Reuters International

By Lin Taylor

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mass killings, forced evictions and conflicts over land put indigenous and minority groups at risk of being eradicated from their ancestral lands, a human rights group said on Tuesday.

From Ethiopia, China and Iraq, the combination of armed conflicts and land dispossession has led to the persecution of minority groups and the erosion of cultural heritage, according to a report by the Minority Rights Group (MRG).

Carl Soderbergh, MRG director of policy and communications, said while discrimination against ethnic or religious minorities is not new, the level of targeted abuse is getting worse.

"The conflict that's happening in Syria and Iraq right now is leading to the massive displacement of smaller and very ancient religious minorities like the Yazidis and the Sabean Mandeans," said Soderbergh, lead author of the 'State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2016' report.

"They are essentially at risk of being totally eradicated in their traditional areas of origin."

Civil conflicts and sectarian tensions have engulfed Iraq since 2003 when a U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein. In 2014, Islamic State militants declared a caliphate after capturing swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Minorities including the Yazidi, Turkmen, Shabak, Christians and Kaka'i have been disproportionately affected by the recent violence in Iraq.

According to U.N. officials, Islamic State, also referred to as ISIS, has shown particular cruelty to the Yazidis, whom they regard as devil-worshippers, killing, capturing and enslaving thousands.

The persecution of Yazidis was recognised as genocide by the United Nations in June.

"It is getting worse. Whether it's armed groups like ISIS or (Nigerian Islamist group) Boko Haram or it's governments, there's this targeting of heritage that we're seeing, which is extremely worrisome," Soderbergh said.

He said many minorities and indigenous peoples also face forced resettlement or evictions from their ancestral lands to make way for large-scale infrastructure or agricultural businesses, which further threatens their cultural heritage and identity.

For example, in parts of East Africa, governments are pushing for pastoralist communities to switch to settled farming with supporters saying such a move will create better food security, curb conflict between herders and farmers and free up land.

But Maasai herdsmen say the privatisation and subdivision of their ancestral lands threatens ancient pastoralist practices, endangering livestock on which they depend and eroding communal rights to land and natural resources.

"Once a community is removed from the land, they really struggle to  maintain their cultures and convey their cultures to the next generation," Soderbergh said.

By 2115, it is estimated that at least half of the approximately 7,000 indigenous languages worldwide will die out, the report said.

Although some governments see these groups as a threat to the state, Soderbergh said minorities and indigenous peoples must be included in decisions that affect their communities.

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women's rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

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