The violation of minority rights is often a first sign of an approaching conflict, which could be prevented by protecting minority communities at an early stage, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has stated in a new report.
"There is no 'one-size-fits-all' model for conflict prevention but consideration of minority rights can help offer solutions," MRG said in Minority Rights: The Key to Conflict Prevention, issued on 26 June.
The report cites conflicts in Sudan's Darfur region, Chechnya, Kashmir, Kosovo and Sri Lanka as some of the world's most bitter, which were "all fuelled and fought over ethnic, linguistic, religious or cultural issues".
"All concern minority groups," MRG said. "Disregard for minority issues lies at the heart of many conflicts. But despite this, minority rights have been marginalised in international conflict prevention."
MRG works to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous people worldwide. It works with at least 150 organisations in nearly 50 countries.
MRG identified key areas where action is needed for minorities to be protected and conflict prevented. These include issues of identity, participation - on both a political and economic level - land rights, justice and non-discrimination.
The MRG report also outlines 10 steps that can be taken post-conflict to prevent the resumption of religious or ethnic warfare. These include a fair judicial system accessible to all, enforcement of laws against hate speech, economic development that does not marginalise certain communities, and an education system that teaches respect for minority languages and cultures.
The report, based on a two-year programme of research by MRG, covers discussions with minority communities, UN staff in conflict areas and government officials in countries with critical minority issues.
There needs to be much greater emphasis on avoiding the occurrence and recurrence of conflicts, MRG recommends. "All those involved in conflict prevention, development, financial, political and rights-related issues need to pay attention to minority rights within their work," MRG said. "For example, knowing different communities at the grassroots [level], understanding the effects of their work on different communities and providing for genuine participation of women and men from minorities in country strategy/programming documents."
MRG added: "Anti-discrimination mechanisms are also essential to ensure the functioning of a multi-ethnic society, and international decision-makers have a role to promote this within good governance.”
Regarding early warning, MRG said there needed to be both greater coordination and coherence, with a strengthened international role to ensure accountability and greater attention to rights violations.
"In peacemaking, much greater attention to minority rights will also be worth the investment," MRG said. "Minority expertise in the key bodies that deal with conflict in the UN is needed."
This expertise, MRG suggested, needs to be translated into the country mission to ensure that the knowledge is used on the ground.