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UN: Crime kills more people than armed conflicts

Rebecca Staudenmaier
July 8, 2019

Far more people are killed in homicides around the world than in conflict zones, a sweeping UN study has found. The rate of women being killed due to domestic violence is also on the rise.

A man holds a pistol
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Schlesinger

Criminal activity is responsible for more deaths around the world than terror attacks and armed conflicts combined, according to a study published on Monday by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The sweeping study found that organized crime is one of the biggest drivers of homicides around the world, and that women are more often killed by their partners or family members.

What are the main takeaways?

  • Some 464,000 people around the world were killed in homicides in 2017 — far more than the 89,000 people killed in armed conflicts that same year.
  • Organized crime was responsible for up to 19% of deaths worldwide.
  • Over 90% of suspects in homicide cases between 2014 and 2016 were men.
  • The number of women and girls killed due to domestic violence rose in 2017, accounting for 58% of all female homicide victims.
  • Europe has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world, with 3 victims per 100,000 people.
Infographic depicting the number of global homicides versus the number of deaths in armed conflicts and terror attacks

'The most dangerous place' for women is at home

Although women and girls make up a smaller portion of global homicides, they are much more likely than men to be killed due to intimate partner violence.

"The home remains the most dangerous place for women, who continue to bear the heaviest burden of lethal victimization as a result of inequality and gender stereotypes," the UN report said.

Asia logged the highest number of female homicides due to domestic violence in 2017, with around 20,000 victims. The second highest region was Africa, with 19,000 women killed — although due to its smaller population, women there run a higher risk of becoming victims of domestic violence.

Infographic depicting the proportion of women versus men killed in intimate partner violence

Organized crime

Since the year 2000, organized crime has killed as many people as all armed conflicts around the world combined, the study found.

Organized crime and gang violence is "a key driver" of high homicide rates in parts of Central America, with deaths rising due to conflicts between rival groups.

Young men between the ages of 15 and 29 are at the highest risk of becoming victims of homicide worldwide. The UN report found that this is particularly the case for men in the Americas, where gang-related violence and firearm injuries are the most frequent cause of death.

Education and better support for police

In order to combat the rising number of homicides across the world, the UN outlined several policy proposals to tackle the issues in each region.

Combatting organized crime by improving education, boosting police work in communities to build trust, and creating violence prevention programs targeting young men were listed as possible solutions.

"Unfortunately, the financial resources and political attention currently devoted to this problem at the international level are inadequate," the study said.

The study also urged for an end to impunity, saying that homicide cases that are not closed with a lawful conviction contribute to a vicious cycle — leading to more killings and overburdening the justice system.

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