State of the world’s minorities and indigenous peoples 2016

Minority Rights Group


While economics and politics often dominate discussions about minority and indigenous communities’ rights, culture is no less important. A right to culture is central to the enjoyment of a range of rights, from education and health to language and livelihoods. However, even in contexts where cultural rights are well established, they rely on a constant reaffirmation of tolerance, awareness and understanding between groups. This report brings together thematic essays exploring MRG’s work, gender, the environment and legal mechanisms, regional overviews from around the world and Peoples Under Threat Index 2016.

As the meaning of culture has broadened to include everyday expressions of identity, so too has the scope of the right to culture. In practice this not only means non-discrimination with regard to participation in both minority and state cultural life, but is also linked closely with rights to language, education, religion, land rights and economic rights. Indigenous peoples face threats to their right to culture in a number of forms, including: assimilationist policies, misappropriation of their art, unacknowledged use of Traditional Knowledge, and a lack of redress for historical injustices. While restrictions on rights are often seen as a tool for maintain social cohesion, there are global examples of how culture can be a mobilising force for change. Even in instances such as FGM and child marriage, where the protection of fundamental human rights must take precedence, actions can be taken to ensure states meet international obligations.

The essays explore the need to take a gender perspective when looking at culture and cultural rights; the significant role indigenous communities play in environmental stewardship and the ways in which traditional knowledge can contribute to a more sustainable bio-cultural model; and the continuing role international law and jurisprudence will occupy in furthering minority and indigenous communities’ rights.

Case studies and examples illustrate a number of challenges minorities and indigenous peoples ‘ are facing around the world, as well as instances of resistance.

  • Challenges to their right to culture include: forced displacement from communal lands and established ways of life as a result of development projects and ongoing ethnic violence; increased disaster risk as a result of climate change; restricted right, or unrecognised access, to traditionally-held land; colonial legacies underpinning state-advocated assimilation; lack of implementation of legislation; and nationalist agendas justifying discrimination.
  • Resistance to these challenges include: minorities continuing to celebrate their culture in the face of state discrimination; younger generations actively re-engaging with their culture; and communities mobilising to stand up against pressures from extractive industries and nationalist agendas.

The report concludes with the Peoples Under Threat Index 2016. It calculates risk of genocide, mass killing or other systematic violent repression based on a number of indicators taken from data on conflict, governance, population flight, group division, and the OECD country risk classification. Syria continues to rank first, with a number of other countries such as Iraq, South Sudan, Libya, Ukraine, Egypt, Burundi and Equatorial Guinea rising through the ranks over the past 12 months.


MRG International. (2016). The state of the world’s minorities and indigenous peoples 2016. London: MRG International.