Citizens from El Salvador propose essential topics to be included in the Post 2015 Agenda. Photo: UNDP El Salvador

Despite steady social and economic progress, crime and insecurity risk thwarting human development in Latin America and the Caribbean. With less than nine percent of the world’s population, the region is the most violent in the world, concentrating 27 percent of all murders worldwide.

Huge social inequalities, under-employment among younger citizens and the need to enhance institutional capacity to curb crime are the backdrop for the insecurity, beyond the domain of the fight against drugs.

Governments have been spending more to try to tackle the problem.  In Central America alone, where homicide rates are 11 times the global average of four per 100,000 inhabitants, governments spent some US$4 billion in security and justice in 2010. This represents a 60 percent increase over four years—more than what some countries receive in aid—according a recent UNDP study.

Several areas of UNDP’s work are fundamental bricks for the foundation of the region’s stability and sustainable development. We have been working closely with governments, civil society organizations and the private sector in initiatives that range from training police forces and encouraging disarmament to boosting job opportunities for the youth.

Human Development

Photo: Rene Gonzalez for UNDP Paraguay

This is one of the key issues UNDP addresses in its forthcoming 2013 Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean, which focuses on citizen security.

• According to the report, countries in the region still suffer from insufficient capacity in justice and security. This is reflected in the alarmingly high rate of cases that go unpunished, crises in regional prison systems, and low levels of trust among citizens in judicial institutions and police.

As a result, privatization of the security sector is increasingly gaining ground — which serves to heighten inequalities and leaves unresolved challenges faced by governments as guarantors of citizen security.

• Second, the report finds regional growth more in quantitative than qualitative terms: The labor market remains fragile in certain fields, with many jobless youth and rapid urbanization, accompanied by a breakdown in the social fabric and added burdens on the already vulnerable middle class.

• Third, in some cases community ties have eroded, while insecurity exacted a heavy price, reducing the number of venues to promote cooperation, trust, and citizen participation. In some cases, this gives rise to initiatives verging on vigilantism.

• Fourth, surging threats to security seriously hinder the capabilities and freedoms of Latin Americans. Though organized crime is notorious as a catalyst for violence and crime at the local and transnational level, citizens’ daily lives are filled with street crime, gender-based violence, and violence among youth, all in a self-perpetuating cycle.

How we address these challenges

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Photo: UNDP Paraguay

UNDP provides technical advice on citizen security to 17 countries in the region. Moreover, we work in several countries of Latin America and the Caribbean creating Violence Observatories, which , along with reports and analysis, help map the problem, identify the causes of insecurity, as well as highlight the success stories in crime and violence prevention. UNDP also works actively to strengthen institutional capacities for the design, implementation and evaluation of national and local policies. This work is built on respect for human rights and also seeks to address gender inequality aspects.

Our Panama-based Regional Centre works with UNDP’s offices in Latin American and the Caribbean countries to support safety and violence prevention initiatives, providing technical advice to governments at the national, state and municipal level and civil society organizations.  Faced with these needs in a changing environment, UNDP also promotes the exchange of knowledge between countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as in other countries.

Related publications
A Decade of Work on Citizen Security and Conflict Prevention in Latin America & the Carribean 2001-2010

This report is a joint effort between the Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) and the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (RBLAC) seeking to compile the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work in the areas of Conflict Prevention and Citizen Security during the first decade of the 21st century in Latin America and the Caribbean region.

Issue Brief: Citizen Security

This Issue Brief addresses the topic of Citizen Security— the process of establishing, strengthening and protecting democratic civic order, eliminating threats of violence in a population and allowing for safe and peaceful coexistence— and how UNDP does it.