On December 10, 1948, three years after World War Two ended, the United Nations General Assembly in Paris adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Now the most widely translated document in the world, it's available in 500 languages.
To mark the Universal Declaration’s 70th anniversary, and for this year’s International Day of Peace, the United Nations is focusing on Article 3 - “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” - to ask ‘What does the right to peace mean to you?’
UN Secretary-General António Guterres says: “It is time all nations and all people live up to the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human race. This year marks the 70th anniversary of that landmark document.”
In the intervening seven decades since 1948, the world has avoided the horrors of another global war, but remains a long way from achieving peace and equality, as these stark facts about the impact of conflict show.
1. The world is becoming less peaceful
According to the Global Peace Index 2018, there are just 13 countries that score “very high” - and 16 that score “very low” - across three domains of Safety and Security (which includes the impact of terrorism), Ongoing Conflict and Militarization.
In its 12th annual report, the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) found global peacefulness had declined for the fourth year running, falling by 0.27% in 2017.
Among the 163 independent states and territories ranked by their level of peacefulness, 92 countries had dropped, while only 71 had improved.
In the past 10 years, global peacefulness has deteriorated by 2.38%, coinciding with a deterioration in terrorism impact scores among 62% of countries between 2008 and 2018.
2. The nature of conflict is changing
To mark 100 years since the end of World War One, the IEP report looked at long-term trends in violence over the last century. Among the positives, they found there are fewer nuclear weapons and people in the armed services now than in 1986, while democracy is at a 100-year high.
But the nature of conflict is changing and violence persists. Since 1958, there has been a shift “from major interstate conflicts in Europe to civil wars, terrorism and rising violence in the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America”.
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The Global Peace Index reports that more than a third of armed conflicts are civil wars with international powers involved.
Although soldiers killed in battle in the last 25 years make up just 3% of battle deaths over the past century, total battle deaths were at a 15-year high (103,109) in 2014, which accompanies a rise in conflicts due to tensions in the Middle East.
The proportion of civilians killed has increased, partly due to terrorism, with 53% of recent terrorist attacks hitting civilians. In the 1990s, 75% of those killed in armed conflict were civilians, compared to 15% in World War One and 66% in World War Two.
3. Violence costs the world vast amounts of money
Trillions of dollars are spent each year on militarization, security, crime and conflict, among other things, and the cost is rising.
The Global Peace Index calculated that the impact of violence on the global economy is equivalent to $1,988 per person, or 12.4% of global GDP. In the 10 most affected countries, it ranges between 30 and 68% of their GDP.
Since 2012, the report found the economic impact of violence had risen by 16%, in part due to the start of the war in Syria and the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Peaceful countries are better off. Over the past 70 years, per capita growth was three times higher in highly peaceful countries, compared to those with low levels of peace. More peaceful countries also have lower and more stable interest rates and have more than twice the level of foreign direct investment.
4. 1% of the world’s population is now displaced or refugees
More people are displaced from their homes than ever before. Every couple of seconds, one person is forced to flee due to conflict or persecution, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR.
Of the 68.5 million forcibly displaced people (one out of every 110 people on the planet, according to the Global Peace Index), nearly 24.5 million are refugees, and more than half of those are children under 18.
More than half of these refugees (57%) come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.