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UNODC publishes "Global Study on Homicide"

last modified Jul 06, 2017 09:26 AM
17th April 2014


Last week the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published its Global Study on Homicide 2013.  Building upon the research of its 2011 study, the aim is to improve understanding of the underlying pattern and trends of murder at regional, national and sub-national levels so as to support governmental efforts to address its root causes.

This clearly intersects with the research collaboration on the right to life between CGHR and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.  In 2013 Prof. Heyns and Dr Probert met with some of the UNODC's team of researchers in Vienna to discuss ways in which the separate projects overlap and opportunities for each to inform the other.  As the Study makes clear:

The right to life is a supreme normative imperative, enshrined in both constitutional and international law.  The process and criteria for protecting against the unlawful taking of life, taking steps to safeguard the lives of those within its jurisdiction, and of assigning responsibility for violent deaths within that jurisdiction are key obligations of the State, predominantly through its criminal justice system

Intentional homicide caused the death of almost half a million people (437,000) in 2012, 31% of them in Africa.  It is clear that accurate state-reporting across Africa is extremely rare, and hence the UNODC relies upon mortality statistics that are modelled by the World Health Organisation.  As has become clear during the research on unlawful killings in Africa, there is a pressing need for better information-gathering about life and death on the continent.

In analysing the circumstances, motivations and relationships that drive homicide the study classifies intentional homicide into three main typologies, including, for the first time, one for homicide related to socio-political agendas.  These are described as  'homicides that originate in the public sphere and are typically committed as an instrument for advancing social or political agendas ... people are killed for what they represent and/or for the message that such killings can convey to the general public or to specific sub-sectors.'  This section includes discussion of many motivations for killing that will be discussed in the CGHR report Unlawful Killings in Africa, including hate crime, mob-violence and vigilantism.

Attention is also given to 'unlawful killings by law enforcement authorities.'  The Study affirms the state's obligation to safeguard life by strictly limiting the use of force by state agents in accordance with relevant international standards.  Though it draws a distinction between these unlawful killings and "intentional homicide" the report does highlight that there are circumstances in which killings by law enforcement personnel would qualify as homicide, especially where the police are not pursuing law enforcement objectives.  This might include attempts at extortion that escalate into extrajudicial killings, "social cleansing" operations, the intentional killing of criminals or members of marginalized groups, or circumstances in which the police operate as a militia or death squad.

The Study also includes a substantial section on the killing of journalists, the first subject researched by CGHR as part of its collaboration with the Special Rapporteur on questions of the right to life.  According to figures produced by UNESCO, the number of journalists killed reached a record high in 2012 (with 122 killed).  In December 2013 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning such attacks and calling for States to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists.

Further information about the UNODC's Global Study on Homicide 2013 can be found here.

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