Violence Prevention Report Contains Key Lessons for Latin America

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A new report into global violence published by the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) makes an argument for Latin America moving beyond targeting criminal networks if it is to shake its status as the world’s most violent region.

The Global Status Report on Violence Prevention (pdf) examines government responses to violence in 133 countries around the world, including 21 countries in the Americas, which, as a region, registered by far the highest homicide rate and percentage of homicides by firearms.

According to the report, 62 percent of countries in the Americas have programs for tackling either gun or gang violence.

However, the report stated that, globally, such programs are typically insufficiently based on data, improperly coordinated, and underfunded. The report also noted that while many countries look to address violence by creating new laws, these are usually badly enforced.

The WHO report also makes a series of recommendations for how countries may improve their work in violence prevention, including better use and collection of data, and reviewing anti-violence laws.

InSight Crime Analysis

The report does not dwell on the role of organized crime in generating violence, but there is little doubt that criminal networks are one of the central factors in Latin America’s high violence rates.

While the report’s recommendations do not specifically mention organized crime, they do serve to highlight some of the institutional weaknesses that have allowed criminal networks to flourish in the region, as well as some of the possible ways to mitigate this impact aside from an approach focused on law enforcement.

For example, data collection and institutional coordination are often highlighted as key factors when it comes to developing effective policies to tackle crime-related violence. In addition, investing in and ensuring the effectiveness of educational and social programs, particularly those targeting vulnerable youth, are frequently identified as key long-term measures to improve the social conditions that are often a key component of organized crime violently taking root.

Overall, the WHO report implies that if Latin America wants to reduce violence, it cannot merely concentrate on dismantling criminal networks, but must also implement a broader range of violence prevention measures. 

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