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UN report: Homicide victims far outstrip those killed in conflicts

UNITED NATIONS — A new UN report paints a graphic picture of murder worldwide, documenting a spike to nearly half a million killings in 2017 — a figure five times greater than the number of people killed in armed conflict — and disproportionately high rates of homicide in North, South and Central America.

“Homicide kills far more than conflict,” said Angela Me, a chief of the research and trend analysis branch for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, while presenting the Global Study on Homicide in Manhattan Monday, adding “even if conflict sometimes gets more international attention.”

The report found that the 464,000 killings in 2017 due to nonconflict-related violence are responsible for far more murder than the 89,000 deaths from wars and armed conflict and the 26,000 deaths from terrorism.

The report showed a vast disparity in the two categories of killings, with conflict related homicides between 1990 and 2017 racking up 2.3 million deaths compared to 11.8 million homicides that were not conflict-related.

But, on a positive note, while the six-part study noted a 17 percent increase in homicides since 1992, when UNODC documented 395,000 such deaths, the rate of homicide actually declined over that period from 7.2 per 100,000 to 6.1 per 100,000, due to an increase in the global population, researchers said.

There were also notable disparities in how killings affect men versus women: men and boys were killed four times more often than women and girls, so males constitute 81 percent of the victims. Men were also 90 percent of the suspected perpetrators of homicides.

While boys and girls, until they reach 9 years old, are killed at similar rates — 52.4 percent and 47.6 percent, respectively, the study said, a yawning gap appears by the teenage years, when boys from 15 to 17 years old comprise 84.6 percent of the victims in that age group. That figure is surpassed by the 18- to 19-year old young men who make up 89.3 percent of the homicide victims in their age group.

But the gender gap reverses in the home, where women outpace men in being victims of intimate partner and relative violence. 

“When we zoom into intimate partner and family-related violence the situation changes — the majority of the victims are women,” Me said. “Almost 65 percent of women are basically killed either by their partner or a family member. We say home is the most dangerous place for a woman.”

The report also identified gun violence as the most preferred method of killing, with firearms being used in 54 percent or 238,804 deaths, while poisonings and beatings came in second, with 24 percent and 104,341 deaths followed by sharp objects which accounted for 97,183 victims, or 22 percent. In the Americas, though, firearms were used in 75 percent of all homicides, and those deaths formed a full 25 percent of the worldwide homicide total.

"The Global Study on Homicide seeks to shed light on gender-related killings, lethal gang violence and other challenges, to support prevention and interventions to bring down homicide rates," said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov. "Countries have committed to targets under the Sustainable Development Goals to reduce all forms of violence and related death rates by 2030. This report offers important examples of effective community-based interventions that have helped to bring about improvements in areas afflicted by violence, gangs and organized crime."

The Americas, where homicide rates increased from 16.7 per 100,000 in 2016 to 17.2 per 100,000 in 2017, were outliers — rising while the rest of the world’s rates dropped

While the global homicide rate in 2017 was 6.1 deaths per 100,000 people, the rate in the Americas was 17.2, Africa's was 13.0 and rates in Asia, Europe and Oceania were below the global average with rates of 2.3, 3.0 and 2.8, respectively. Central, South and North American young men faced the highest threat of homicide in 2017, as males aged 15 to 29 had a rate of homicide of 64 per 100,000.

“In Central America, for countries with the highest level of homicide, a boy that is 14 years old has an 8 percent risk of being killed before he reaches 45,” Me said, “So it’s really striking results for the vulnerability of this cohort of young males.”

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