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The world endured 32 armed conflicts in 2021, fifteen of them in Africa

16 Jun 2022
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The UAB School of Culture of Peace has published its Alert! Report on conflicts, human rights and peacebuilding, its yearbook providing an analysis of the state of the world in terms of conflict and peacebuilding. The latest edition offers data on the year 2021, before the escalation in violence in Ukraine, in which 32 armed conflicts were registered. The conflicts with the largest amount of victims occurred in Afganistan and Yemen, and the situation regarding sexual violence and child abuse worsened around the world, while few heeded to the demands for a global ceasefire by the United Nations.

Informe Alerta

The majority of armed conflicts were concentrated in Africa (15) and Asia (9), followed by the Middle East (5), Europe (2) and South America (1). Among these 32 conflicts, a deterioration in the situation of Ukraine was detected even before this year's military escalation, as in Cameroon (Ambazonia/northwest and southwest), Ethiopia (Tigray), Western Sahel, the Central African Republic, the Demcratic Republic of the Congo (ADF), Sudan (Darfur), Colombia, Afganistan, Myanmar, Pakistan, Pakistan (Balochistan) and Israel-Palestine. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of severe armed conflicts; i.e., those with a heavy impact on the region and human safety, causing over one thousand victims in one year. For the first time in a decade, these severe or highly intense armed conflicts represent over half (53%) of all cases at global level.

Afganistan was the case in which the greatest number of people died in 2021: over 40,000. The second bloodiest armed conflict was Yemen, with a death toll of 22,000. There was a rise in civilian deaths, not only in Afganistan and Yemen, but also and particularly in Mali, Western Sahel and in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Aggressions and threats against medical staff, as well as attacks on hospital facilities, continued; all of which are considered violations against international humanitarian law.

Sexual violence was present in several of the armed conflicts, such as Ethiopia (Tigray), the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lybia, Syria and Yemen. In some cases, this violence was used as a deliberate war strategy. The majority of armed actors guilty of sexual violence identified by the UN Secretary General were non-state actors. According to Save the Children, seventy-two million children enduring situations of conflict were in great danger of becoming victims of sexual violence. And in 2021, there was a rise in the number of complaints regarding sexual exploitation and abuse during peace and special political missions by the United Nations. The UN's annual report on minors and armed conflicts included almost 26,500 serious violations against minors, with a 90% rise in the kidnapping of minors, and a 70% rise in sexual abuse.

Demand for identity and self-rule

With regard to the characterisation of armed conflicts, demands for identity and self-rule were present in 20 of the 32 cases analysed. In 17 of these cases there were armed groups aspiring to transform the system, the majority of which include a terrorist agenda based on their particular interpretations of Islamic precepts. Afganistan was a particularly relevant case in 2021, given that the talibans managed to gain military control over the country 20 years after having been defeated.

There were also 27 cases of internal conflicts which became international, either due to bases set up in neighbouring countries or attacks and disputes between countries.

Apart from the armed conflicts, the report identifies 98 scenarios of tension in the world (three more than in 2020), which confirms the growing tendency of socio-political conflicts in these past years.

Twice as many displaced persons in a decade

The year 2021 clearly demonstrated the lack of support behind the UN Secretary General's demand in March 2020 to hold a global ceasefire and concentrate all efforts on fighting the pandemic. Moreover, the number of displaced people fell temporarily due to the pandemic and restriction measures, but at the end of 2020 the tendency had recovered and a total of 82.4 million people were displaced worldwide, more than double the figure from 10 years ago. Accroding to ACNUR, 82% of those crossing borders fleeing from conflicts and violence were from Syria, Venezuela, Afganistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea.

Opportunites for peace and future conflicts

The report identifies and analyses scenarios in which positive steps can be taken for peacebuilding in the future: Chad, India-Pakistan, Venezuela, Turkey-Armenia and the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which was passed in January after being ratified by 58 States.

However, the report also alerts of the scenarios that may take a turn for the worse in the near future: four coups d'état occuring in Africa in 2021 (Chad, Mali, Guinea and Sudan), Ugandan intervention in persecution of the ADF in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the coup d'état perpetrated by armed forces in Myanmar, jihadist attacks in Sulawesi (Indonesia) and the decline in the political situation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Palestine.

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