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Rising Threats to Minorities in Sudan, Russia, Philippines

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2010 (IPS) - The growing threats against minorities and ethnic groups – who are vulnerable to mass killings and genocides – have significantly increased in three countries: Sudan, Russia and the Philippines.

A new survey by the London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG) concludes that “governments which are most likely to kill their own people are those who have done it before”.

The annual survey, titled ‘Peoples Under Threat’ and released Tuesday, says that Sudan, Russia and the Philippines are this year’s top three major risers in the annual global rankings for 2010.

“The most startling riser in the table this year is the Russian Federation, which has risen seven places,” says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s executive director.

The current survey is the fifth in a series which seeks to identify peoples or groups that are most under threat of genocide, mass killings or other systematic violent repression.

Somalia, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan lead the rankings overall for 2010. Pakistan, one of the major risers for the last two years, is sixth on the list.

And despite claims of recent progress, Somalia and Iraq remain entrenched in the top three.

Both the Bantu and Gaboye in Somalia, and numerous minorities in Iraq continue to face persecution in the context of ongoing conflict and inter- community rivalry.

Although under-reported, says the latest survey, conflict has escalated again both in Chechnya and in the neighbouring Russian republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan.

With recent bombings on the Moscow underground, the combination of circumstances is dangerously close to those that prevailed in 1999 before the start of the second Chechen war, which caused the deaths of at least 25,000 civilians.

Asked about the role of the U.N. Human Rights Council in protecting the rights of minorities, Lattimer told IPS the Geneva-based Council has criticised the human rights records of all three countries singled out in the survey.

But any penal measures or sanctions against member states effectively require a resolution of the U.N. Security Council, he added.

As a result of a U.N. human rights mission to Sudan, the Security Council referred Sudan to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which approved an arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir last year.

As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia, on the other hand, can of course veto any measures tabled against it, he said.

“But Russia is also sensitive to criticism by European institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights which has censured Russia for its conduct in the Chechen war and awarded compensation to victims of human rights abuses,” Lattimer added.

The survey also points out that the perspectives of the post-9/11 world have recast, as wars of religion, minority struggles that are in many cases decades old.

“Whether in South Sudan, the North Caucasus, Mindanao, Yemen or Xinjiang, there is a tendency, particularly in the United States, to highlight the religious aspects of situations which only a few years ago were regularly described as ethnic conflicts,” it says.

In fact, says the survey, it could be argued that both ethnic and religious differences have primarily been abused by politicians – national and international – either to mobilise or to stigmatise particular communities. And that the real roots of such conflicts lie not in religious ideology but in people’s long-term economic marginalisation and their aspirations for greater autonomy over their own affairs.

For one thing, since 9/11 governments of every political hue have become adept at justifying the violent repression of minorities, particularly but not exclusively Muslim minorities, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it says.

At the same time, for governments or the international community to see complex conflicts primarily through a religious lens suits the agenda of Islamic extremists, who can claim impacts far beyond their often very limited military capacities, the survey notes.

Finally, and perhaps more worryingly, if governments behave as if conflicts are all about religion, then increasingly they become about religion.

“And once religious divisions become entrenched, conflicts can be much harder to resolve,” it says.

Asked about the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council, Lattimer told IPS the Council remains an important forum for examining a state’s minority rights record, but it moves slowly and is largely limited to criticism rather than action.

“It is also a body made up of states, where the powerful ones can use their influence to dampen criticism,” he noted.

All these factors, he said, make it poorly equipped for dealing with a crisis, such as when an episode of mass killing occurs.

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