With bombs killing dozens every day in Iraq, vicious militias ravaging unchecked in Darfur and an exceedingly long way to go on the road map for peace in the Middle East, the world seems to be convulsing in paroxysms of violence. Yet it has been much worse, and not long ago.
Though there are about 60 armed conflicts worldwide - including multiple small-scale ethnic and separatist insurrections in countries like India and Burma - the number of wars and deaths caused by them have declined significantly over the past 20 years.
A recent report by the University of British Columbia's Liu Institute for Global Issues found that since the end of the Cold War, there are only one-fifth as many wars involving more than 1,000 battle deaths, while the overall number of conflicts fell by 40 per cent.
Inevitably, the wars that remain are some of the most intractable. But amid the bombs and bullets, the march of peace progressed on several fronts in 2005.
While Darfur, in western Sudan, continues to be the scene of what has been called the world's worst humanitarian disaster, a peace agreement in January ended South Sudan's civil war, in which up to 2 million people have died since 1983. Ethnic clashes continue to flare, but the region has been granted its own government, constitution and the right to hold a referendum on seccession in 2011. A Norwegian-led commission is monitoring the implementation of the agreement.
Another immense natural disaster also influenced one of the world's most dangerous armed standoffs. The massive earthquake in October that killed 87,000 people in Kashmir came amid a slow thaw in relations between nuclear powers India and Pakistan, which have fought on and off over the divided Himalayan region since 1947. In November 2003, they called a ceasefire. Earlier this year, the two agreed to talks on reducing the risk of nuclear confrontation and resolving the Kashmir dispute. After the quake, despite continued attacks by Kashmiri separatists, India sent aid to the hardest-hit Pakistani side of the territory, and the two countries agreed to open five points along the Line of Control to get supplies through.
Northern Ireland & Liberia
Embarrassed by a series of highly publicized incidents that cast it as little more than a gang of common criminals, the Irish Republic Army effectively disarmed in September. Fulfilling its obligations under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the group destroyed the last of its stockpile of weapons under the supervision of an observers led by retired Canadian general John de Chastelain. The weapons have been the main obstacle to a return to power-sharing between Catholics and Protestants through the reopening of Northern Ireland's Stormont parliament.
Liberia took a big step away from 14 years of civil war in November with the peaceful election of Africa's first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. About 15,000 UN peacekeeping troops have supervised the country's transition to democracy since the war ended with the flight of its former leader and indicted war-crimes suspect Charles Taylor.
After being stripped by Chile's supreme court of legal immunity for past human rights abuses, former dictator Augusto Pinochet was formally charged in November with the disappearances of regime opponents in 1975. In an era in which former tyrants and generals are increasingly being brought to book for war crimes and rights violations, violent coups and dictatorships have become a rarity in most of Latin America for the first time in 200 years.
Rwanda & Aceh
In June, the main Rwandan rebel group, the FDLR, announced an end to its armed struggle. Many of its members are believed to have taken part 11 years ago in the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred. Ousted from power by an invading Tutsi army, the Hutu fighters continued a guerrilla campaign from neighbouring Zaire (now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo), prompting Rwanda to launch a four-year intervention in that country, which ended in 2002. A peace accord that year ended much of the fighting in Congo's civil war - the world's worst in the past 30 years, taking 4 million lives - but ethnic militias continue to attack in the country's eastern region.
Hopes that last December’s Indian Ocean tsunami might have a silver lining, compelling warring factions in devastated areas to find common cause, appear to be half-fulfilled. Indonesia in August signed a peace agreement with the Free Aceh Movement ending three decades of fighting on the island of Sumatra by granting the province of Aceh local autonomy. Civilian monitors from the European Union and several Southeast Asian nations are overseeing the disbanding of rebel forces and the withdrawal of most Indonesian troops from the region. However, in tsunami-struck Sri Lanka, recent attacks are threatening to scuttle the nearly three-year-old ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Lebanon & Burundi
Continuing the wave of people power that brought the peaceful overthrow of corrupt regimes in Georgia's Rose Revolution and Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004, Lebanon staged its own Cedar Revolution in February. Outraged by the suspected Syrian-staged assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets, forcing the government to step down and Syria to withdraw its forces. (In March, the Tulip Revolution ousted Kyrgyzstan strongman Askar Akayev in central Asia.)
Twelve years of civil war ended in the East African nation of Burundi in May when the last holdout Hutu rebels, the Forces for National Liberation, agreed to end hostilities that had claimed about 300,000 lives. Another former rebel group, Forces for the Defence of Democracy, won parliamentary elections in June, and its leader, Pierre Nkurunziza, became Burundi's president in August.