Peoples under Threat 2018: Government crackdowns on freedom of speech and political opposition now key factors in threat of mass killing and other violence
The threat of mass killing, genocide and other violence is rising in countries where governments are resorting to repressive measures to suffocate dissent, according to new data analysis by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.
The analysis, known as the Peoples under Threat index, seeks to identify those countries around the world that are most at risk of genocide, mass killing or systematic violent repression. This year's index shows the threat level has particularly increased in countries where creeping authoritarianism and oppression of journalists and civil society continue to define government responses to political opposition.
'This year's survey underscores how repressive government responses are now key contributors to the risk of mass killing and other violence,' said Claire Thomas, MRG's Interim Executive Director. 'Increasingly, risks are not only in failed states where governments are unable or unwilling to protect their populations, but also where governments use perceived threats as an excuse to crack down on specific groups as well as on civil society more generally.'
In Ethiopia, for example, the government has used violence to quell intensifying protests in the marginalized Oromia region. Security personnel continued to quash political opposition, killing more than 1,000 protestors during the course of the year and arresting tens of thousands of others. A state of emergency was announced in February, resulting in severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association. Arbitrary detention and torture remain pressing issues.
The threat level has also increased in Turkey, where Recep Tayyip Erdoğan consolidated control of the country amidst a mass purge of journalists, public officials and teachers, following the failed coup attempt in 2016. Turkish armed forces have repeatedly clashed with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters, particularly in Diyarbakir governorate, leading to large-scale displacement and hundreds of civilian casualties, particularly affecting the country's Kurdish community.
A similar pattern can be seen in Venezuela, which has also risen up the Peoples under Threat ranking, as the government under Nicolas Maduro has violently suppressed protests against its rule.
Non-state armed groups play a central role in the escalation of conflict in many of the highest-ranking countries on the list, such as Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Somalia, driven by political rivalries, extremist ideologies or competition over resources.
Niger, for example, is experiencing major upheavals as a result of ongoing violence perpetrated by the Boko Haram insurgency. In March, the government declared a state of emergency in the western areas bordering Mali and launched a major military operation after attacks on soldiers and civilians by armed groups in Tillabéry and Tahoua. Hundreds of journalists, protestors and opposition politicians were arrested last year in the government's crackdown against dissent.
In Iraq and Libya, also both ranking high in the index, the threat from the so-called Islamic State (IS) may be more contained but the proliferation of other militias leaves populations at grave risk.
'The response of the international community to threats against civilian populations has ranged from inaction to disastrous military intervention. Both have exacerbated the situation in many countries,' said Mark Lattimer, Director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.
In Myanmar, for example, the recent forced displacement of the Rohingya minority has been met by a weak response from the international community and looks unlikely to be resolved in the near future. And in Syria, ranked once again at the very top of the index, the military support offered by Iran and Russia to the Assad regime has contributed to a spike in civilian deaths, while bombing by the international coalition against IS has also led to an undisclosed number of civilian casualties.
This is the 13th year that the Peoples under Threat index has been released by MRG. Based on current indicators from authoritative sources, the index provides early warning of potential future mass atrocities.