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Citizen Insecurity Growing Problem in Latin America

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 13 2013 (IPS) - The new Regional Human Development Report produced by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) brings to light an issue that is considered a “thwart” to the development of Latin America.  Citizen insecurity is a growing problem in the region and according to the new report, “a challenge that must be overcome by means of democratic and inclusive policies that respect human rights.”

Regional Human Development Report for Latin America launch at United Nations Headquarters. Credit: Lush Chen/IPS

Regional Human Development Report for Latin America launch at United Nations Headquarters. Credit: Lush Chen/IPS

Violence is slowly crippling the societal and economic strands of Latin American countries and as governments prepare for crackdowns and iron fist responses, a few organizations, researchers and civil society members conclude that the situation is more diverse than it seems, and a one-size-fits-all approach is not the way to solve things.

Surveying over 18 countries in Latin America and aptly titled Citizen Security With A Human Face: Evidence and Proposals for Latin America, the report shared a startling conclusion: though having sustained immense economic growth, Latin America remains one of the most insecure and unequal destinations in the world.

Citizen security is a crucial subject for many political decision makers because it becomes central to their campaigns; the people that vote them into office want to feel safe to walk the streets and often look to their leaders to help make it so.

“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.” said Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator.

Some of the major attributes driving the insecurity in the region stem from the disorganization of youth—many lack opportunities to better themselves, education and even shelter.  Left alone on streets late at night and with nothing better to do—and sometimes with access to drugs and alcohol—they resort to crimes, both petty and serious.

Because Latin America is one of the only regions where lethal violence grew between 2000 and 2010, researchers and policy makers are zeroing in on additional attributes to insecurity including, low quality economic growth in the area, demographic changes, the accessibility of weapons, alcohol and drugs, and also institutional vulnerability.

“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,” adds the Human Development Report coordinator, Rafael Fernandez de Castro.

That diversity spreads directly into women and girls who suffer the consequences of violence in Latin America.  The report emphasizes the great threat that violence against women poses to human development because the rate of rape, domestic violence and female murders has risen in all the surveyed 18 countries.

The report makes no qualms about how the issue of citizen security must be dealt with—or better yet, what must be avoided.

The “iron fist” way of combating violence will no longer work, for increased policing and criminal repression in Latin America has only lead to high crime rates.  Addressing the lack of opportunities available for young people, protecting the rights to life and physical integrity are just a few ways in which citizen security can be targeted.

The report makes clear that national efforts to reduce crime through a policy initiative is key, as well as optimizing crime prevention programmes that use public spaces and promote coexistence as a way to deter violence.  It is also recommended that the reduction of impunity is crucial in promoting human rights and reinforcing faith in justice institutions.  Additionally, actively safeguarding the rights of victims as well as addressing gender violence both domestic and public can be a positive way of prevention.

Most importantly, some of the countries can start by reinvigorating a confidence in their police system.  When citizens feel as thought their basic rights are protected and that by-and-large their voices are heard, they are more likely to work with authorities in finding ways to combat violence within their communities. As the report firmly states, “the most effective way to reduce citizen insecurity is by improving the people’s lives.”

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