Iraq & Somalia: Improving freedom of ethnic and religious minorities through conflict-prevention programmes

When the Human Rights Watch published their World Report 2013 drawing on events from the end of 2011 through November 2012, they detected great injustice and violent procedures, that were still undermining people’s rights. Improving fundamental rights and living conditions of ethnic and religious minorities is still an issue, for instance in Somalia or Iraq – and it gets addressed.
Even though one could call the progress sporadic and uneven, Somalia and Iraq seem to try to improve their policies in dealing with ethnic and religious minorities by implementing so-called conflict prevention programmes. Those programs aim at securing protection, promoting fundamental freedom of minority groups and strengthening the capacity of civil society organisations so that they can report and lobby on violations of minority rights.
The programmes are conducted by the Minority Rights Groups, which is a non-governmental organisation, and local partners in the respective countries. They try to fight against human right abuses and denials of the people’s fundamental freedom for instance by organising capacity- building workshops for women and small minorities. More than 200 workshops were held in Iraq alone. The efforts lead to first results when the Basra Provincial Council Committee for Religious Minorities in Iraq called upon the central government to provide support for Iraqi Christians wanting to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Reportedly, it took multiple steps to protect members of minority religious groups and address their concerns, providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced minority groups, including Christians. This can be considered stunning news as the country used to be rather known for discrimination of non-Muslims who reported systematic disadvantages, especially regarding employment opportunities as well as frequent hostilities of sectarian violence. Now, unheard activities are reported aiming at an integration of religious groups. There are, however, still significant drawbacks. The human rights conditions still remain poor for activists, women, girls and particularly for Iraqis with disabilities who are mostly excluded from education or employment as well as for religious minorities which have been in difficult positions for many years. Also in Somalia, people still feel the long history of discrimination, which escalated into patterns of human right violations.
In both countries, the efforts must be seen as promising steps in the right direction. Recent reports said that the situation in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, had already somewhat improved, with less open armed conflicts. In Iraq, the government has agreed upon the fact that the right for religious freedom is inherent in every human being. There are, however, still countless steps to be made towards a better life for the Iraqi and Somali population.