Somalilandsun – The use of inflammatory language and wide spread stereotyping in political debates, sermons, and the media continue to fuel hostilities ranging from intimidation to murder and indiscriminate attacks on minority and indigenous peoples across the African continent, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in its annual report.
A recurring pattern in a number of African countries is that minorities and indigenous peoples struggling to maintain their cultures in the face of widespread land-grabbing and other exploitation are demeaningly referred to as ‘anti-development’.
The international rights organisation’s flagship report, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014, which focuses on ‘Freedom from hate’ documents evidence from Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire and South Sudan showing how hate crime and hate speech have, in part, stirred acts of violence, and religious or ethnic discrimination across the continent.
‘If governments ignore hate crime, the perpetrators see it as a green light to continue,’ says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director. ‘The prevalence of hate crimes against minorities is widely under-estimated and is now being driven across borders by online propaganda, whether by sectarian jihadis or right-wing racists.’
In South Sudan, for example, inter-ethnic violence and hate speech continued to feed off a civil conflict that by January this year had displaced an estimated 335,000 civilians internally with another 78,000 having fled the country. The Murle in Jonglei were particularly targeted.
In Kenya, following an attack by Al-Shabaab militants on an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, the Kenyan-Somali community reported increasing incidents of hate speech from other Kenyans and increased harassment from authorities. Away from Nairobi central business district, encouraged in part by hate speech and rumours, Pokomo and Orma communities engaged in bloody revenge attacks at the start of the year.
The impact of hatred may extend beyond discrimination to more visible extremes. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than 40 armed groups operate, ethnic discrimination and hatred continue to fuel civil conflicts – including high levels of sexual violence – that benefit or enrich particular groups.
‘The impact on victims of violent crime is well-known, but when such crimes are motivated by ethnic or religious hatred, whole communities are made to feel under attack. Hate crimes need to be recognised as such and the perpetrators punished.’ says Mark Lattimer.
In Central African Republic, hate speech and targeted attacks during 2013 were responsible for exacerbating, with little precedent, a sectarian climate that has resulted in almost a million people internally displaced by year’s end of 935,000 civilians and 75,000 others fleeing the country. In the midst of an otherwise non-sectarian conflict, hate speech urging revenge between Muslims and Christian anti-balaka groups in media and online platforms gained prominence and it became easier for members both communities to regard the other group as collectively responsible for individual acts of violence.
Elsewhere in the region, minority and indigenous communities have been targeted as part of government security crackdowns. In Mali, French intervention at the start of the year against Islamist militants was successful, but security forces in the aftermath have been accused of targeting Arabs, Tuaregs and Peuhl in reprisal attacks.
Jolly Kemigabo, the head of MRG’s Africa office says the rhetoric of anti-terrorism and the precedent of the Rwandan genocide as well as outbreaks of ethnic and religious conflicts have all prompted countries in Africa to draft legislation prohibiting incitement. ‘However, instead of protecting vulnerable groups, this legislation is often used to prosecute political opponents and members of ethnic minorities. It is now a tool used to silence minority and indigenous communities who highlight human rights violations,’ she adds.
In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram escalated its attacks on government and civilian targets, including schools. The most recent high profile cases being the spate of abductions of school girls in the north of the country. Despite worldwide publicity and condemnation, the girls are yet to be rescued.
In both Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, legal cases were brought against security personnel and officials for their involvement in previous human rights abuses – an important step in addressing the climate of impunity for perpetrators, despite some concerns about the proceedings.
Even worse, Kemigabo adds, is the lack of data on hate speech and hate crimes against vulnerable minorities and indigenous peoples. ‘There is evidence though that minority and indigenous activists who speak out against discrimination, illegal eviction and human rights abuses find themselves charged with crimes such as incitement to violence, criminal trespass or hate speech.’
In Southern Africa, derogatory stereotypes and denigrating language have reinforced the marginalization of communities such as the San in Namibia and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, foreign migrants have also been subject to hate speech as well as physical violence, including a number of apparently targeted killings of Somalis during 2013. One positive step was the government’s announcement in September of plans to draft a policy framework on hate crimes – a step that could help increase protection for vulnerable minority and indigenous groups. However, as elsewhere, legislation alone may have limited impact without broader measures.
While the 2014 State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples documents disheartening levels of violence, harassment and verbal abuse across the continent, it also includes many examples of how hatred is being countered by legislators, politicians, journalists, and communities by addressing the root causes. Though there is still a long way to go before minorities and indigenous peoples in Africa are able to enjoy freedom from hate, these and other initiatives highlighted in the report show some of the ways forward.