Expert Commentary

United Nations 2011 global study on homicide

2011 U.N. report on rates of homicide per capita in 207 countries based on data from the World Health Organization, the Global Burden of Injuries Project; and other sources.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) gathers data, case studies, and other relevant information on global crime in an effort to inform and shape policy responses. The “2011 Global Study on Homicide” — the first such report by the U.N. office — brings together a wide variety of data in order to create a worldwide picture of trends and developments.

The study’s data sources include: multiple agencies and field offices of the United Nations; the World Health Organization; the Global Burden of Injuries Project; and national and international sources from 207 countries, which have been compiled in the UNODC Homicide Statistics dataset.

Key findings in the report include:

  • In 2010 the total number of homicides globally was estimated to be 468,000. More than a third (36%) were estimated to have occurred in Africa, 31% in the Americas, 27% in Asia, 5% in Europe and 1% in the tropical Pacific region. Since 1995, the homicide rate has been falling in Europe, North America, and Asia, but has risen to a near “crisis point” in Central America and the Caribbean.
  • Of all homicides worldwide, 82% of the victims were male and 18% were female; of the female victims, 40 to 70% were linked to partner- or family-related violence.
  • On a per capita scaled level, “the homicide rate in Africa and the Americas (at 17 and 16 per 100,000 population, respectively) is more than double the global average (6.9 per 100,000), whereas in Asia, Europe and [the tropical  Pacific] (between 3 and 4 per 100,000) it is roughly half.”
  • “Although the United States of America has a relatively high homicide rate compared to other countries with a similar socio-economic level, U.S. crime rates in general have been declining since the mid-1990s, resulting in the steady downward trend of the Northern American homicide rate.”
  • Factors contributing to the rising levels of homicide include: the economic crisis; food insecurity due to environmental changes; inflation; and weak or limited rule of law. Indeed, these patterns are reflected in the fact that the “largest shares of homicides occur in countries with low levels of human development, and countries with high levels of income inequality are afflicted by homicide rates almost four times higher than more equal societies.”
  • Guns continue to be responsible for the largest share in causes of homicide: 42% of homicides globally are committed using firearms (199,000 deaths.) Study of the connection between higher levels of gun ownership and increased rates of homicide remains “one of the most difficult areas of homicide research, with a number of methodological problems.” Still, there is a “significant body of literature tends to suggest that firearm availability predominantly represents a risk factor rather than a protective factor for homicide.”
  • “Countries in the Americas tend to show a strong correlation between homicide rates and the percentage of homicides by firearm. In contrast, in countries in Asia, Europe and [the tropical Pacific] there appears to be a looser relationship between homicide level and percentage of killings perpetrated with a gun: homicide rates tend to cluster at under 10 per 100,000 population but they show a broader distribution in terms of percentage of homicides by firearms, which ranges from values close to zero up to 70 per cent.”
  • “Analysis of data from 45 cities and urban areas located in developing countries or in countries in transition collected between 1996 and 2008 shows that gun availability (as asked about in victimization surveys) is significantly associated with rates of assault with firearms: the more individuals in possession of weapons, the more frequent armed assaults take place (similar associations were found between percentage of gun ownership and prevalence of assault, robbery and gun robbery rates).”
  • As a reflection of the impact of restrictive firearm regulations in Europe, homicides in the Americas are more than three and a half times as likely to be perpetrated with a firearm (74% vs. 21%). In Europe, knives and other sharp objects are more than twice as likely to used as murder weapons than the Americas (36% vs. 16%).
  • In the Americas, more than 25% of homicides are related to “organized crime and the activities of criminal gangs”; the same is only true of approximately 5% of homicides in the Asian and European countries for which data are available.
  • By and large, the highest rate of homicide is a man killing a man. Overall, there’s a much higher risk of men being murdered than women, with global homicide rates of 11.9 and 2.6 per 100,000.

 Tags: crime, poverty, guns, Europe, Asia, Africa

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