Peoples of Syria and Somalia most vulnerable ones in the world

Both countries lead Minority Rights Group 2017 Index, in which risks faced by peoples are assessed · Several African countries, Turkey among this year’s main risers

Destroyed building in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia.
Destroyed building in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia. Author: Stuart Price/AMISOM
The peoples of Syria and Somalia are, by far, the most threatened ones in the world, according to the newest edition of the Peoples Under Threat index, which is released on an annual basis by the Minority Rights Group (MRG). Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, South Sudan, DR Congo, Yemen, Pakistan and Burma complete the list’s 10 top places as regards vulnerability of peoples to collectively endure attacks, massacres and genocides.

According to MRG executive director Mark Lattimer, the fact that “more and more governments are refusing access to international monitors” is among the most worrying rising trends nowadays. “International isolation is a known risk factor for genocide or mass killing. If governments are increasingly evading international scrutiny, this is a serious concern,” Lattimer has further said.

The MRG report takes into account factors such as the flight of refugees and IDPs, the rise of factionalized elites, the existence of group grievances and the memory of revenge, the degree of political stability, and the rule of law. In accordance with all of this, the 2017 index is again topped by the peoples of Syria, with more than 27 points. By comparison, Kosovo receives little more than 10 points, and Cuba it does not even reach 9.

In the case of the Middle Eastern country, the report highlights that virtually all peoples are in danger, including Sunnis, Shiites/Alawites, Yazidis, Christians, Druze, Kurds and Palestinians. The report recalls that the Syrian territory is divided into different control areas, each of which is mostly linked to one of those national or religious groups.

In Somalia, a country that has been divided by internal conflict since the mid-1980s, MRG points out that Bantu populations in the country’s south "remain particularly vulnerable, and inter-clan fighting is a persistent feature of the long-running conflict.” The country receives more than 23 points in the index.

Below those two countries, in the 20-point range, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and South Sudan are found. The report lists virtually all the main peoples living there as vulnerable. The Arabs of Sudan are the exception; in that African country, threats are focused on the peoples of Darfur and the Nuba mountains. Both areas are routinely attacked by central government forces.

Rises in Africa, Papua, Bangladesh, Turkey a matter of concern

Among the index’s main risers, four African countries (Burundi, Eritrea, Angola, Cameroon and Mozambique), Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh and Turkey are found. As regards Burundi, the report warns of the “return of the rhetoric of Hutu-Tutsi division into public discourse,” which in the 1990s helped to bring about a genocide in that country and in neighbouring Rwanda.

In Mozambique —which rises 18 positions in the list— the report speaks of “mass displacement and allegations of extra-judicial executions and mass graves” amid an “escalation in the conflict between the FRELIMO-led government and the opposition RENAMO over autonomy and marginalization in the north.”

In Papua New Guinea, MRG tracks “inter-tribal attacks”. The report argues the country’s rise in the index “reflects the approach of the referendum scheduled for 2019 on the status of Bougainville,” which is set to vote on its secession from Papua New Guinea in 2019. Bougainville suffered an armed conflict 20 years ago.

As regards Turkey, the report regrets “President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian grip” amid a “particularly dangerous” context of conflict in Kurdistan.