Are homicide statistics just another number crunching exercise or a helpful indicator for humanitarian intervention? The Homicide Monitor, a new, interactive online tool that collates country-by-country statistics on homicides from a range of sources, an initiative the Brazil-based Igarape Institute launched this week, is intended to stimulate debate around homicide statistics and draw attention to the world’s hotspots.
“Making information available about homicide is the first step towards doing something about it,” said Igarapé Institute research director Robert Muggah. According to the Homicide Monitor, between 437,000 and 468,000 homicides occur around the world each year. While rates are very high in Latin American countries and some other parts of the world, they are in steady decline in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and Asia.
“Homicide rates are an interesting indicator of what’s happening in a country,” says Olivier Bangerter, Thematic Team Coordinator for the World Humanitarian Summit.
“Understanding how widespread lethal violence is gives us an understanding of the challenges countries face, whether from a humanitarian, human rights or a development perspective,” Bangerter said. ”As a humanitarian it’s always very useful to understand who is vulnerable, and to what.”
Where homicide rates exceed 40 per 100,000 of a country’s population, but where there is no outright armed conflict, some humanitarian organizations may use the designation “other situations of violence” to indicate the need for involvement.
“While not perfect, homicide is a proxy for a much wider set of insecurities,” Muggah said. “It is often the most visible instance of crime. Where we see high rates of homicide, we are likely also to have high rates of injuries, disappearances, and most likely other kinds of criminal violence.”
The fear linked to these wider insecurities can also drive displacement. (See: The Price of Fear)
A wealth of data
Enrico Bisogno, Team Leader of Crime Statistics at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (whose data the Monitor uses) agreed. Homicide statistics “are the best possible indicator of violence in any country at any given time, because homicide is the ultimate crime.”
Homicide statistics reveal much about violence – not just about numbers killed, but about where the crime takes place, by whom and with what weapon, he says.
UNODC, which publishes a bi-yearly Global Study on Homicides, is lobbying to include homicide as one of the key indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals. According to the Global Burden of Armed Violence 2015: Every Body Counts, between 2007 and 2015 at least 508,000 people – including 60,000 women and girls – died by violent means, mostly not in situations of armed conflict.
Publishing global homicide figures is a recent phenomenon, and more countries are honing their capacity to capture the data. The Homicide Monitor is the latest contribution to the global picture, filling in the blanks with more information such as gender breakdown of victims and types of weapons used. While UNODC gathers annual statistics from 110 countries, the Homicide Monitor has compiled data from more than 219 countries and territories and is, according to Muggah, “the most comprehensive publicly available data set”.
All those interviewed by IRIN said they had confidence in the steps that Muggah and the Igarapé Institute had taken to collate and present the statistics as accurately as possible. However, Muggah himself acknowledges the limitations of homicide data – starting with varying definitions of the term. For example: some countries distinguish between intentional and unintentional homicides and some only count homicides after a perpetrator has been arrested and prosecuted. And while UNODC does not include lawful deaths at the hands of the police, WHO does.