Peoples under Threat 2011

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Risk factors for mass killing
Major risers since 2010
The dangers of transition
Where the killing is ongoing
Peoples most under threat - highest rated countries 2011
How is Peoples under Threat calculated?


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The popular uprisings that swept the Arab world in early 2011 have been compared by some commentators to the fall of the Berlin Wall. In an exhilarating push for democratic change, long-term rulers have been ousted and others challenged seriously for the first time. But despite what has been achieved, many voices from the region have urged caution: even in those countries which have seen the greatest changes, the internal security apparatus and other structures of repression have remained largely intact and the struggle for real constitutional reform continues.

Quite apart from the question of the likely outcome of attempted reform is the separate, albeit related, question of the human cost of challenging the established order. Video footage of armed police and in some cases tanks confronting unarmed protestors has graphically demonstrated the dangers attending the ‘Arab Spring’. Yet the risks to civilian life, and levels of actual violence, vary widely across the region. The ability of a state to undergo political change without violence is widely considered a hallmark of a mature democracy (although the record shows that democracies, even very old ones, are hardly immune from violent conflict). Which combination of circumstances, then, makes the onset of mass killing more likely and which conditions lower the risk of a state, even an autocratic one, descending to bloody violence?

It is to help answer such questions that Minority Rights Group International has developed the Peoples under Threat index. Since 2005 Peoples under Threat has pioneered the use of statistical analysis to identify situations around the world where communities are most at risk of mass killing. On numerous occasions since the index was first developed, countries that have risen sharply up the table have later proved to be the scene of mass human rights violations. ^top

Risk factors for mass killing

The Peoples under Threat index is created from a basket of ten indicators, all known antecedents to mass violence. These include indicators of good governance, rule of law, prevailing conflict, international trade risk, and previous experience of genocide or political mass killing. They reflect the fact that communities are more at risk in closed states with poor governance, prone to conflict and with a record of previous killing.

Separate research by MRG has shown that in some three quarters of recent conflicts, much of the killing has been targeted by ethnicity or religion. Leading studies concur, however, that the degree of ethnic diversity in a state is not itself positively correlated with risk of conflict. This apparent paradox resolves when we note that risks rise sharply when socio-political divisions in society fall on ethnic or religious lines. Ethnicity and religion have also proved powerful mobilising factors once conflict begins, and are typically reflected in patterns of human displacement. Peoples under Threat thus also includes indicators of group division. Many – although not all – of the specific communities listed as under threat will be minorities, whose smaller numbers and relative degree of marginalization will increase their vulnerability. More information on the methodology of Peoples under Threat is given below. 

Major risers since 2010

RankRise in rank since 2010 Country Group Total
3 1
Afghanistan Hazara, Pashtun, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Baluchis
10 9 Côte d'Ivoire Northern Mande (Dioula), Senoufo, Bete and Guéré, newly-settled groups 17.63
15 5 Yemen Zaydi Shia, 'Akhdam'
20 3 Nepal Madheshis (Terai), Dalits, linguistic minorities 14.09
21 3 Uganda Acholi, Karamojong, Basongora, Batwa
25 4 Guinea Fulani (Peul), Malinke
36 19 Kyrgyzstan Uzbeks, Russians
46 10 North Korea
Political/social targets, religious minorities
50 New entry
Kosovo Serbs, Roma/Ashkali/Egyptians, Bosniaks, Turks, Gorani
64 New entry Libya 'Black' Libyans, migrant workers, political/social targets, Berbers

Download the full Peoples under Threat table as a PDF file

Among those states that have risen significantly in the table since last year are two from the Arab world, Yemen and Libya. The threat level in Yemen has now risen sharply every year for the last five years, as the population faces at least four separate patterns of political violence: the renewed conflict with al Houthi rebels in the north of the country; a separate campaign by the Southern Movement which has taken control of four districts in Shabwa; bombing and violent clashes in Abyan between government forces and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; and finally, popular demonstrations against the government in Sana’a, Aden, Taiz and other major cities which have met with violent repression leading to over 80 deaths. The greatest humanitarian toll has to date been suffered by the Zaydi Shia population in the north where some 300,000 people have been displaced, many repeatedly, but as the state begins to fracture other communities are also at risk, including the ‘Akhdam’, a group who are historically marginalized in Yemen and live without tribal protection.

