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War against Islamic extremists putting lives of civilians in Asian countries under extreme threat

2 July 2009

Being in the frontline of the war against Islamic extremists has put people under severe risk in Pakistan which leads a global ranking of countries where the threat to civilian life has risen the most in 2009, Minority Rights Group International says as it launches its annual global ‘Peoples under Threat’ ranking.

Pakistan is the most significant riser in the ranking compared to the last year and is now placed sixth. This is due to a dangerous combination of a rapidly escalating conflict against different Islamist groups in North-West Frontier Province and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas, the existing use of violent repression to suppress dissidents in other areas of the country, and growing violence in national politics, MRG says.

“Ethnic and religious minorities across West Asia are under greater threat than ever before as a result of escalating military operations against Islamic extremists,” says Mark Lattimer, Director of Minority Rights Group International.

“As identity conflicts have taken hold, Pakistan and Afghanistan have become among the most dangerous places in the world for civilians,” he adds.

The recent escalation in fighting in Pakistan has resulted in the largest forced movement of civilians in the country’s history with some 2.5 million people displaced. Many of them are ethnic minority Pashtuns and include religious minorities such as Christians and Sikhs.

MRG says the crisis in north and west Pakistan can be seen as an extension of the failed tactics used in Afghanistan, with high civilian casualties from military operations, including aerial bombing from un-manned US drones, stoking opposition in Pashtun communities to the government and its allies.

Peoples under Threat is a ranking of countries where civilians face the biggest risk of genocide, mass killings or violent repression. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Nepal are the Asian countries placed highest in the list.

Last year in 2008 Sri Lanka was also amongst the top risers. The country recently declared an end to a 30 year-old conflict following an intense military campaign which was continuously justified by the government of Sri Lanka as a ‘war on terror’. The de-escalation in fighting in Sri Lanka now reduces the immediate threat of mass civilian casualties but MRG remains concerned about the human rights situation of ethnic minority Tamils and Muslims.

“While Sri Lanka enters a new post-conflict era more than 300,000 ethnic minority Tamils and Muslim languish in appalling conditions in displaced camps in the country,” says Lattimer.

“The military offensive in Sri Lanka was entirely framed in the context of a ‘war on terror’ making it both taboo and dangerous to raise the legitimate grievances of minorities or issues of human rights protection in the country,” he adds.

Notes to the Editor

  • 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.
  • This is the fourth year MRG has compiled the ranking. Previous rankings can be found here.
  • 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 (Executive Director, MRG) or MRG researchers for Asia, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].