U.N. report says insecurity is thwarting development in Latin America

Insecurity is a shared challenge that obstructs social and economic development in every country in Latin America, says a new U.N. Development Programme report launched in New York Tuesday. But crime control measures alone are insufficient; the most effective way to reduce citizen insecurity is by improving people’s lives, boosting inclusive economic growth and enhancing security and justice institutions, according to the “Regional Human Development Report 2013-2014.”

The report, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America,” reveals a paradox: In the past decade, the region experienced both economic growth and increased crime rates. Despite social improvements, Latin America remains the most unequal and most insecure region in the world. While homicide rates reduced in other regions, they increased in Latin America, which recorded over 100,000 murders per year, totaling more than a million from 2000-2010. While homicide rates stabilized and even declined in some parts of Latin America, it is still high: in 11 of the 18 assessed countries the rate is higher than 10 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, reaching epidemic levels. Moreover, the perception of security has worsened, with robberies hiking threefold in the last 25 years, says the regional report.

Citizen security is a sensitive issue which preoccupies many political decision-makers and reverberates in the heat of electoral campaigns,” said Programme Administrator Helen Clark. “It is a crucial issue for several “ regions, including Latin America and the Caribbean, because without peace there can be no development, and without development there can be no lasting peace.”

“There is no magic solution to insecurity, but this serious problem can be remediated — with vision and long-term political will,” said Geraldo Muñoz, the U,N, assistant secretary-general and programme director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Each country needs to secure a national citizen security agreement between the government, political parties and civil society so it truly becomes a state policy.”

The report focuses on six main overlapping threats that negatively impact the region: street crime; violence and crime committed by and against the youth; gender-based violence; corruption (the misappropriation of public property, whose provision is the responsibility of the state); violence committed by state actors and organized crime.

“While some threats — such as organized crime, especially drug trafficking — are often used to explain insecurity, the regional, national and local dynamics are much more diverse,” explains the report coordinator Rafael Fernandez de Castro.

One of the main lessons drawn from Latin America is that iron fist policies do not work: strong police and criminal repression in the region have often coincided with high crime rates, the report says. The assessed experiences confirm that protecting the rights to life, to dignity and to physical integrity is essential to citizen security, which, as a public good, is a responsibility of the state, highlights the regional report.

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