UNITED NATIONS — Ethnic and religious minorities accounted for more than 75 percent of those targeted in war worldwide last year, according a report released Jan. 19. The Bush administration’s “war on terror,” says the report, is a main culprit in the persecution of minority peoples.
“State of the World’s Minorities 2006” was issued by the Minority Rights Group International, a nongovernmental organization with consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Commission. It lists problems in nearly all of the world’s countries, and defines “minorities” as any “non-dominant ethnic, religious and linguistic communities who may not necessarily be numerical minorities.”
Mark Lattimer, executive director of MRGI, told a press conference, “In every world region, minorities and indigenous peoples have been excluded, repressed and in many cases killed by their governments. In extreme cases where the situation has deteriorated into civil conflict — as in the Sudan, in Burma and in Iraq — we see whole communities living under grave threat for their lives.”
“In war today,” Lattimer continued, “the targeting of minorities is no longer the exception but has become the norm. In three-quarters of the world’s conflicts in 2005, violence was targeted at specific ethnic or religious groups. And the tragedy is we could have seen it coming.”
Lattimer said his group found two main trends while compiling the report, which aims to predict global trouble spots. One was the overwhelming number of African peoples on the list. Citing the situations in the Sudan, Nigeria and elsewhere, he said, “We see different minorities or indigenous peoples continuing to live in a situation of grave risk.”
The second trend is the growing “number of states where the oppression of minorities is linked directly to the ongoing ‘war on terror’ by the United States.”
Gay McDougall, the United Nations expert on minority issues, agreed with the report’s conclusions. “Ethnic and religious minorities are disproportionately affected by these ‘counterterrorist’ measures, including the use of emergency powers that displace the normal judicial processes,” she said. “Minority communities are under more stress because of these measures, their livelihoods are more threatened, and the value of their role in society and their existence is being brazenly questioned as well.”
Lattimer said, “In situation after situation, governments have justified repression of their minorities by reference to the war on terror.” He condemned many governments allied to the U.S. who are “in effect turning what should be a struggle against terrorism into a war on minorities, a war on minority civilians.”
Minority women and young people are particularly vulnerable, Lattimer said. Women face rape or the threat of rape in many armed conflicts.
The recent riots in France by young people, many of African descent, are related to massive unemployment and problems in education in minority communities, he said.
McDougall said that an important problem for people from minority communities is racial profiling, which “we certainly know in this country, from the treatment of other minorities, is a very dangerous and corrosive approach to any kind of law enforcement. It is without a doubt a threat to those who are identified as having Arab identity or Islamic faith in [the United States].”
While the U.S. war on terror is a major factor in the repression of minority peoples abroad, McDougall singled out specific problems within the U.S. itself.
McDougall told the World the response to Hurricane Katrina “unmasked the reality that’s been with us in this country for a couple of centuries. That is that there is a major group in this country that has not been incorporated into the benefits of society since slavery. No Reconstruction did it, no war on poverty has done it, no more recent policies have done it.”