online World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, a unique database compiled by expert researchers and set to become the first port of call for up to date information on the world’s minorities and indigenous peoples.
  • 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.

For more information and to arrange interviews with:

  • Mark Lattimer, MRG Executive Director (English)
  • Kiplangat Cheruiyot, Programme Officer for the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme, in Kenya (English, Swahili)

Contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].