Latin America has “some of the highest criminality rates in the world” and for the first time in decades delinquency has replaced unemployment as the main concern of the population, according to a report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released this week.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hopes the report will help demonstrate the pressing need to change public policies on citizen security, changing the focus of attention from repression to prevention of crime and violence.
The countries of the region have some of the highest rates of crime and violence in the world, and young people are the most affected group—both as victims and perpetrators. This has made citizen security one of society's foremost demands toward state authorities. The report underscores that the high rates of violent crimes against persons in Latin America and the Caribbean are alarming for democratic governance and the rule of law.
The report shows that the continent has an average of 25.6 homicides per 100.000 population, compared to the 8.9 for Europe. These extraordinary high levels also have an impact on the economy, which is estimated to cost between 2% and 15% of GDP, according to the different countries.
The IACHR indicates in its report that citizen security policies that have been implemented historically in many states of the region have, in general terms, diverged from international human rights standards, and in many cases the authorities have resorted to the illegal and arbitrary use of force in the name of crime prevention and control.
IACHR notes that these policies have proved to be ineffective in solving society's demands for citizen security based upon harsher penalties, fewer procedural guarantees, and having adolescents charged as adults when accused of criminal offences.
The Commission says in the report that the member states have the obligation to protect and ensure the exercise of the human rights at stake in citizen security through plans and programs for prevention, deterrence and, when necessary, legitimate suppression of violent and criminal conduct, based on the guidelines and within the limits established by human rights standards and principles.
The report also indicates that it is necessary to adopt measures to professionalize police forces, as well as public policies that take into account the security and rights of state agents, including members of the police force.
IACHR says that public policies on citizen security should focus on creating or strengthening State institutions that can effectively and efficiently respond to a democratic society's needs in this regard.
The Report on Citizen Security and Human Rights was prepared under a memorandum of understanding between the IACHR, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Its preparation and publication has been possible thanks to the financial support of UNICEF, OHCHR, the Government of Italy, and the Open Society Institute foundation. Civil society organizations in the Americas also provided valuable input and contributions for the preparation of this report.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who act in a personal capacity, without representing a particular country, and who are elected by the OAS General Assembly.