Tragic events and atrocities like the recent mass shooting in Orlando can make the world seem a dark place, although at times like this it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that the hatred of the few can never overcome the human capacity for rationality. And while conflict is sadly an ever-present fact of life in many regions, new research by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) reveals that the global push for peace is far from a lost cause, with the number of fatalities due to “organized violence” declining last year.
Though this finding may do little to stem the outpouring of grief of those who lose loved ones in such acts of depravity, it does provide a glimmer of hope that mankind has not strayed irreparably from the path of peace and reconciliation, following several years of escalating violence around the world.
The UCDP defines organized violence as armed conflict involving a state, conflicts between non-state actors and one-sided violence against civilians. As such, the term covers international military disputes, civil wars and acts of terrorism. In 2014, the number of people killed by such events surpassed 100,000 for the first time since 1994, which remains the most violent year on record thanks to the horrific bloodshed of the Rwandan genocide.
According to last year’s UCDP report, global deaths due to organized violence reached 126,059 in 2014, capping off an alarming increase that began in 2011, and which the researchers say is largely driven by the civil war in Syria. However, the new data – which will be published in the September issue of the Journal of Peace Research – shows that this figure dropped to below 118,000 in 2015.
Preparing to present this research at the Oslo Forum, UCDP project manager Therése Pettersson explained in a statement that “the fact that we don't see a continued increase is of course encouraging.” However, she added that “we need to remember that the level of violence remained high and that 2015 was one of the three most violent years since 1989,” when records began.
Though the Middle East is currently the most violent region, over the 27 years since the UCDP began collecting data, Africa has seen the highest number of organized violence fatalities by some distance. However, the authors of last year’s report offered a ray of hope when they wrote that “Africa in recent years is actually less violent than it was in the 1990s.”
Similarly, “in the Americas and East Asia the trends are unambiguously in the direction of fewer deaths in organized violence,” while the world as a whole is “much less violent than during the Cold War and the World Wars.”
Image: The civil war in Syria has been cited as the major cause for the increase in global conflict deaths over recent years. ART production/Shutterstock
Yet while the total number of deaths caused by organized violence fell last year, the number of conflicts actually rose. This, say the study authors, is largely due to the expansion of the Islamic State (IS), which became active over a wider geographical range in 2015.
However, in spite of the obvious security threat posed by the group, UCDP director Erik Melander claims that “compared to other rebel groups in modern history IS does not come across as an especially successful group,” as it has not “managed to win wars or gained important concessions in peace agreements.”
Image: Mourners light candles for the victims of the Paris attacks in November 2015. Frederic Legrand - COMEO/Shutterstock