The situation in Libya has dominated news headlines around the world as US- and NATO-led forces have carried out aerial bombing in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which mandated a no-fly zone and other measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. Civilian deaths have increased since the start of international military action, particularly in Misrata and towns on the central coast as troops loyal to Colonel Gaddafi have launched fierce attempts to regain control. There were also casualties in the mainly Berber town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, which was retaken by the government in mid-March, and at least 500 Berbers have fled Libya to Tunisia. Since the early days of the Libyan uprising there have also been reports of organized racist attacks on so-called ‘Black’ Libyans and foreign workers, particularly in rebel-held areas. Officials of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees related that refugees arriving from eastern Libya at the Egyptian border reported that armed Libyans had been going from door to door, forcing sub-Saharan Africans to leave. Tens of thousands of refugees arriving at camps in both Tunisia and Egypt have said they were accused of being mercenaries hired by the government, and told of racist killings and beatings. In all, some 500,000 people have fled the country, a large proportion of them foreign workers. Libya has a long history of discrimination against its large population of sub-Saharan migrants, including racially-motivated killings, previously earning the censure of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Other Arab states also occupy relatively high positions in the Peoples under Threat index, including Syria which rose in the table this year and which has a history of violent repression of both Kurds and Palestinians. The most notable riser in the table this year, however, is Côte d’Ivoire, which jumped nine places to enter the top ten. Following disputed Presidential elections in November, the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power, despite international calls for him to resign. The conflict that ensued saw the onset of mass killings driven by ethnic factors that have divided the country for the last decade. By the end of March 2011 (the make-up date for Peoples under Threat) over 1,000 people had been killed, included hundreds of Guéré civilians in the western town of Duékoué. Even with the departure of Gbagbo and the installation of President Alessane Ouattara, the risk of further killing remains high, with over one million internally displaced, and armed militias on both sides threatening revenge attacks. A recent mission for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found evidence of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence in the capital Abidjan and the rest of the country. The UN Security Council has called on President Ouattara to form an ‘all-inclusive, broad-based government’, and to implement his promise to investigate human rights violations and initiate a justice and reconciliation process, but the level of cooperation across the north-south divide is poor and intercommunity trust largely absent. ^top

The dangers of transition

Recent events in both Côte d’Ivoire and in the Arab world underline that political transitions – even from authoritarianism towards democracy – carry inherent dangers. For those spearheading protest or revolution, the most immediate danger may come in the form of violent repression from a threatened regime. But in many situations, minorities have the most to fear from political instability itself, or from the negative side of popular movements. This was perhaps most tragically demonstrated in recent history by the series of ethno-nationalist conflicts that were sparked by the fall of the former Eastern Bloc, and a number of the situations that figure prominently in Peoples under Threat this year are still marked by that legacy.

In Kyrgyzstan, following the overthrow of President Bakiyev in April 2010, MRG warned that political tension could take on an ethnic character and called on the interim government to prevent an escalation of violence against minorities. Unfortunately in June widespread rioting broke out in the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad. Although both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks were involved in the violence, Uzbeks were disproportionately affected, with ‘groups of ethnic Kyrgyz attack[ing] ethnic Uzbeks in a systematic manner, killing, looting and burning, sometimes provoking counter attacks’, in the words of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. Some 500 people were killed, mostly Uzbeks, and 2000 buildings destroyed. An official inquiry into the events released in January pinned much of the blame for starting the violence on local Uzbek politicians, reflecting the reluctance of the Kyrgyz authorities to accept responsibility for their failure to protect the Uzbek community during the June events, itself a dangerous precedent.

Figures are included on Kosovo, as a separate entity from Serbia, for the first time this year, and it has jumped into the table at number 50. With Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2009, the Kosovo Serbs became at a stroke Europe’s newest minority. In practice the community, heavily concentrated north of the River Ibar, became highly segregated after 1999 when Kosovo became an international protectorate, with separate systems for education, healthcare and policing. The community still looks to neighbouring Serbia for security. Serbs living elsewhere fear a repeat of the anti-Serb violence of March 2004, when over 4,000 were displaced. Complaints of lack of effective protection and forced assimilation are also voiced by smaller minorities, including Bosniaks, Turks, Gorani, Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians.

However, Kosovo is not the highest placed part of the former Yugoslavia in the table; that unwelcome distinction falls to Bosnia and Herzegovina which remains stuck at number 28 after a difficult year in which attempts at constitutional reform to improve minority participation were blocked and political deadlock worsened further. A year ago Bosnia’s senior politicians and representatives of the international community agreed that despite the country’s political problems, a return to inter-ethnic violence was impossible; now, some are not so sure.

Accomplishing successful political transition is always partly about managing popular expectations and in Nepal a series of stalemates in the constitutional reform process is turning high expectations into rising frustration. After the end of the war in late 2006, prospects for the country improved but Nepal has remained relatively high in the Peoples under Threat table, and rose again this year. Entrenched discrimination against Dalits, marginalization of the Janajati and unaddressed grievances of Madhesis in the Terai are all factors contributing to deep divisions in Nepalese society.

