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For those of us interested in topics related to crime on a global scale, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime is a great source of global data. In a previous post on structural violence, I outlined some comparisons on homicide rates. The data for this post came from the 2011 Global Study on Homicide (Pdf). So, I thought I’d dive a bit more in the data from that report.

First of all, when doing global comparisons, it is useful to have some common definitions, so UNODC defines homicide as such: unlawful death purposefully inflicted on a person by another person. They selected this definition based on three considerations:

  • The killing of a person by another person (objective element).
  • The intent of the perpetrator to kill the victim (subjective element).
  • The intentional killing needs to be against the law, which means that the law considers the perpetrator liable for intentional homicide (legal element).

Visually, the defining process looks like this:

Defining homicide

So, what is the overall global picture on homicide? As the summary notes:

“At one extreme, where homicide rates are high and firearms and organized crime in the form of drug trafficking play a substantial role, 1 in 50 men aged 20 will be murdered before they reach the age of 31. At the other, the probability of such an occurrence is up to 400 times lower.

There are many reasons for this but one of the links most clearly identified in this study is that homicide is much more common in countries with low levels of human development, high levels of income inequality and weak rule of law than in more equitable societies, where socio-economic stability seems to be something of an antidote to homicide.

Disparities not only exist in homicide typologies but also in their prevalence in different regions and countries, yet this study shows that intimate partner/family-related homicide is a chronic problem everywhere. Women murdered by their past or present male partner make up the vast majority of its victims worldwide, which explains why in many countries women are more likely to be murdered in the home than elsewhere.

Men, on the other hand, make up the vast majority of both victims and perpetrators of all types of crime, including homicide, and are more likely to be killed in the street. They are also more likely to be young, the street is more likely to be in a built up area and they are most likely to be killed with a gun.”

In this first post, we will look at the overall picture and focus on regional trends, as they relate to organized criminality, drug trafficking and inequalities. The next post will focus on the gender aspects.

Let’s take an overall look first:

Global homicide map

It is easy to identify the high homicide areas: Central and South America, parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Russia, with the US as outlier for wealthy countries with low homicide rates.

Going in to more details, one can examine differences by regions. For instance, the Americas (a high area overall to start with):


This region seems to meet conditions for high homicide levels mentioned above: drugs, criminal organizations, weak governments, and guns. One can clearly identify the Mexican states where criminal cartels have been operative as well as the cocaine-producing places.

On the other hand, take a look at Europe, a low homicide continent:


Hello, former communist block, Turkey and Baltic countries. Anyone who has researched human trafficking knows that these places are main hubs to distribute trafficked humans throughout Europe. Human trafficking is high-profit and low-risk.

Time series are also interesting for regional comparisons. Europe again:

Homicides Region Europe

I am a bit puzzled by the 1990s spike in Southern Europe, here is what the report says:

“Despite some dramatic fluctuations such as those seen in Albania, which experienced an alarming rises in the homicide rate during the civil unrest following the collapse of a pyramid scheme in 1997, homicide rates have decreased or remained more or less stable in the vast majority of European countries since 1995, following the peaks of 1991-1993.” (26)



A pretty clear downward trend across the board. But look at the Americas:

Homicides Region Americas

This is the only region where there is a clear increase in homicide, especially in the Caribbean and Central America:

“Drug trafficking is both an important driver of homicide rates in Central America and one of the principal factors behind rising violence levels in the subregion, as are the illicit activities of organized crime in general and the legacy of political violence.” (25)

There is no doubt that the presence of criminal organizations and guns leads to higher rates of homicide:

Homicides OC

Here again, we find the clear correlation with the Americas:

“Data on overall homicide rates—and homicide by firearm rates in particular—nonetheless confirm the greater involvement of gangs and organized crime in homicides in the Americas than in other regions (figure 3.10). The match between a high proportion of homicides by firearm in the Americas and a high proportion of gang/organized crime-related homicides suggests that in those countries where there is a higher homicide rate, the percentage of firearm homicides is also higher and is often associated with higher shares of homicides committed by organized crime/gangs,15 as reported by the police. However, this assumption cannot be extrapolated to Africa, where the lack of data prevents a proper study of different homicide typologies.” (49)

And, of course, there is the gun thing again:

Homicides Firearms

“The relationship between overall homicide rates and the proportion of homicides committed by firearm is shown in figure 3.6 where the data again emphasize strong regional patterns. 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 Oceania 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. (figure 3.6 does not include countries in Africa due to data availability limitations in this region).

It should be stressed that the percentage of homicides by firearm is the compound outcome of at least three aspects: availability of guns; preference of crime perpetrators to use guns in crime; and their willingness to inflict fatal injury.” (42-3)

And finally, there is the inequality thing:

Homicides GINI

The report claims a correlation between both human development (on the left) and inequalities (on the right), but I am not convinced by the one of the left.

So, that’s it for the first half of the data. More to follow.

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