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Terror War Victimises World's Minorities

by Thalif Deen, InterPress Service, March 20, 2007

But the biggest jump of all is Sri Lanka which saw a return to conflict last year and which moved 47 places since 2006 to be ranked 14th in 2007. Minority Tamils and Muslims are not only caught up in fighting between government and rebel forces but are targeted for human rights abuses including abductions and disappearances because of their minority status. -- Minority Rights Group report

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 20 (IPS) - The U.S.-led war on terror has triggered a strong backlash against some of the world's minorities, including ethnic and religious groups, according to a study released here Tuesday.

"The debate continues to rage about whether the 'war on terror' has made the world a safer place for the West," noted Mark Lattimer, director of the London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG) International. "But it has certainly made it a much more dangerous place for minorities."

Titled the "State of the World's Minorities", the 2007 edition of the annual study points out that some of the countries where minorities continue to be repressed include key allies of the United States in its war on terror, including Pakistan, Turkey and Israel.

"U.S. allies have managed to barter their support for the war on terror in return for having their human rights record ignored," Lattimer said.

State of the World's Minorities 2007
A Tamil child living with her family in the damaged remains of the Jaffna railway station, Sri Lanka, having been displaced by the war

Somalia is "the world's most dangerous country for minority communities" and has overtaken Iraq to top a global ranking of countries where minorities are most under threat, according to the annual survey. Sudan has been ranked third.

African states make up more than half of the top 20 list. Among the African countries where minorities are under attack are Sudan, Nigeria, Angola, Burundi and Rwanda.

Asked why the problem is so acute in Africa compared to other parts of the world, Lattimer told IPS: "Africa has long suffered from high rates of civil conflict, and this affects minorities disproportionately."

In part, he argued, "this is a legacy of colonial times, but in some states, government and opposition politicians continue to use ethnicity as a mobilising factor, often with disastrous consequences, as we have seen before in Rwanda and see now in Darfur."

In other states, most notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ethnic militias have been used by other countries as proxies to gain illegal control of valuable mineral resources, he added.

In Asia, Sri Lanka has taken a major leap in rank, jumping 47 places since the previous year, and is now in the top 20 list.

This has been attributed to the resumption of heavy fighting primarily in eastern Sri Lanka. The origins of the war go back to a decades-long ethnic conflict.

The report says that minority Tamils and Muslims are not only caught in the crossfire between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group, but are also specifically targeted for human rights abuses, including abductions and disappearances because of their minority status.

Other Asian countries where minorities are under threat include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand.

In Pakistan, the minority communities under repression include Ahmadis, Hindus, Baluchis, Mohhajirs, Pashtuns and Sindhis, according to the report.

Pakistan's cooperation in the war on terror has resulted in virtual impunity against the human rights violations committed against minorities, it adds.

The MRG list also includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, the Russian Federation, Haiti, Iran, Yemen, Lebanon, and Guinea.

According to the study, negative fallout from the ongoing war on terror also includes the rise in Islamaphobia in the 27-member European Union (EU), including Britain, which has affected millions of ethnic Arab and South Asian and other Muslim minorities.

Mouin Rabbani, a contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report, said: "I think the observation that the United States has given key allies a free ride on their human rights records in exchange for their support since the 9/11 attacks (on U.S. landmarks in 2001) is only partially correct."

This is not because there has been serious scrutiny, but rather because states that were also allies before that time were already exempt from all but the most cursory forms of scrutiny, except in cases were effective domestic political pressure dictated otherwise.

"The observation that scrutiny has been reduced I think only applies to states whose relationship with the United States changed in the aftermath of 9/11," Rabbani told IPS.

Pakistan, for example, had in recent years lost some favour as the key U.S. ally in South Asia, and there were strains in the relationship between Washington and the regime of President Pervez Musharraf.

All that changed as Pakistan emerged as a key ally after the invasion of Afghanistan, with a commensurate elimination of questions about the legitimacy of the Musharraf military regime and its practices within Pakistan, he added.

In the case of Israel, for example, "I don't think there has been an appreciable difference since 9/11," Rabbani added.

He believes there was perhaps more support as Israel's enemies increasingly became identified as Washington's own, but says this is a question of degree not direction.

"I think the observation that there has been a dramatic rise in Islamophobia in Europe since September 2001 is entirely correct. While the phenomenon was not absent before then, the available empirical evidence certainly sustains this conclusion," he added.

Asked what the United Nations or the international community could do to mitigate the problems of minorities, Lattimer told IPS: "The 'war on terror' has made the world a more dangerous place for minorities because governments have both stigmatised whole communities as 'terrorist' and targeted the civilian population accordingly, or because they have pledged their support for the 'war on terror' in order to persuade the United States to turn a blind eye to their ongoing repression of minorities."

The United Nations and the international community thus has a particular duty to state unequivocally that collective punishments, racial profiling and other targeting or punishment of communities on the basis of their religion or ethnicity is completely unacceptable, he noted.

'The international community should no longer continue to allow atrocities against civilians to be excused as actions against 'terrorist sympathisers' or as collateral damage," Lattimer added.