Sri Lanka's newly elected president Gotabaya Rajapksa (C), greets people as he leaves after taking the oath of office during the swearing in ceremony at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 18 Nov 2019. - EPA/STR

CALL them the manacled minorities. You can find them everywhere. Well, almost everywhere.

In Europe, the United States, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Before old wounds heal, new ones are inflicted upon them.

The Rohingya in Myanmar, Uighurs in Xinjiang, China, and Muslims in the disputed territory of Kashmir. And soon Tamils and other minorities will join the list again in Sri Lanka when, as AFP puts it, the de facto military chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who crushed the Tamil guerillas a decade ago, takes over as president.

Where did we go wrong? Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher who gave us the very quotable line “Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains”, blamed reason. We beg to differ.

There is a far more pernicious human weakness at work here: pigeon-holing people as friends or enemies. Writing in Psychology Today, Dr Frank T. McAndrew puts it thus: “We hold positive illusions about our ingroup and negative illusions about outgroups, and we see our own group’s moral values as more desirable and as superior to those of others.” This “othering” game is now gaining traction in Europe, the US and elsewhere.

One elsewhere is China. From The Economist in the United Kingdom to the New York Times of the US and every other newspaper in between have spilled much ink on the plight of the Uighurs for sometime now. So have the wire services.

The latest (see yesterday’s NST: “‘No mercy’ for Uighurs in Xinjiang”) is a NYT report detailing 403 pages of leaked Chinese government papers that shed light on a security crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang.

It also quotes human rights groups as saying that more than a million Uighurs have been rounded up in a network of internment camps. China calls them reeducation camps, but the 403-page document made available to NYT reveals a terribly dark and disturbing tale.

Another is Sri Lanka. Here, two minorities — Tamils and Muslims — who had lived peacefully with the majority for sometime are facing the wrath of Sinhalese Buddhists.

Here, McAndrew’s “negative illusions about outgroups” is set to return with a vengeance when Gotabaya becomes president soon. Under the presidency of his brother, Mahinda, some 40,000 Tamil civilians were alleged to have been killed in what is called the “Tamil war” (see yesterday’s NST). Gotabaya is called “Terminator” for a reason.

It is true that we live in a world of Westphalian sovereignty — the idea that every state is an independent entity. But that doesn’t mean we — the 200-odd nations and the newspapers — should remain silent as the helpless minorities fall victim to crimes against humanity.

The United Nations must mean something. So must freedom of the press. The holocaust should have been a lesson. But it wasn’t. Holocausts by other names continue to visit the minorities.

The 18th century concept of neutrality must have some limit. Otherwise we will end up being witness to people being made less than the human they are. Or worse, being witness to genocides. Like the Romani in Europe, the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the Palestinians in the Middle East, the Kashmiris in the Indian subcontinent and the Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka.

The world and its newspapers are duty-bound to unchain the minorities everywhere and make them free again.