All five most improved countries this year sit in the bottom 40 of the Index
Honduras had the fifth largest improvement in peacefulness on the 2020 GPI, rising four places in the rankings with a 3.1 per cent increase in its overall score. It recorded improvements across all three GPI domains, and had particularly noticeable improvements on the political terror scale and deaths from internal conflict indicators.
Honduras has suffered from some of the highest rates of internal conflict and interpersonal violence in the world over the past decade. However, the level of conflict has steadily declined over the past five years. As the activities of criminal gangs in Honduras have begun to subside, the homicide rate has fallen steadily, and deaths from internal conflict fell to zero. The political terror scale indicator improved, suggesting that government repression related to internal conflict has now lessened, and there was also a fall in the number of terrorist attacks and deaths from terrorism.
However, both the police rate and incarceration rate have risen over the past few years.
Despite these improvements, there are still many sources of potential conflict and tension within Honduras. It has the fourth highest homicide rate in the world, despite a 26 per cent fall in the number of homicides in 2017. The political tensions surrounding internal conflict and migration flows threaten to sour relations with the US, and it still has very high levels of violent crime, with concordantly high perceptions of criminality.
4. South Africa
South Africa had the fourth highest overall improvement in peacefulness in the 2020 GPI. Its overall score improved by 3.4 per cent, which saw it rise three places to be ranked 123rd overall, with improvements in all three GPI domains. However, despite this improvement, South Africa still faces many challenges to peace, especially in the Safety and Security domain. In particular, it has a very high homicide rate, and very high levels of violent crime.
South Africa’s biggest improvement was in the political terror scale indicator, where its score moved from a four to a three. This suggests that while political violence and human rights abuses in the country remain common, the scope and intensity of these abuses has been reduced. South Africa’s incarceration rate also improved, falling from 286 to 275 prisoners per 100,000 people. South Africa has the fourth highest incarceration rate in sub-Saharan Africa, ahead of only Namibia, Rwanda, and Eritrea.
South Africa improved on several indicators in the Militarisation domain. Its commitment to timely UN peacekeeping funding improved, and the number of both weapons imports and weapons exports fell. However, South Africa is still the largest weapons exporter per capita in the sub-Saharan region, and is ranked 30th for per capita weapons exports overall.
Bahrain had the third highest increase in peacefulness on the 2020 GPI, with a 4.8 per cent improvement in overall score, leading to a rise in the rankings of nine places. This is the third consecutive year of increasing peacefulness in Bahrain, after almost a decade of sustained deteriorations in peacefulness. It is now the eighth most peaceful country in the Middle East and North Africa region.
The improvement in peacefulness in Bahrain was driven by changes in just a small number of indicators, most notably access to small arms and the intensity of internal conflict. Although private gun ownership is quite high in Bahrain, it has halved on a per capita basis over the past few years. Moreover, the laws on firearms possession are quite tight including licensing only for those over the age of 21 for both firearms and ammunition.
With respect to the intensity of internal conflict, tensions remain between the Sunni ruling minority and the Shia majority who feel under represented. However, the authorities have tightened security and the number of incidents of violent protest has fallen sharply over the past. Figures released by the Ministry of the Interior reveal an 86 per cent decline in the number of terrorismrelated criminal investigations since their peak in 2014.
Armenia had the second largest increase in peacefulness on the 2020 GPI, with only its neighbouring country Azerbaijan having a larger improvement. It rose 15 places in the rankings and is now ranked among the 100 most peaceful countries, owing to a large improvement in relations with neighbouring countries, as well as a substantial fall in its incarceration rate.
The largest improvement occurred on the Ongoing Conflict domain, with improvements in relations with neighbouring countries and a fall in deaths from internal conflict. The primary driver of these changes was an improved relationship with neighbouring Azerbaijan, helped in part by Armenia’s ‘velvet revolution’, and a stabilisation of the Nagarno-Karabakh conflict.
On the Safety and Security domain, Armenia’s incarceration rate improved significantly, falling over 35 per cent over the past three years to 76 prisoners per 100,000 people. This fall means that Armenia now has the lowest incarceration rate in the Russia and Eurasia region. There was also an improvement in its homicide rate, political instability, and a fall in terrorism impact.
Despite these improvements, Armenia did record deteriorations in some indicators. Although political instability improved, it came at the expense of increasing government interference, resulting in a deterioration in Armenia’s political terror scale score. There was also a deterioration in the Militarisation domain. In contrast to the improvement in Azerbaijan, weapons imports rose significantly, as did military expenditure as a percentage of GDP.
Azerbaijan recorded the largest improvement in peacefulness on the 2020 GPI, with its score improving by 7.6 per cent, leading to a rise of 12 places in the rankings. The most notable improvement occurred on the Ongoing Conflict domain, which had a 17.6 per cent improvement. However, despite these changes Azerbaijan remains the third least peaceful country in the Russia and Eurasia region, and the 120th most peaceful country overall.
Azerbaijan’s improvement on the Ongoing Conflict domain was driven by an improvement in its relationship with its neighbour Armenia. The last significant open conflict between the two countries was in 2016, when the ceasefire was broken and an estimated 300-500 people were killed in the so-called ‘four-day war’. After three years of relative peace and an operational ceasefire in 2017-19, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has stabilised.
A fall in the intensity of the conflict between the two countries also resulted in improvements in the number of internal conflict deaths, internal conflicts fought, and a fall in the number of refugees and IDPs as a percentage of the population, which moved from 4.07 to 3.53 per cent. Weapons imports also fell substantially, with the indicator recording a 25 per cent improvement on the 2020 GPI.
Although the improvement in peacefulness in Azerbaijan was significant, the country still faces several significant obstacles to peace, particularly on the Safety and Security domain. Perceptions of criminality remain high, and the country also has high levels of political instability, and scores poorly on the political terror scale.