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War on terror Africa conflicts threaten minorities

‘War on terror,’ African conflicts threaten minorities: UN-assisted report

The so-called “war on terror” as well as African civil conflicts have heightened the threat to minorities around the world, placing groups in Iraq and Sudan most at risk, according to a study released at United Nations Headquarters today.

Ethnic groups in Somalia, Afghanistan and Myanmar are also in the top five “Peoples under Threat 2006,” in the first edition of The State of the World’s Minorities compiled by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Minority Rights Group International (MRG), with the assistance of varied UN units.

“Many governments in both the South and the North persist in labelling some people a threat simply because they are members of a minority,” Juan Mendez, the UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, writes in the report.

Mr. Mendez says he sees the report as an important step in the prevention of genocide, as discrimination and other threats to minorities are the warning signs of that horror, as are impending civil conflict in countries with a history of ethnic strife.

“In fact, in war today, the targeting of ethnic minorities is no longer the exception but has become the norm,” Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of MRG, said at the launch of the study at UN Headquarters in New York.

Mr. Lattimer noted that in three quarters of the wars active in 2005, violence was targeted at specific ethnic and religious groups.

In Africa, in addition to the groups endangered in well-known conflicts, minorities in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire have come under greater threat during 2005, according to the report.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Caucuses in Central Asia are among the many areas where the repression of minorities has been justified by reference to the war on terror, Mr. Lattimer said.

“At each stage in the management of Iraq post the 2003 war, you’ve seen mistake after mistake made which has helped to encourage division by ethnicity or religion,” he said, citing as an example the decision to split up membership of the Iraqi Governing Council by ethnicity or religion, and warning of a slide “into civil war.”

The report advocates a case-by-case approach to minority grievances and movements, with less reliance on military means to counter what it acknowledges is the very real threat of terrorism.

At the launch event, Gay McDougal, UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, reminded correspondents that the minority issue was not just about violence, despite the focus of the report on threats.

“It is also about giving the best, the fullest potential that diverse societies can produce,” she said.

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