Iraq topped the report's list of areas where minorities are under threat, scoring the highest total of a combination of factors which include "major armed conflicts" and "rise of factionalised elites".

 

Minority Rights Group International, a British advocacy organisation, found that violence was targeted at religious, ethnic and other minority groups in three-quarters of the world's conflicts in 2005.

 

Mark Lattimer, the group's executive director, told a press conference on Thursday: "In every world region, minorities and indigenous peoples have been excluded, repressed and, in many cases, killed by their governments. In war today, the targeting of minorities is no longer the exception, but has become the norm."

 

The group used data collected by the World Bank, conflict prevention institutes and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in preparing its first State of the World's Minorities report.

 

Using a basket of 10 indicators such as measures of conflict, governance and economic risk, the group compiled a list of 70 countries where minority groups were under threat for any reason at all including the war on terror.

 

The top 15, in descending order of threat, were Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Burundi, Angola, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Ethiopia, Russia and the Philippines, it said.

 

Repression of minorities

 

In Iraq, the top concerns were the violent repression of Sunni Muslims and others considered opponents of the US-supported government, and the forced displacement or intimidation of smaller minorities, it said.

 

While Lattimer acknowledged that Iraq's parliamentary elections were a huge step towards democracy, he said: "The likely result is a political pattern in Iraq which shows an increased division between different ethnic or religious groups."

 

"When minority rights are violated and minority issues ignored, the entire society is really at risk"

Gay McDougall,
UN independent expert on minority issues

He cited a series of mistakes since the US-led war in 2003 which "helped encourage a division by ethnicity or by religion" starting with the decision to split up membership of the Iraqi governing council by religion.

 

He said it has continued with one-sided criticism of insurgent killings of Shia but a failure to criticise human rights violations against Sunni civilians "by the governing forces in Iraq".

 

In the region surrounding Iraq, Lattimer said governments are justifying suppression under the guise of fighting terrorism.

 

Those governments have in effect transformed "what should be a struggle against terrorism into a war on minorities".

 

Focus on Africa

 

Africa was the most concentrated area for minority peoples under threat listed in the report, with nine of the top 15 most dangerous countries from the continent.

 

Lattimer said the threat against minorities has also greatly increased in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

 

Gay McDougall, a UN independent expert on minority issues, said the 215-page report would give a clearer picture of the problems faced by minorities.

 

"When minority rights are violated and minority issues ignored, the entire society is really at risk.

 

"Further along the spectrum, minority rights violations may ultimately lead to the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity resulting in the targeting of minorities in situations of armed conflict."

 

Across the board, the most common threat was found to be repression of minorities by the state, sometimes in the context of a struggle for self-determination, the group reported.

 

Juan Mendez, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, also contributed to the report.