30 years of building peace

A restrospective of our work since 1989 and the global events surrounding it.


Saferworld launches as a politically independent research organisation. ‘Saferworld’ is a one-word embodiment of what we are hoping to achieve.


Gulf War

The invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi troops on 2 August 1990 is met with international condemnation and immediate economic sanctions. A US-led coalition is deployed in Operation Desert Storm.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld is among the first to say that conventional small arms and light weapons are the ‘real weapons of mass destruction’ in terms of their impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.


USSR dissolves

The end of the Soviet Union ushers in a period of political unrest and conflict across the region. Surplus conventional weapons from the Cold War flood the global arms market, fuelling civil wars from Bosnia to Sudan.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld presses the 12 member states of the European Community to adopt a code of conduct on arms exports. This would be the first significant step towards getting all arms manufacturing nations to take responsibility for how their weapons impact on conflict, development and human rights.


Interventions in Somalia questioned

Civil war breaks out in Somalia in 1991. The UN humanitarian intervention in Somalia is questioned when 18 US soldiers are killed in Mogadishu in October 1993. The US subsequently withdraws from Somalia, followed by full UN withdrawal in 1995. 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld receives its first major grant. This enables us to start work on reducing and preventing small arms proliferation and misuse in a more systematic way.


Rwanda genocide

During 100 days at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus are killed.  Refugee camps for Hutus fleeing Rwanda become militarised by rebels, leading to questions about the neutrality of aid workers who run them. 

Image source: British Red Cross



Saferworld starts to raise awareness of the risks of humanitarian interventions inadvertently fuelling conflicts. 

We begin to look at broader elements of conflict, such as governance, power, marginalisation, access to resources, and development, as it becomes clear that illicit small arms are part of a much bigger problem.


Srebrenica massacre

Over 8,000 Bosniaks die in the Srebrenica massacre, the largest mass murder in Europe since the Second World War. The traditional peacekeeping format failed to protect civilians, prompting calls for a new approach. 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons



Saferworld moves headquarters from Bristol to London, bringing us closer to Westminster and enhancing our capacity to work with partners.


The Scott Report 

In 1996, the report of Lord Justice Scott's inquiry into the arms-to-Iraq affair is published. The report highlights serious shortcomings in the UK’s antiquated arms export laws.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld conducts research in Southern Africa on how the European Union can best assist countries affected by small arms proliferation to better control the flow of arms through their territories and to remove arms from their communities. This is our first project to involve significant research in-country.

We produce a comprehensive analysis of the issues underpinning the arms-to-Iraq affair and the Scott Report’s implications for the future of the UK’s arms export policy. As part of this, we call for a complete overhaul of UK arms export controls.


Crisis in Albania

As state institutions break down, over half a million firearms are looted from state stockpiles. AK47 assault rifles become available for as little as US$40, fuelling crime, militancy and civil unrest in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Image source: US Deparment of Defence


Saferworld supports 15 Nobel Peace Laureates, led by Dr Oscar Arias, in a campaign to establish an international code of conduct on arms transfers. This paves the way, a decade later, for UN-based discussions on an international Arms Trade Treaty. 

As one of the first organisations to recognise the vital role the EU could play in preventing violent conflict, with partners, we successfully call for EU Member States to establish a new EU Policy Planning and Early Warning Unit to monitor potential conflict situations and co-ordinate the EU’s response to them.


Kosovo War 

Tension in Kosovo erupts into outright conflict in 1998 as Serbian security forces and paramilitaries clash with Kosovo Albanian separatists and civilians. NATO intervention at first intensifies but eventually stems the violence and places Kosovo under an international protectorate. 

Image source: NH53


After six years of sustained research and advocacy by Saferworld and others, the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports is finally agreed by member states. However, the code falls short of the standards that Saferworld is calling for, and work continues. 

As it becomes clear that civil society has a crucial role to play in tackling the misuse and proliferation of small arms, we help establish the International Action Network on Small Arms. The network now has over 500 member organisations working in 120 countries.


NATO airstrikes

NATO launches air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in March. Air strikes are suspended in June after agreement on withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


The UK Government responds to our calls to publish annual reports on arms export controls, heralding a new era of openness and transparency. 


