Working to secure the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples

Minority Rights Group International campaigns worldwide with around 130 partners in over 60 countries to ensure that disadvantaged minorities and indigenous peoples, often the poorest of the poor, can make their voices heard.

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Numbering many millions, the world’s stateless population spans a vast range of ethnicities, religions, languages and socioeconomic conditions. Their lack of formal citizenship of any country can leave them excluded from state structures, without the right to vote or access basic services such as healthcare or education. In extreme cases, statelessness may leave them vulnerable to violence and mass displacement.

There are many factors that can contribute to the prevalence of statelessness, from poor registration systems and patrilineal citizenship laws to contested national borders and forced migration. However, beyond the particular administrative and legal mechanisms that create and maintain statelessness, there is frequently a more fundamental force at play – discrimination. Indeed, for members of certain communities, statelessness is the extension of a long history of exclusion and denial.

While statelessness can affect anyone regardless of their background, including members of dominant or majority groups, the primary focus of this publication is the situation of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities across the world – communities MRG has been working directly with for more than 40 years – who are also stateless or at risk of statelessness. As members of disadvantaged and marginalized communities, often relegated by their governments to the sidelines on the basis of their identity, they make up a disproportionate number of the global stateless population. This is in part because the various factors that can elevate an individual’s risk of statelessness, such as poverty, limited access to judicial systems and a lack of official documentation, often affect these communities in particular.

At the same time, governments may deliberately manipulate nationality law as a tool of repression against particular communities. At its worst, statelessness, far from being an official oversight or shortfall, may be orchestrated to disenfranchise members of a particular ethnicity, faith or linguistic group. The persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya, for example, has been built on a steady attrition of their civic rights over decades of military rule, and the arbitrary killings, torture and mass displacement inflicted on them has been enabled in no small part by their representation as ‘outsiders’ in their own country.

Recognizing that statelessness is often not an accident but a logical outcome of discrimination, be it direct or indirect, is an essential step to ending the injustice of living without a country. This publication, Denial and Denigration: How Racism Feeds Statelessness, therefore highlights the intersection between minorities and statelessness, demonstrating that the lens of minority rights can provide a valuable perspective to understand why statelessness is still occurring, the ways it is affecting different groups and the steps that can be taken to resolve it.

Who are minorities?

Minorities of concern to MRG are disadvantaged ethnic, national, religious, linguistic or cultural groups who are smaller in number than the rest of the population and who may wish to maintain and develop their identity. MRG also works with indigenous peoples. Other groups who may suffer discrimination are of concern to MRG, which condemns discrimination on any ground. However, the specific mission of MRG is to secure the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples around the world and to improve cooperation between communities.

Photo: Refugees, thought to be Syrian Kurds, at Idomeni camp in Greece. Credit: Julian Buijzen.