Saturday, 1 March 2008

'Contagious' wars put minorities at risk

Written by: Timothy Large
Is war contagious? That's a question posed in a new report that finds a growing number of minority groups at risk of genocide, mass killing or violent repression as ethnic conflicts spill across borders. From the Horn of Africa to Central Asia, minorities are in the firing line.
The study by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) ranks Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Myanmar as countries where minorities are most under threat, followed by Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Chad.
Some of these hotspots are not surprising. The U.N. refugee body estimates that up to a third of Iraqi refugees who have fled to Jordan or Syria come from minority communities, including Armenians, Turkomans, Chaldo-Assyrians and Faili Kurds. In Myanmar, the ruling junta has long targeted the Karen, Rohingya and Shan ethnic groups.
But the "biggest risers" on the risk radar are less obvious - countries like Pakistan, Ethiopia and Chad. These nations have become more dangerous for minorities since MRG's last "People's Under Threat" report in 2007.
As MRG sees it, what's changed is the export of the ethnic dynamics of conflict to kin populations across borders.
"So where you have fighting between Arab militias and settled communities in Darfur, we now see exactly the same pattern of attacks and retaliation across the border in eastern Chad," explained MRG director Mark Lattimer.
"Where you have a community caught up in the war on terror in eastern Afghanistan, with operations focused very heavily in the Pashtun community, so we have an exact pattern of conflict replicated across the border of Pakistan."
Ethiopia is a prime example of how the chain reactions of cross-border violence can hit minorities hard. Consider this flow of events.
In December 2006, Ethiopian troops helped Somalia's transitional government oust Islamists from Mogadishu. In the process some 50,000 Somalis fled across the border into Ethiopia. Many brought small arms and bitter tales of Ethiopian acts in Somalia, helping to fuel a long-running insurgency in Ethiopia's Ogaden region.
Attacks by Ogaden rebels prompted Ethiopian forces to launch a major counter-insurgency campaign in Ogaden in June last year. No surprises that allegations soon arose of widespread abuses against ethnic Somali civilians.
According to Lattimer, the U.S.-led "war on terror" has been especially bad news for minorities, with many countries using it as a smoke screen to crack down on smaller groups that don't toe the majority line.
"In a country like Pakistan there's quite clearly the military operations in the North West Frontier Province against suspected Al Qaeda sympathisers which have resulted in mass violations against civilians, demolitions of houses and so forth," he said.
"But there's also a rapidly increasing pattern of violations against Baluchis in Baluchistan where really the links with the war on terror are very tenuous. Basically Pakistan is using the support of the United States and its ongoing military operations as an excuse to crack down on home-grown dissidents."
Below are the 10 countries MRG is most worried about in 2008, along with the minority groups potentially under threat. See also MRG's Global Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, a new database that promises to be a valuable research tool.

1 :Somalia
Darood, Hawiye, Issaq and other clans; Ogadenis; Bantu; Gabooye (Midgan) and other 'caste' groups
Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, Christians, Mandeans, Yezidis, Faili Kurds, Shabak, Baha'is, Palestinians
3: Sudan
Fur, Zaghawa, Massalit and others in Darfur; Dinka, Nuer and others in the South; Nuba, Beja
Hazara, Pashtun, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkomans, Baluchis
Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mons, Rohingyas, Shan, Chin (Zomis), Wa
6:Congo (DR)
Hema and Lendu, Hunde, Hutu, Luba, Lunda, Tutsi/Banyamulenge, Twa/Mbuti
Ahmaddiya, Baluchis, Hindus, Mohhajirs, Pashtun, Sindhis, other religious minorities
Ibo, Ijaw, Ogoni, Yoruba, Hausa (Muslims) and Christians in the north
Anuak, Afars, Oromo, Somalis, smaller minorities
'Black African' groups, Arabs, Southerners


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