Millennium Development Goals

The UN agrees benchmarks in human development to be achieved by 2015.  However, the goals fail to address conflict. Ten years on, 22 out of the 34 countries furthest away from achieving the goals are in – or have just come out of – conflict. 

Image source: United States Mission Geneva


A grant from the UK Department for International Development enables Saferworld to double in size, and to intensify work on small arms proliferation and misuse.


9/11 attacks 

The terrorist attacks against the United States on 11 September 2001 dramatically alter public perceptions of security and lead to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Image source: Wally Gobetz


Saferworld begins work in Uganda on improving governance, ensuring that safety and security services are responsive to people’s needs, and reducing violence related to gender, elections, land, access to weapons, power and resources.

We help to develop a Regional Implementation Plan on Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Balkans. This shapes work by the ten countries of the region and assistance by the UN and European Union Stability Pact to address problems of weapons and violence, and to stem the flow of the trafficked arms from the region. 

Saferworld helps lead ‘Biting the Bullet’, a project which contributes to the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons. It is the principle international agreement on small arms.


The Cotonou Agreement 

As the world’s biggest bilateral donor and common market, the EU has a huge role to play in global conflict prevention. The EU’s aid and trade deal with 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries creates opportunities for dialogue between the EU and civil society on its impact on conflict. 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld works with the Kenyan Government to develop two community-based policing projects in the Kibera slum in Nairobi and in Isiolo, in Kenya’s semi-arid north. The project aims to improve trust between the police and communities, leading to a reduction in crime and insecurity.

With partners, we successfully call for parliamentarians to pass the UK Arms Export Control Act, the first in-depth change to UK arms transfer controls since the Second World War. 

Saferworld and partners launch a joint programme that aims to mainstream conflict-sensitive practice in development and humanitarian assistance.


Iraq War

The conflict and subsequent attempts at reconstruction in Iraq highlight that military measures alone do not provide security, and that people cannot rebuild their lives after conflict if basic security does not exist. 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld co-authors an innovative training handbook: Action against small arms. It aims to provide policy advice and practical tips on small arms issues. This continues to be used to train governments and civil society organisations around the world.

With partners, we set up a web-based project, Conflict in Iraq – Consequences and Concerns, to host discussion papers and regular updates on the situation. It aims to be an authoritative source of information on Iraq, with critical analysis of UK, EU and US policies. 


EU enlargement

EU enlargement increases the challenge of achieving effective EU arms export controls, as countries in Central and Eastern Europe have less rigorous arms transfer control regimes and have been implicated in the supply of arms to countries in conflict in the past.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


NATO peacekeeping and UN administration in Kosovo shows that the international community has to work faster to give local people responsibility for security and justice decision-making. To help engage people Saferworld pilots a programming methodology on community security in the Balkans.

With a consortium of southern and northern NGOs, we co-publish a toolkit for conflict-sensitive approaches to development, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding, a seminal source of guidance on conflict sensitivity. The toolkit remains our most downloaded publication to date.

Saferworld initiates a programme in Somalia supporting non-state actors in the three Somali regions to participate in decision-making on peacebuilding, security and development.

Saferworld establishes a Brussels office, where we work closely with EU policymakers and organisations to inform policies on conflict prevention and peacebuilding, and to ensure EU programming and policies are grounded in perspectives from those affected by conflict.  


Sudan peace agreement  

Sudan signs the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ending a civil war that killed over two million people. It sets a timetable by which southern Sudan will have a referendum on its independence. From a position of devastation and extreme poverty, southern Sudan faces the huge challenge not only of providing for its people, but also of building governance, security, arms and border control structures from scratch. 

Image source: United Nations Photo


Saferworld and partners support the ‘Ballot without the Bullet’ campaign to prevent election violence in Sri Lanka. We have since conducted similar campaigns in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Southern Sudan. 

We conduct small arms surveys in Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania on public perceptions of small arms and security. These surveys show that people have security concerns beyond small arms, and this prompts us to refocus our response and look at broader conflict prevention issues.


