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Nothing justifies homicide!. #InstintoDeVida in Latin America

It is urgent that in the 7 most lethal countries of Latin America we adopt plans for the reduction of homicides. The task before us is titanic. However, we know what the problem is and have tools at our disposal. #InstintoDeVida. Español

A protester against Mexico's President Felipe Calderon's policies against organized crime shows a banner against violence during a manifestation in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, November 20, 2010. Photo: Fidel Aguilar Castillo/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

The #LifeInstinct coalition aims at promoting an honest and open debate about the apparent normality with which we live today in the midst of violence in the region. It aims at challenging the status quo and building solutions based on evidence and respect for human rights. 

There are indeed grounds for urgency: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela account for 38% of the world's homicides. That is, in Latin America and the Caribbean, there are 4 homicides every 15 minutes - an average of 144.000 people get killed each year.

To change this reality, the organizations in the coalition are seeking, first, to generate empathy for the cause and to help organize public mobilization. In addition to protests, several organizations in the 7 countries are promoting cultural activities so as to get as many people as possible involved. 

Festivals celebrating life have been held in San Salvador, Guatemala City and Medellín. Public mourning processes for relatives of murdered people to recover hope through memory have been called in Caracas and Cali. From Rio de Janeiro and to Mexico City, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been saying it loud and clear: "Nothing justifies homicide!"

At the same time, several organizations in the region have been promoting technical debates on homicide rates and on public policies based on evidence which have had a positive impact on the reduction of lethal violence. Gone is the time when the 'heavy hand' was presented as the only possible answer. On the contrary, the use of repressive force is increasingly recognized as an incomplete, ineffective and counter-productive policy for the reduction of homicides.

Take the case of Mexico where, in the midst of a US-financed war on drugs, the State deployed 540.214 and 100.481 Army and Navy personnel from 2006 until March 2017. The not at all positive outcome of this is quite well known: it has led Mexico to experience its most violent year in modern history. Or take Venezuela where, between May and September this year, 755 homicides were reported in Greater Caracas, 246 of which (35%) occurred in the course of police operations. 

In contrast, cities such as Pelotas in Brazil, Guadalajara in Mexico and Medellín in Colombia have taken the first steps towards having local homicide reduction plans devised and led by experts, academics and members of the community. In Guatemala, the vice-ministry of violence prevention has begun a series of public consultations for the development of a 'road map' to ensure a downward trend of homicides in the country. 

For its part, the #LifeInstinct coalition has produced a menu of evidence-based public policies for the reduction of lethal violence. Interventions are classified into 5 fields of action – namely, interventions targeting people, places, facilitators or instruments, institutions and the environment. 

Interventions targeting people include: cognitive-behavioral therapy and other structured techniques based on clinical psychology promoting changes in behaviour; the prevention of recidivism; femicide-prevention policies, including the improvement of healthcare services for the detection of partner violence; focused deterrence; and conflict mediation.

Interventions targeting places include focusing on hot spots identified from data and directing human and material resources to designed areas, and urban interventions geared towards strengthening social integration and the recovery of public spaces. 

Interventions targeting facilitators include: the regulation and control of firearms and ammunition, including measures to restrict their purchase and size; measures for regulating the sale of alcohol in order to reduce acts of violence; and strategies to reduce impacts in drug markets. 

Interventions targeting institutions include: strengthening the capacity of the justice system to elucidate homicides by creating specialized units for homicide investigation coordinated by the prosecution, the police and civil authorities; and strengthening the capacities of the police and their relationship with the communities through the training of professional police officers capable of acting locally and of establishing positive relationships with the communities. 

Finally, interventions targeting the environment include: early prevention through the strengthening parental and family protection capacities; access to opportunities and innovative social policies aimed at promoting growth and the inclusion of the most disadvantaged and equitable development; and the strengthening of the communities’ capacity to respond to violence.

A complete catalog, including a bibliography supporting each measure, can be found in the public policy menu of #InstintoDeVida. The compiled experience is based on an analysis of the policies which have been implemented in Latin America over the last two decades. They are offered as a menu because the relevance of each one of them must be analyzed in the light of the particular challenges in the places where they are intended to be used. 

After a very close presidential election in Honduras, and the beginning of electoral processes in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico in the forthcoming months, the #LifeInstinct coalition intends to keep on promoting honest and informed technical debate, particularly at the local level. It is quite likely that all these countries will hold interesting national security discussions, as electoral processes, after all, are the natural place where debates happen on whether the way to follow is to be changed or the pace is to be maintained. 

Today we have managed to leave behind the idea that high homicide rates are normal or acceptable. The time has come to understand their causes and consequences, as well as to discuss what we can do to change things. For this to happen, we need to continue prioritizing homicide reduction in our public agendas.

In addition, we must continue to insist on demanding public and reliable information on lethal violence from local and national governments. The availability of valid and reliable data is essential for drawing up and evaluating policies for the prevention and reduction of homicides.

There is an urgent need for the 7 most lethal countries of Latin America to adopt homicide reduction plans and to set up clearly defined goals. In order to do this, we must identify a theory of change, with precise goals and specific resources. Having done this, we must then generate alliances to respond to the most pressing problems, but bearing in mind the necessary transformations in the long term.

The task ahead is gigantic. The good news is, however, that today we know what works in reducing homicides and what does not, and we also have good in-depth analyses of the phenomenon, so as to be able to act accordingly. In short, we know what the problem is and we have the tools we need at our disposal. Now is the time to get down and work in building peace, once and for all, in Latin America.

About the author

Aram Barra es internacionalista por la UDLA México y maestro en política y administración pública por New York University y University College London. Actualmente se desempeña como consultor independiente en temas de salud, seguridad y derechos humanos.

Aram Barra is an Internationalist by the UDLA Mexico and master in politics and public administration by that New York University and University College London. He is currently an independent consultant on health, security and human rights issues.


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