Helen Clark: Speech at the Launch of the 2013 Latin America Human Development Report

Nov 12, 2013

Speech for Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP
Launch of the 2013 Latin America Human Development Report,
“Citizen Security with a Human Face: Diagnosis and Proposals for Latin America”
UN ECOSOC Conference Bldg, New York

I am pleased to launch today the 2013 UNDP Latin America Human Development Report, Citizen Security with a Human Face: Evidence and Proposals for Latin America.

Over the last decade, Latin America has reduced poverty, lowered inequalities, and achieved significant economic growth. These remarkable accomplishments have helped boost human development and, thereby, improved the lives of many.

Notwithstanding these achievements, however, levels of violence and crime in the region have climbed. Over the last 25 years, the number of robberies in the region has tripled. The World Health Organization has recently referred to the high, and in some countries growing, homicide rates as reaching epidemic levels. People are increasingly worried about their safety. Fifty per cent of Latin Americans surveyed in 2012 believe that security in their country has deteriorated. Such high levels of concern about security undermine the social cohesion, trust, freedoms, and empowerment on which human development depends.

It was in this context that the UNDP Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean decided to focus its 2013 Regional Human Development Report on citizen security. Without citizen security, countries’ efforts to realize their objectives for inclusive economies and societies and consolidated democracies can be, and often are, curtailed or frustrated.

Citizen Security with a Human Face diagnoses the scope and scale of the region’s security challenges. It offers a number of concrete recommendations, based on experience of what does and doesn’t work, on how countries can increase citizen security. I will speak briefly to the report’s findings on the nature of the challenge, and elaborate on four of its key recommendations.

The report closely examines the state of citizen security in eighteen countries in the region, and draws on other relevant studies. It concludes that citizen insecurity has become a pressing challenge for all countries in Latin America. The degree of intensity and the nature of the threats differ within and between countries - from disorganized and opportunistic crime to that emanating from low-level criminal organisations and from the presence of organised criminal groups. Gender-based violence is pervasive, and illegal state-perpetrated violence has also been a factor in some places

According to surveys conducted for this report, as many as 65 per cent of Latin Americans have stopped going out at night because of insecurity, and thirteen per cent report having moved home for fear of becoming a victim of crime.

In such ways, citizen insecurity limits people’s capabilities and freedoms, inhibiting them from pursuing opportunities which can improve their lives, contribute to their communities, and build social trust. The report suggests that by taking a human development approach to the problem, countries could break this cycle of low trust and high insecurity.

With far-sighted initiatives and capable institutions, a number of countries in the region have been able to increase citizen security and improve the well-being of people. The report concludes from this that progress is possible, and that both leadership and citizen participation are key ingredients for success.

Let me now highlight some of the key recommendations of the report:  

1.    Policies need to address the particularly negative impact of violence and crime on women and girls and on young men.  

In Latin America, lethal violence particularly and disproportionately involves young men. The homicide rate among youth is more than double the rate for the general population; among young males the rate is ten times higher.

Nonetheless, the victim of nearly one in every ten homicides is a female. The number of femicides – whereby men target and kill women or girls specifically because they are female - has increased in several countries in the region. Women are also exposed in greater numbers to sexual violence, intra-family violence, and sexual exploitation.

The report underscores the need to create specialized responses targeting the needs of at-risk youth and women and girls. Reducing high dropout rates in secondary education and the lack of job opportunities for young people, for example, would increase the ability of young people to avoid becoming perpetrators or victims. A UNDP study of the prison population in six Latin American countries revealed that more than eighty per cent of inmates had not completed twelve years of schooling, and more than sixty per cent had not completed nine years.

Government leadership to establish strategic alliances with the private sector and young people would help open up opportunities for decent work. To increase the impact on citizen security, the report suggests directing such initiatives particularly at young people who are neither studying, nor working, nor in training, and who live in urban areas with persistently high rates of poverty.

The report also urges decision makers to uphold laws which aim to prevent and punish gender-based violence. Ninety seven per cent of the countries of Latin America have laws against domestic violence, but there are challenges with implementation. The report suggests making implementation a much higher priority by developing national plans which involve all levels of the justice system. Social programmes can also help where they are specifically shaped to reduce the vulnerability of women and girls. Better access to sexual and reproductive health services and more wide spread access to education will also empower women in their homes and communities.

2.    The report notes that “iron fist” policies have failed to reduce levels of violence and crime in the region. Understandable popular outrage and political opportunism have in some cases led to absolute or “clean-sweep” measures which ignore underlying causes of violence and crime.

In some cases, such measures have created new problems, including prison overcrowding, or aggravated old ones by reproducing a culture of violence and criminality. The report advocates abandoning the “iron fist” approach because it is counterproductive.  

3. The report suggests that citizen insecurity can also be tackled effectively through crime prevention strategies which are designed and implemented with the participation of affected communities and populations.

Such initiatives and strategies have helped a number of countries in Latin America to reduce crime rates, maintain citizen security, and safeguard human rights. The most effective among them have a common characteristic:  they respond to the needs of people, as expressed by them, and are carried out with their active involvement.

By engaging people in formulating and monitoring community interventions, they become a part of the solution. Such ownership of prevention programs leads to greater trust, in particular between citizens, community leaders, and security and justice agencies. The report found that trust underlies effective, sustained, and legitimate security policies which meet the needs of vulnerable groups, including the victims of violence and their families.

Governments must take the initiative to establish spaces for public participation; ensuring that people are engaged and are responded to. Local civil society and community groups can take a lead role, working with their counterparts in government, the private sector, and the media, to implement initiatives in ways which boost accountability and increase transparency. They also have a role to play in building cultures of non-violence, opening creative healthy spaces for young people, encouraging non-violent male behaviour, strengthening dialogue between groups, and promoting community involvement.

4.    The report recommends going beyond local and national approaches to citizen security and to forge effective regional and global responses. Citizen insecurity is a challenge which all the countries in the region share. Co-operation between them is vital for effective prevention of violence and crime and for responses to the damage they inflict on societies.

Over the past decade, efforts to strengthen international co-operation have grown, including through South-South co-operation. Collaboration between the Chilean Carabineros and the Nicaraguan National Police Force (PNN) stands out as a particularly effective example.

The Report notes that many Latin American leaders and institutions are important players in international security debates. The region is driving international discussions on ways of addressing drug consumption as a public health concern, rather than as exclusively a criminal or security issue. With a common regional vision on citizen security, Latin America’s voice in the global debate would be magnified.

To this end, the report recommends creating a Regional Forum on Citizen Security, with a mandate to convene leaders and specialists for the purpose of strengthening citizen security. The Forum could work to improve co-ordination between countries; increase understanding of the interconnections between global, regional, national, and local policies; and promote and enable regional and global action.

The support of multilateral organizations, including UNDP can also be enhanced. Better co-ordination is needed in particular between organizations committed to security on the one hand, and to development on the other. To maximize the impact of our assistance, we need to define where our goals overlap in advancing citizen security, and then more fully align our efforts with the objectives, needs, and capacities of countries in the region. It will be important for UNDP to incorporate the recommendations of this report into its dialogue with governments and its programming.

UNDP is already working actively to enhance citizen security in most of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, and, as such is well placed to help strengthen such collaboration and advance partnerships. UNDP has supported countries to draw up comprehensive national policies on citizen security, establish observatories of violence, design local security plans, and reform their laws to better control arms. The results to date are very promising.

With this new report, UNDP offers the countries of Latin America recommendations on how they might build on what is already working to improve citizen security for human and sustainable development. At UNDP, we look forward to working with the countries of the region to take these forward.


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