Nepal peace agreement

A Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Government of Nepal and the Maoists ends a conflict which forced over 200,000 people to leave their homes. There are now many security issues that need to be addressed including the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist Army combatants, improving public security, and implementing wider security sector reforms. 

Violence in Somalia

Escalating conflict and violence in South-Central Somalia is related to the rise of the Islamic Courts Union and the invasion by Ethiopia.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld’s work with partners and communities in the Balkans bears fruit as ‘safer community plans’ are successfully implemented by residents, authorities and law enforcement agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia.

We initiate a programme in South Sudan, focusing on support for community security and small arms control.



Kenyan election violence

Violence after the December 2007 election in Kenya leaves 1,300 people dead, 600,000 displaced, and underscores deep divides over land, ethnicity, and access to political power.

Image source: DEMOSH


Saferworld begins work in Bangladesh to improve the safety and security of communities. We focus on working with businesses to maximise their support for peace, and to address gender-related issues, such as domestic abuse and early marriages. 

We help to produce the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development Handbook on Security System Reform. This affirms international recognition of the importance of more democratic, accountable and responsive security and justice services, which are vital for sustainable development and peace.

Saferworld is at the forefront of efforts to mitigate and respond to the post-election violence in Kenya, adapting our our community policing model and supporting the Concerned Citizens for Peace alliance.


Russo-Georgian war

The August war over South Ossetia creates tensions across the region and calls into question the effectiveness of European conflict prevention mechanisms. 

Image source: Michael Hemmingsson



Saferworld helps organise the first meeting between Somali civil society groups and the UN Security Council in Djibouti, enabling the Somali public to have its say on how the international community can best contribute to peace in Somalia.  

As China emerges as a significant player in global development, peace and security, we launch a new programme in China focusing on arms transfer controls, conflict prevention and China-Africa co-operation. 

Saferworld conducts a conflict analysis of the war over South Ossetia, as a basis for comprehensive programming.


Arms Trade Treaty Resolution 

In a significant breakthrough, in December 2009, the UN General Assembly votes overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution to negotiate a 'strong and robust’ Arms Trade Treaty.

Image source: Controls Arms


After years of lobbying by Saferworld and partners, the UK Department for International Development commits to placing more emphasis on fragile and conflict-affected contexts, and to treating access to security and justice as basic services in its development programming. 

With increasing international attention on the impact of climate change and its relationship to conflict and security, we conduct targeted research looking at the relationship between climate change and conflict in Bangladesh and Kenya.


Second Kyrgyz revolution 

After the violent overthrow of the Kyrgyz President, there is increased ethnic tension between Kyrgyz and Uzbek people. There’s also increased distrust between police and communities as police are implicated in the violence.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld’s Middle East and North Africa programme is established and work begins on Yemen.

The joint Saferworld-Conciliation Resources People's Peacemaking Perspectives project runs in 18 contexts, with participatory conflict analyses producing some unique, and at times challenging, findings and policy recommendations for the EU and wider international community. In many cases the process also contributes to peacebuilding by bringing together people with different views – often for the first time – to discuss ways to move beyond their current conflict.

We begin work in Kyrgyzstan to improve cooperation between ethnic groups, communities, the police and authorities. This includes advocating to government officials and civil society for improved policies and services for communities, and for effective conflict prevention.


South Sudan independence

In a referendum, the people of Southern Sudan vote for independence from the North and for the creation of a new state of South Sudan. The conflict between the North and South has already claimed 1.5 million lives. However, neither the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement nor the 2011 referendum mark an end to the violence.

Civilian government in Myanmar

Myanmar’s military government is dissolved following a 2010 general election, and a nominally civilian government is installed. This, along with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners, leads to an easing of economic sanctions and political isolation, opening up space to engage in peacebuilding, especially in respect of long-running inter-ethnic conflicts.

Image source: Steve Evans


Saferworld undertakes a gender audit of all our work and begins to mainstream a gender perspective across the organisation.

We begin to look at the impact of ‘Rising Powers’ such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa in conflict-affected states. This includes a ground-breaking research project on the conflict-related impacts of China’s growing engagement in Sri Lanka, Nepal and South Sudan.

