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OAS Secretary General Participates in Presentation of UNDP Report on Citizen Security

  November 13, 2013

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today participated in the presentation of the Regional Human Development Report 2013-2014 of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) entitled, "Citizen Security with a Human Face: Evidence and Proposals for Latin America," which warns that insecurity is slowing the development of the region.

The UNDP report analyzes the situation of 18 Latin American countries and argues that insecurity is a shared challenge and an obstacle to social and economic development common to all countries. The report, - which was presented at the headquarters of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington, DC - notes that during the last decade, Latin America was the setting for a paradox in that it experienced two major expansions, both economic and criminal.

In his address, Secretary General Insulza said violence, crime and insecurity represent the "weak link" of a Latin America that, in other areas, has shown positive indicators, especially in the last decade. It is logical however, he continued, that multilateral organizations should turn their attention to the challenges.

The OAS Secretary General said the "comprehensive and uncompromising" UNDP report identifies six major threats to public safety: street crime; organized crime; violence and crime committed by and against young people; gender-based violence; corruption; and illegal violence carried out by state actors. "It is important to highlight the key role given in this list to street crime, -or 'common crime' as it is also called-, as it is probably the threat most closely felt by people and that is most present in the perception of insecurity," he said.

The OAS leader highlighted the emphasis the report places on the feeling of insecurity that prevails among the citizens of the region. "Most of the crimes are committed in neighborhoods. In 26 countries of the world, according to the Gallup Poll, more than 50 percent of residents say they feel unsafe walking alone at night. Of these 26 countries, 11 are in Latin America. That means, that in more than half of the countries of the region, the people feel they have been deprived of one of the most fundamental freedoms: the freedom from fear to walk the streets of their own city," he noted.

Moreover, continued Secretary General Insulza, the report emphasizes that perception of insecurity has no direct relation to the actual victimization, which in all cases is lower. "In one third of these countries, the perception of insecurity is more than double the actual level of victimization. But the objective fact for political decision makers is that people live in fear, and therefore they should design public policies that address the problem in both dimensions," said Secretary General Insulza.

The Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Director of the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Heraldo Munoz, who presented the report, said the document aims to answer the question of how it is that Latin America has grown economically, but has seen its levels of insecurity rise. According to Assistant Secretary Muñoz there are four factors that explain this phenomenon: the low quality of economic growth; demographic changes; the explosive combination of weapons, alcohol and drugs; and the institutional weakness of the states in the region.

In addition, Assistant Secretary-General Muñoz noted that although statistics shows an erroneous perception that in Latin America, the greatest danger is posed by drugs and criminal gangs, "Latin Americans say street crime is their primary concern."

IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno noted the symbolism of the fact that the UNDP annual report is dedicated to public security. "As everyone knows, crime and violence are the main concern of our citizens, and without doubt, is a mayor concern of our countries as they try to create societies without violence."

Moreno noted that the report offers ten solutions to address the problem of insecurity, but also makes clear that "there is no single answer, a panacea, to address this problem."

The World Bank Director for Central America, Carlos Jaramillo, said the problem of insecurity "is probably the number one obstacle to economic growth in Latin America."

Director Jaramillo said that Latin America is the most violent region in the world, and recalled that the region contains seven of the ten most violent countries in the world. "The continent has only 8 percent of the world's population but 20 percent of world’s homicides," said Jaramillo, who also criticized countries that rely exclusively on "heavy handed" policies to solve their security problems when past experience has shown that these policies do not work.

The Director for the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Cynthia Arnson, said the report "identifies weak state institutions, particularly Judiciary and Police, and how impunity and corruption continue shrinking public confidence in the system." Director Arnson also noted that the report highlights the large number of people in the region who are imprisoned without being processed, which in some cases exceeds 70 percent of the prison population.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-436/13