Upward trend in fatalities in organized violence was broken in 2015

June 13, 2016, Uppsala University

The alarming upward trend in fatalities in organized violence, witnessed over the last few years, was broken in 2015. This is evident from new data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), Uppsala University. The number of armed conflicts involving states continued to increase, however, going from 41 in 2014 to as many as 50 in 2015.

Since 2011, peace researchers have witnessed a worrying increase in fatality numbers in organized violence. The highest number since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was reported for 2014, with more than 130,000 people killed in the three categories of organized violence that the UCDP registers: armed conflict involving a state, between non-state actors, and one-sided violence against civilians. This trend appears to have been broken in 2015, with the number of fatalities decreasing to less than 118,000. In the last few years, the trend has by and large been driven by the civil war in Syria.

'The fact that we don't see a continued increase is of course encouraging project manager at the UCDP. However, we need to remember that the level of violence remained high and that 2015 was one of the three most violent years since 1989', says Therése Pettersson project manager at the UCDP.

Although the number of fatalities decreased, the number of conflicts continued to increase, both those involving a state and those between non-state actors. The non-state category witnessed an increase from 61 conflicts in 2014, to 70 in 2015; the highest number during the entire 1989-2015 period. Also conflicts involving a state witnessed a dramatic development, with the number increasing from 41 in 2014 to 50 in 2015.

'The increase is mainly due to developments relating to the expansion of the Islamic State (IS) to a growing number of countries', says Lotta Themnér, project manager at the UCDP.

In 2014 the group was active in conflicts against three different states, a number that increased to as many as 12 in 2015. This is a result of new IS wings being created around the world, for example in Afghanistan and Russia, as well as entire groups pledging allegiance to IS and being integrated into the latter, which is what happened in Nigeria and Egypt. IS was also active in a large number of conflicts against other rebel groups during the year, mainly in Syria.

'IS constitutes a serious threat against people in many parts of the world. However, compared to other rebel groups in modern history IS does not come across as an especially successful group, at least not yet. There are many examples of armed groups that have managed to win wars or gained important concessions in peace agreements, which IS has not yet done. We also need to understand that an exaggerated focus on IS and its allies risks drawing attention from other very serious situations that require international action', says Erik Melander, UCDP Director.

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