Two other states that have risen in the table this year, Uganda and North Korea, could hardly be more different, but both have long-term, ageing rulers facing the prospect of inevitable transition. North Korea is the most closed society in the world, but everything we know about it indicates that the calculus of mass repression is highly systematic. In Uganda, which saw mass ethnic killing before the coming into power of the National Resistance Movement, human rights violations and communal tensions have both risen again in the last years of Museveni’s Presidency. In both states, the exact form that transition will take is hard to predict, but it is a dangerous time. ^top

Where the killing is ongoing

Peoples under Threat is designed to identify at the earliest possible stage those situations where communities are at risk of future killing, but the sad reality is that in many of those states at the top of the list the killing is ongoing. Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria have remained over time at the head of the list, joined in recent years by Pakistan and Ethiopia.

This year Somalia marks 20 years without an effective government, since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991. The situation deteriorated once again during 2010, with heavy fighting in Mogadishu. Clashes in Somaliland, generally considered the most peaceful part of the country, displaced more than 3,000 people in Sool, Sanang and Cayn this February. In November a new report from Minority Rights Group International detailed the appalling situation of the country’s minorities: Bantu, Benadiri and the ‘caste’ groups which together are estimated to constitute up to a third of the population. The traditional clan structure of Somali society excludes minorities from any but the most low-status employment, denies them proper education and meaningful political participation, and prevents inter-marriage with members of majority clans. Outside the clan protection system, minorities live a precarious existence where they can be attacked or dispossessed with impunity. However, as the situation in Mogadishu demonstrates, it is not just the minority communities who are at risk: the ongoing conflict has repeatedly fractured society on clan lines, and inter-clan rivalry has touched every region of the country.

Afghanistan tops the list of major risers in the table this year, rising to number three. Civilian deaths have climbed every year for the past five years, totalling nearly 3,000 in 2010 according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Over 75 per cent of these the UN attributes to anti-government forces, including the Taliban, while government forces, NATO and the US were together responsible for 440 civilian killings, nearly half in aerial bombing. The continued weakness of the central government, internal disunity and systemic corruption contribute to the poor prognosis, as does the fact that the Taliban now appear able to carry out complex, coordinated attacks in the capital. Any further escalation of the conflict or major re-alignment of power in Kabul carries the risk of large-scale bloodshed in a country still split between the Pashtun-dominated south, heartland of the Taliban, and the largely Tajik-Uzbek strongholds of the former Northern Alliance.

Sudan rose in the table last year in advance of a nationwide referendum on the future of South Sudan. The vote went ahead in January, resulting in a strong mandate for secession, but the region has been scarred by inter-communal violence and clashes between militia groups and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of the southern government. Over 100 people have been killed and 20,000 displaced in the disputed territory of Abyei, where a separate referendum on whether to join the north or south of Sudan was prevented by failure to agree the ground rules. In a situation with uncomfortable echoes of the continuing violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, Missireya Pastoralists in Abyei are confronting Ngok-Dinka communities, while the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the SPLA have both sent deployments. In a joint statement in March, the UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect warned that ‘Given the perception that the SAF supports the Missireya Arabs and the SPLA supports the Ngok-Dinka, a standoff between the two armies is very dangerous... [and] could easily trigger further ethnic-based violence in Abyei.’  ^top

Peoples most under threat - highest rated countries 2011

Rank Country Group Total
1 Somalia Minorities incl. Bantu, Benadiri and 'caste' groups (Gabooye etc.); clan members at risk in fighting incl. Hawiye, Darod, etc. 23.66
2 Sudan Fur, Zaghawa, Massalit and others in Darfur; Dinka, Nuer and others in the South; Nuba, Beja 21.89
3 Afghanistan Hazara, Pashtun, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Baluchis
4 Iraq Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians, Mandaeans, Yezidis, Shabak, Faili Kurds, Baha'is, Palestinians 21.31
5 Burma/Myanmar Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mons, Rakhine, Rohingyas, Shan, Chin (Zomis), Wa 20.99
6 Pakistan Ahmadiyya, Baluchis, Hindus, Mohhajirs, Pashtun, Sindhis, other religious minorities
7 Dem. Rep. of the Congo
Hema and Lendu, Hutu, Luba, Lunda, Tutsi/Banyamulenge, Batwa/Bambuti, other groups
8 Ethiopia Anuak, Afars, Oromo, Somalis, smaller minorities
9 Nigeria Ibo, Ijaw, Ogoni, Yoruba, Hausa (Muslims) and Christians in the North
10 Côte d'Ivoire
Northern Mande (Dioula), Senoufo, Bete and Guéré, newly-settled groups

Download the full Peoples under Threat table as a PDF file


How is Peoples under Threat calculated?

