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Ahead of the debate on 15 September 2016 on the effect of conflict in fragile states on the rate of human rights abuses and the number of widows, this Library briefing details some of the ways in which the fragility of states has been identified, and provides data on the impact of conflicts and the number of widow. It also provides information on the UK Government’s aid policy.

Identifying Fragile States

The term ‘fragile state’ is used in conflict prevention and international development to describe the degree to which countries are at risk of violent conflict and other forms of societal breakdown. There is no internationally agreed single benchmark by which states might be classified as fragile. Fragility is a relative term and the specific circumstance of each state will be different. This briefing summarises some of the inherent difficulties involved in collecting reliable information on areas where there is conflict and tight control of freedom of speech.

The Fund for Peace, the OECD and the World Bank quantify the comparative level of fragility in particular states. This data can be used to identify countries which are most affected by human rights abuse, large scale poverty and other factors contributing to the fragility of a state. Both the Fund for Peace and the OECD use this information to group states according to different metrics for fragility.

Human Rights Abuses in Fragile States

The Fund for Peace, the OECD and the World Bank quantify the comparative level of fragility in particular states. This data can be used to identify countries which are most affected by human rights abuse, large scale poverty and other factors contributing to the fragility of a state. Both the Fund for Peace and the OECD use this information to group states according to different metrics for fragility.  This briefing includes analyses of the human rights situation in these fragile countries, including that provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its 2015 Human Rights and Democracy report.

Quantitative data is provided for fragile states regarding the number of battle-related deaths and the number of widows. Although data from conflict zones is often incomplete, the World Bank has noted large increases in conflict-related deaths in some fragile states over the period 2010–14, including in Syria and Yemen. In the most fragile countries, a median average of 6.25 percent of the women at marriage age were identified as being widows. The Loomba Foundation notes that the data on widows in fragile states often provides an underestimate of the number of widows, so the proportion may in fact be significantly higher.

UK Government Policy

State fragility has been described by the UK Government as having an important impact on the ability of foreign countries and international organisations to provide development aid. This briefing also outlines Government policy regarding development aid targeted towards fragile states.


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