Good Evidence for Good News
I would like to address Jeff Howell’s comments, posted on September 28, 2009 to Annette Jansen’s posting: “Drawn by Disasters: Why the Human Rights Movement Struggles with Good News Stories.”
Mr. Howell states that the report cited by Ms. Jansen terminated in 2002. He also wrote: “It would be interesting to know what those figures show for the remainder of the decade with the Darfur mass atrocities added.”
A quick read of the Human Security Report of 2005, however, makes it clear that it covers 2003 as well. And Mr. Howell wonders needlessly about what subsequent studies would show about these same issues of conflict, violence and death because the Human Security Report of 2005 makes it clear on page 8 of the Report that: “The Human Security Report 2006 will publish the data for 2004 and 2005.”
On page 1 The 2006 Report (which the Human Security Report Projects characterizes as a “Human Security Brief”) states: “Notwithstanding the escalating violence in Iraq and the widening war in Darfur, the new data indicate that from the beginning of 2002 to the end of 2005, the number of armed conflicts being waged around the world shrank 15% from 66 to 56. By far the greatest decline was in sub-Saharan Africa.”
On page 2 of the 2006 Report, while there is a caveat given about the figures it is stated that: Battle-death tolls declined worldwide by almost 40% between 2002 and 2005.
And taking a more responsible position concerning its data than some advocates, the report warns the reader: “Battle-death statistics are prone to considerable error, however, so these findings should be treated with appropriate caution.”
The 2006 Report also gives the following figures:
“The estimated number of displaced people around the world””refugees and internally displaced persons””fell from 34.2 million to 32.1 million between 2003 and 2005, a net decline of 6%.4″ (p. 2)
“…[I]n sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2002 and 2005 the number of state-based conflicts in the region declined from 13 to five; the number of non-state conflicts from 24 to 14. (P. 2)
Regarding the One-Sided Violence of the type witnessed often in Darfur, the report states:
“The term “one-sided violence” reflects the fact that the victims cannot fight back. The dataset counts first the number of deadly campaigns perpetrated by either governments or armed non-state groups against civilians each year, and second the fatalities associated with them.
“The data indicate that the number of campaigns of one-sided violence increased by 55% between 1989 and 2005. The number of state-based armed conflicts decreased by some 40% from 1992 to 2005.
“Estimates of the number of victims of one-sided violence provide a very different perspective, however. Even if we exclude the huge death toll of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, the data show that there has been a clear, albeit very uneven, decline in reported deaths from one-sided violence since the mid-1990s.
“There are, however, even more uncertainties involved in reporting and recording civilian death tolls than in estimating battle deaths. The trend data are suggestive””they are certainly not definitive.” (p. 3)
Regarding acts of genocide, the 2006 Report has this to say:
“Barbara Harff of the United States Naval Academy defines genocides and politicides as campaigns of “political mass murder” directed primarily against civilians that are intended to exterminate “in whole or in part” a communal or political group.
“A dataset compiled by Professor Harff shows the number of genocides rising steadily from 1956, peaking in the mid- to late-1970s, and then declining sharply from 1989 onward. Between 1989 and 2005 the number of these campaigns of political mass murder dropped by 90%.
“This trend closely follows the rise and decline of high-intensity civil conflicts over the same period””which is not surprising since most genocides/politicides take place in the context of civil wars.
“The sharp decline in these campaigns of mass killing of civilians since 1989 stands in marked contrast to the media and public perception that the number of genocides is increasing.” (p. 3)
“Both UCDP’s [Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) at Uppsala University, Sweden] data on the increased incidence of violent campaigns against civilians and MIPT’s [The Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism] findings on the soaring increase in national and international terrorist incidents lend credence to the widely held belief that deadly threats to civilians have been increasing.
“But if the data are examined from a different perspective a somewhat less bleak picture emerges.
“It was noted earlier that UCDP’s one-sided violence dataset shows that civilian deaths from organized violence have been declining since the mid-1990s. But in terms of saving civilian lives, by far the most important trend over the past 60 years has been the 90% decline in genocides and politicides since the end of the Cold War, and the parallel decline in high-intensity armed conflicts. Large numbers of civilians were intentionally killed by governments or rebel groups in many of these latter conflicts during the Cold War years.” (P.4)
The 2006 Report continues:
“What this suggests is that, notwithstanding the recent increase in terrorist attacks, the number of civilian victims of intentional organized violence remains appreciably lower today than it was in the Cold War years.” (P. 4)
These references are from the 5 page OVERVIEW of the 2006 Report which can be found at the following link.
There is also a 2007 Brief (Released May 21, 2008) which provides additional data. I will not burden this blog with cites from that Report, but I would like to make reference to two charts in the 2007 Report. The First shows:
And the second shows: “REPORTED DEATHS FROM ONE-SIDED VIOLENCE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA 2002-2006“.
The graphs are explained fully in the 2007 Brief, which is 64 pages long and can be found at this link.
Finally, I would like to point out that there is an October 9th 2008 “MiniAtlas of Human Security” published jointly by The Human Security Report and The World Bank and available on line.
I would recommend these Documents to Mr. Howell for his review (if he has not already done so) so that he may cite the data contained therein, if he should so choose; because the failure on the part of some human rights activists, to examine the available data might tend to discredit the ability of those activists to see the issues clearly.
I do not know Mr. Howell, and I do not want him to think that I am trying to derogate his concern for human rights. I merely wish to point out that his statement could lead one to believe that he is not aware of all of the data available regarding the matter on which he commented.