UN study shows murder rates highest in parts of Americas and Africa

Forensic police officers examine evidence collected at a crime scene. UN Photo/Martine Perret

6 October 2011 – Young men in Central and South America and Southern and Central Africa are most at risk of being killed in cases of homicide, while women face an increased likelihood of being murdered in domestic violence, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report unveiled today.

Evidence points to rising homicide rates in Central America and the Caribbean, which are “near crisis point,” according to UNODC’s Global Study on Homicide, which blames firearms for the rising murder rates in those two regions, where almost three quarters of all homicides are committed with guns, compared to 21 per cent in Europe.

Men face a much higher risk of violent death (11.9 per 100,000) than women (2.6 per 100,000), although there are variations between countries and regions.

“The results of the report show the importance of the UN firearm protocol and the importance for countries to ratify and adopt the protocol to try to control the use of firearms, and their use in fuelling street crime.

“It also highlights the importance of preventive measures and in the case of women, of measures to protect them from domestic crime.”

In countries with high murder rates, especially involving firearms, such as in Central America, one in 50 males aged 20 will be killed before they reach the age of 31 – several hundred times higher than in some parts of Asia.

Worldwide, 468,000 homicides occurred last year. Some 36 per cent of all homicides take place in Africa, 31 per cent in the Americas, 27 per cent in Asia, 5 per cent in Europe, and 1 per cent in Oceania.

Countries with wide income disparities are four times more likely to be afflicted by violent crime than more equitable societies. Conversely, economic growth seems to stem that tide, as the past 15 years in South America have shown.

Chronic crime is both a major cause and result of poverty, insecurity and under-development, the study points out. Crime drives away business, erodes human capital and destabilizes society.

“To achieve the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs], crime prevention policies should be combined with economic and social development and democratic governance based on the rule of law,” said Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director.

Sudden dips in the economy can drive up homicide rates. In selected countries, more murders occurred during the financial crisis of 2008-09, coinciding with declining gross domestic product (GDP), higher consumer price index and more unemployment.

Last year, 42 per cent of homicides were committed with firearms – 74 per cent of them in the Americas and 21 per cent in Europe. Gun crime is driving violent crime in Central America and the Caribbean – the only region where the evidence points to rising homicide rates.

“It is crucial that measures to prevent crime should include policies towards the ratification and implementation of the Firearms Protocol,” said Mr. Fedotov. He stressed that although 89 States are parties to the Protocol, which supplements the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, many more countries could accede to that legal instrument.

Organized crime – especially drug trafficking – accounted for a quarter of deaths caused by firearms in the Americas, compared to only 5 per cent of homicides in Asia and Europe. That does not mean, however, that organized crime groups are not active in those two regions, but rather that they may be operating in ways that do not employ lethal violence to the same extent.

Crime and violence are also strongly associated with large youthful populations, especially in developing countries. While 6.9 persons per 100,000 are killed each year globally, the rate for young male victims is three times higher (21.1 per 100,000). Young men are more likely to own weapons and engage in street crime, take part in gang warfare and commit drug-related offences, according to the study.

Globally, some 80 per cent of homicide victims and perpetrators are men. But, whereas men are more likely to be killed in a public places, women are mainly murdered at home, as in Europe where half of all female victims were killed by a family member. In Europe, women comprised almost 80 per cent of all people killed by a current or former partner in 2008.

“The results of the report show the importance of the UN firearm protocol and the importance for countries to ratify and adopt the protocol to try to control the use of firearms, and their use in fuelling street crime,” said Angela Me, chief of the statistics and surveys section at UNODC.

“It also highlights the importance of preventive measures and in the case of women, legal measures to protect them from domestic crime,” she told UN Radio.


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