Will our world ever be peaceful enough for the present and future generations?

The "Non - Violence" also known as "the knotted gun" by the Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reutersward, donated by the government of Luxemburg to the United Nations The "Non - Violence" also known as "the knotted gun" by the Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reutersward, donated by the government of Luxemburg to the United Nations © Corrado Quinto and Cyril Groué

a personal reflection by Corrado Quinto

The world is witnessing what may be the highest level of human suffering since World War II.

The Current Situation

The last 60 years have seen the number of internal conflicts (within a country) not only increase but also overtake the number of external conflicts (between countries).

Both conflicts and natural disasters have, worldwide, affected the livelihoods of about 125 million people--65.3 million of whom were forced to flee their homes by 2015’s end. Several international monitoring indices show that protracted and recurrent crises keep millions of people trapped in spirals of violence and poverty, violating basic rules regulating armed conflict, including respect for the protected status of civilians.

Our Mission and how it came to be

One year ago the Italian National Association for Civilian Victims of War (ANVCG ONLUS) approached Lorenzo Rinelli and me with a challenge. Concerned about the 70-year old association’s future and its members--approximately 120,000 Italian civilian World War II victims--they raised these key questions: “how to honor the memories of these civilian victims?” and “how to share their experiences with civilian populations suffering today in conflict affected areas?”

In our own work of the past twenty years, Lorenzo and I had continually monitored human rights violations with desk reviews and invaluable field experience. ANVCG’s request for assistance was in accord with our own long-established interests.  Still, we needed to expand our two-person team and, fortunately, the prospect of creating a research centre focusing on civilians in conflict immediately attracted several friends and colleagues who quickly joined our efforts to turn ideas into a reality.

After a full year of preparatory meetings, enriching exchanges with experts, and constant input from dedicated UN online volunteers and American interns, our research centre, L’Osservatorio--the Research Centre on Civilian Victims of Conflicts--was born.  

L’Osservatorio builds upon earlier efforts initiated by lawyer, Maria Marinello, who worked at ANVCG and acts presently as a legal advisor to the current project.  A breadth of dedicated talent has now poised L’Osservatorio to inform a broad audience about the real consequences of conflicts on civilian populations, and share stories highlighting remarkable resilience to these consequences.

While our initial intention was to focus on lesser-known conflicts and on those civilian victims whose voices had not yet been heard, we the inexorable flood of tragic events in those countries already spotlighted in the media compelled us to expand our monitoring scope. Our map of countries affected by conflicts now extends further than we had ever expected.

Of many who genuinely shared their time, competences and passions with us, Romain Desclous--a governance specialist with invaluable UN expertise in communication and external relations--deserves special recognition. While currently based in Jerusalem, Romain and I worked together ten years ago in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of several countries L’Osservatorio closely monitors.

The Global Peace Index - A mirror of our times

Among a variety of indices, L’Osservatorio relies upon the Global Peace Index (GPI) as one of the most important.  The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) conceived and developed this index, which ranks 163 independent states and territories based on their levels of peacefulness.

This tool allows us to measure impact of conflicts on civilian populations and to assess the social, political and economic factors that can create peace. The IEP calls such factors, describing the attitudes, structures and institutions that underpin and sustain peaceful societies, “Positive Peace”, as they extend far beyond the “absence of violence” the concept.

According to the 10th annual GPI, the world looks less peaceful in 2016 than it did in 2015 due primarily to worsening conflicts in the Middle East, the lack of solutions to the refugee crisis, and the rising numbers of civilian victims of terrorist attacks.  

Deaths in battle, which include substantial collateral damage in the form of civilians killed in crossfire and indiscriminate bombings, saw a fivefold increase from 19,601 in 2008 to 101,406 in 2015. Most of the losses (75%) came from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The last country on the list, hence the least peaceful, is Syria. Ranked in 2008 as the world's 88th most peaceful country, out of 162 other nations, it has now plummeted to the very bottom of the table following a devastating civil war and the rapid rise of ISIS in the country.

Reading the list from the bottom, various countries with decreasing levels of security issues are marked to reach, eventually, the ‘most peaceful country’ status, with Iceland being at the top. Its very low levels of political instability, crimes of violence, weapons exports, and problems with neighbouring countries contribute to its first-place ranking as the world's most peaceful country.

Between the two extremes of Iceland and Syria, several other countries mostly placed in the bottom half, are experiencing--to varying degrees--a deterioration in security measured by two indicators (out of 23 used by the index): political instability and impact of terrorism. Political instability in particular spreads across many regions, massively threatening security in countries like Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi, Poland, Kazakhstan and Brazil.

Deaths from terrorism have increased by 286% over the past 8 years (from 8,466 in 2008 to 32,715 in 2015). According to the report, only 69 countries did not record any terrorist incidents last year. Overall, deaths from terrorism increased by 80% according to the 2015 report.

The 2016 GPI does not provide an optimistic outlook of our world, but is nonetheless realistic. It stands, after all, as a detailed collection of figures and indicators, accurately analysed using scientific methodologies. It is, unfortunately, a mirror of our times.

Amplifying victims’ voices to the world

As we stand before that mirror, we at L’Osservatorio stay mindful of those steps that will bring us closer to achieving our mission.  We actively remember the past with aims of acknowledging and addressing its continued impact in the present; and we nourish the present with facts, figures, and stories of real people today with similar experiences.  With awareness we aim to help prevent the repetition of history’s worst human rights violations.

Beyond those important stories of political unrest and terrorist acts that occur, the voices of war victims must be made audible and not only during remembrance ceremonies; they should remain at the forefront of our consciousness, as these people are legitimate actors who create and sustain peaceful societies. Thanks to their contributions to our platform, we can now inform our audience of the consequences of conflicts on civilians and make known their resilience.  We will strive to keep the world’s attention on these issues in hopes that their stories might “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”

We at L’Osseratorio will monitor human rights violations, support reports issued by other reputable organizations, promote works by human rights activists and authors of literature deserving a broader audience; we will publish our own research papers and work in partnership with other actors in the field who implement projects aimed at protecting civilians in conflict.

Current Projects

Our experts have just finalized papers on the use of drones in mine action activities; on the journey of a young Afghan refugee to Europe; on sexual violence as an international crime; and on the Peace Process in Colombia. Soon, we will publish on the Evolution of the Protection of Civilians in Italy; the Civilian Casualties in Dalmatia (1941-1943); the Status of reparations in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Use of 3D printing for prosthetics; and on many other subjects that we hope will be of interest to you, our esteemed audience.

A website is a start: with it we will reach out to all those in search of knowledge and ideas that can make a difference. We will use social media to and provoke thought and initiate discussions that will, with time, allow us to reach even more of those victims whose voices often feel lost.

 

Corrado Quinto

 

 

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