Saferworld's first major programme starts in Yemen on amplifying young people’s voices.


2010–12 Arab Spring 

The Arab Spring begins in late 2010 in Tunisia, with pro-democracy movements spreading and changing the face of politics in the Middle East and North Africa. However, the initial wave of revolutions and protests has ended by mid-2012, with subsequent civil wars affecting countries including Syria and Libya, and sustained unrest and violence in Yemen. 

Image source: Amine Ghrabi


Saferworld begins a major four-year cross-organisational project on community security in Bangladesh, South Sudan and Yemen.

We start to shape the post-2015 development agenda and ensure that conflict prevention and peacebuilding feature strongly.

Saferworld establishes an EU-China-Africa Expert Working Group on Conventional Arms. Nine high-profile non-proliferation experts from China, Africa and Europe work together to agree a set of policy recommendations for trilateral co-operation between the EU, China and African countries on small arms control.

Saferworld begins our first major regional project in the Middle East and North Africa, looking at women's safety and security concerns in Egypt, Yemen and Libya.

Saferworld begins work in Myanmar, analysing the multiple ethnic conflicts and assessing where and how we can usefully contribute to peacebuilding.

Saferworld introduces a new approach to monitoring, evaluation, learning and accountability that focuses on measuring our impact and that of our partners. This participatory, inclusive approach called ‘outcome harvesting’, looks at changes – in behaviour, relationships and policies - and encourages people to come together to talk about how significant the changes are,  celebrate successes and plan for the future on the basis of what they learn.


Civil war in South Sudan 

Renewed, widespread violence breaks out in South Sudan in December. Initially related to political infighting, the violence quickly takes on an ethnic dimension.

New Deal in Somalia

A New Deal Compact is signed in late September to coordinate and support peacebuilding and statebuilding efforts in Somalia. However, the process is widely seen to lack consultation and outreach. High levels of corruption and political in-fighting, which culminate in the removal of the Prime Minister in December 2013, is one of many factors hindering effective implementation of the New Deal. 




Ahead of Kenya’s March 2013 elections, Saferworld partners with people working on peace, security and election management across the country to strengthen preparedness and coordination in support of peaceful, free and fair national polls. The elections pass by mainly peacefully (in contrast to the 2007 polls) – a testament to the collaborative work of civil society, communities and authorities.

With a range of civil society and government allies, we start work on the post-2015 agenda, to push for the inclusion of peace and peace-related issues in the new international development framework that will follow the Millennium Development Goals.

After approximately two decades of campaigning by Saferworld and civil society activists, the UN General Assembly adopts a global Arms Trade Treaty.


Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict takes place in London. It follows two years of the UK Government’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. Practical steps to tackle impunity for the use of rape as a weapon of war are agreed by 123 country delegations, marking a shift in global attitudes to crimes of sexual violence in conflict.

2014 Islamic State announces ‘caliphate’

Islamic State announces the establishment of a ‘caliphate’ across parts of Syria and Iraq. The UN estimates over 190,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war between March 2011 and April 2014.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld publishes a Community Security Handbook which explains the principles underpinning our community security approach, and helps policymakers and practitioners work through the steps involved in planning, implementing, evaluating and improving community security interventions. The handbook brings together Saferworld’s experience and learning from over ten years of community programming in a broad range of contexts across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

We begin a policy programme focused on finding peacebuilding responses to counter-terrorism, migration and statebuilding. This is in response to increasingly militarised approaches to security threats and crises.

Saferworld’s new strategic plan includes an objective to challenge and transform the gender norms that cause and perpetuate violent conflict and insecurity. A focus on gender is now entrenched and mainstreamed as a priority across the organisation. With the launch of two reports, we explore the role of masculinities in conflict and peacebuilding.

The Arms Trade Treaty crosses the threshold of 50 state ratifications needed for it to become international law and enters into force on 24 December 2014.