Since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, our ability to identify those situations most likely to lead to genocide or mass killing has improved. A number of comparative studies of the factors preceding historic episodes of political mass killing had been undertaken since the 1970s, including by Helen Fein and Ted Robert Gurr, but it was not until the 1990s that researchers such as Rudolf Rummel and Matthew Krain pioneered quantitative longitudinal analysis of a wide range of such factors, enabling the testing of different causal hypotheses. Rummel, for example, showed the very strong relationship between concentration of government power and state mass murder; Krain demonstrated the correlation between existing armed conflict or political instability and the onset and severity of mass killing.

Following the early work of the Clinton administration’s policy initiative on genocide early warning and prevention, Professor Barbara Harff, a senior consultant with the US State Failure Task Force, constructed and tested models of the antecedents of genocide and political mass murder and her results were published in 2003 (‘Assessing Risks of Genocide and Political Mass Murder since 1955’, American Political Science Review 97, February 2003). Her optimal model identifies six preconditions that make it possible to distinguish, with 74 per cent accuracy, between internal wars and regime collapses in the period 1955 – 1997 that did, and those that did not, lead to genocide and political mass murder (politicide). The six preconditions are: political upheaval; previous genocides or politicides; exclusionary ideology of the ruling elite; autocratic nature of the regime; minority character of the ruling elite; and low trade openness.

Minority Rights Group International has drawn on these research findings to construct the Peoples under Threat table, although responsibility for the final table is exclusively our own. Peoples under Threat is specifically designed to identify the risk of genocide, mass killing or other systematic violent repression, unlike most other early warning tools, which focus on violent conflict as such. Its primary application is civilian protection.

Indicators of conflict are included in the table’s construction, however, as most, although not all, episodes of mass ethnic or religious killing occur during armed conflicts. War provides the state of emergency, domestic mobilization and justification, international cover, and in some cases the military and logistic capacity, that enable massacres to be carried out. Some massacres, however, occur in peacetime, or may accompany armed conflict from its inception, presenting a problem to risk models that focus exclusively on current conflicts. In addition, severe and even violent repression of minorities may occur for years before the onset of armed conflict provides the catalyst for larger scale killing.

The statistical indicators used all relate to the state. The state is the basic unit of enquiry, rather than particular ethnic or religious groups at risk, as governments or militias connected to the government are responsible for most cases of genocidal violence. Formally, the state will reserve to itself the monopoly over the means of violence, so that where non-state actors are responsible for widespread or continued killing, it usually occurs with either the complicity of the state or in a ‘failed state’ situation where the rule of law has disintegrated. Certain characteristics at the level of the state will greatly increase the likelihood of atrocity, including habituation to illegal violence among the armed forces or police, prevailing impunity for human rights violations, official tolerance or encouragement of hate speech against particular groups, and in extreme cases, prior experience of mass killing. Egregious episodes of mass killing targeted principally at one group have also seen other groups deliberately decimated or destroyed.

However, some groups may experience higher levels of discrimination and be at greater risk than others in any given state. Minority Rights Group International has identified those groups in each state which we believe to be under most threat. (This does not mean that other groups or indeed the general population may not also be at some risk.) It should be noted that although these groups are most often minorities, in some cases ethnic or religious majorities will also be at risk and in relevant cases are therefore also listed in the table. In some cases, all the groups in the country are at risk of ethnic or sectarian killing.

One indicator that has been tested and discarded by a number of studies is the general level of ethnic or cultural diversity in a society. Krain did not find any correlation between ‘ethnic fractionalization’ and the onset of genocide or political mass killing. Similarly, neither of the patterns of ethnic diversity tested by Harff had any effect on the likelihood of mass killing (although she did find the minority character of the ruling elite to be significant). These findings are supported by research on the relationship between diversity and conflict.

The overall measure is based on a basket of ten indicators. These include indicators of democracy or good governance from the World Bank, conflict indicators from the Center for Systemic Peace and other leading global conflict research institutes, indicators of group division or elite factionalization from the Fund for Peace and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the State Failure Task Force data on prior genocides and politicides, and the country credit risk classification published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (as a proxy for trade openness). For citations and further information, see the notes to the table. For a fuller discussion of the methodology, see State of the World’s Minorities 2006.

Based on current indicators from authoritative sources, Peoples under Threat seeks to identify those groups or peoples most under threat in 2011. ^top


2011 Online briefing
2011 Full table

Previous tables and briefings

2010 Online briefing
2010 Full table

2009 Briefing
2009 Full Table

2008 Briefing
2008 Full table



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