War in Yemen

War breaks out in Yemen in March, with a Saudi-led coalition intervening in the country shortly after. To date, thousands of civilians have been killed and 80 per cent of the country’s people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

2030 Agenda adopted

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is adopted by all United Nations Member States in September 2015, and includes an unprecedented commitment to peace, justice and inclusion. It is one of the most ambitious global initiatives of recent time, aiming to end poverty, reduce violence and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. The Agenda contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) providing a blueprint for global development with peace at its heart.

New Nepal constitution

Nepal’s new constitution comes into effect in September. It replaces the interim constitution of 2007, sets out the new structure of the state, and creates seven federal provinces.

Nepal earthquake

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal in April, killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring 22,000. Many of the country’s historic sites were severely damaged, including temples and monuments.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy wins an overwhelming victory in the general elections. However, the Burmese military retains a dominant role in political and security affairs. 


Saferworld begins work with UN agencies, civil society and governments to ensure that international commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals – especially to Goal 16 on just, peaceful and inclusive societies and Goal 5 on gender equality – improve the security and long-term opportunities for people affected by conflict and violence.

We open a new office in Tajikistan, where we work on people-centred policing and gender, peace and security.

Saferworld begins work with partners in Myanmar to improve community security and advocate for conflict-sensitive and gender-sensitive reform in security and justice governance.

We establish a US office in Washington DC, where we work with the US Government and Congress, civil society and the media to create a deeper understanding of the factors causing violent conflict and influence US approaches.


A new de facto leader in Myanmar 

The leader of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, becomes the country’s State Counsellor, a position akin to the Prime Minister.

UN adopts ‘sustaining peace’ agenda

Under Secretary General Antonio Guterres the UN undertakes a review of its peacebuilding and development architecture to develop a more long-term holistic approach that includes peacebuilding, peacekeeping and political mediation alongside sustainable development, human rights and humanitarian response.


Saferworld publishes a gender analysis of conflict toolkit to help national and international non-governmental organisations and other peacebuilders to integrate gender perspectives into conflict analysis.

The Conflict Sensitivity Resource Facility is established to support the use of conflict sensitivity in donor strategies and programmes in South Sudan. We implement CSRF with swisspeace, a peace research institute. 


Britain triggers Article 50 to leave the European Union

Britain triggers Article 50, initiating the proceedings to take the country out of the European Union.

Mugabe resigns

In November, Robert Mugabe, the world’s oldest ruler, resigned as Zimbabwe’s President, signalling the final end of his decades in power after a military coup.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld opens an office in Mogadishu, Somalia and begins work to build trust between communities and authorities, providing space for them to identify and address their security concerns. 

We begin a policy programme focused on peacebuilding responses to terrorism and migration.

Saferworld, Conciliation Resources and International Alert begin a three-year DFID-funded research programme, the Peace Research Partnership, on how to support more inclusive peacebuilding, focusing on a range of conflict-affected states including Kenya, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.


Ethiopia signs peace deal with Eritrea

In June, new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed surprised the world by announcing he would accept a peace deal with Eritrea after 18 years.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Saferworld holds our first community engagement lab in Hargeisa, bringing together our partners in Somalia and Sudan and 42 participants from across Saferworld to share their practices and challenges on community security.

We establish a Conflict Advisory Unit, formalising our work on conflict sensitivity and our support to external organisations.

Saferworld designates a specific adviser to drive forward our commitments on partnership, in collaboration with colleagues across the organisation.


Sudan protests

After 30 years in power, Sudan’s leader Omar al-Bashir is forced to step down as a result of mass demonstrations across the country.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons



Saferworld, the Transparency Accountability and Participation Network and the International Peace Institute launch a Voices of SDG16+ campaign, with support from nine partner organisations. The campaign received over 150 video submissions on how people are working to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies. Some videos were shown at an event during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum.

Looking at addressing the causes of forced migration and displacement, we publish an extensive report into EU and member states’ outsourcing of migration and border controls in ‘partner’ countries such as Turkey, Libya and Niger.

Saferworld’s Uganda team receives five years of funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency for a project to address conflict– including land governance and tensions between refugees and host communities – through community security and other peacebuilding work.

Across the organisation we prioritise work with young people to support them to develop as leaders, peacebuilders and community safety advocates.