Killings hit record high in 2021 as post-lockdown stress grew – UN

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – The number of murders and other intentional killings surged to a record high across the world in 2021, driven in part by the stress and economic pressures of COVID-19 lockdowns, a U.N. report said on Friday.

Around 458,000 people were killed intentionally, higher than the 400,000 to 450,000 recorded every year since researchers started collating the data in 2000, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Study on Homicide said.

Escalations in gang or political violence in Ecuador, Myanmar and other countries played their part, the study said.

But the after-effects of lockdowns, where people were cooped up inside for long periods, also took their toll.

“The noticeable spike in killings in 2021 can be attributed in part to the economic repercussions of COVID-related restrictions,” the report said.

Initially, the lockdowns that rolled out across the world from 2020 may have reduced the number of murders, as potential killers largely stayed inside and only mixed with people in the same household, the study said.

But “in the longer term, the negative social and economic repercussions of lockdowns, which may include increased stress and anxiety, unemployment or loss of income, can be expected to affect homicide trends by creating an environment of ‘strain’ that drives individuals to commit crime,” the report said.

In Colombia, strict lockdown measures imposed in March 2020 led to a sharp but short-lived drop in homicides, the researchers found. That was followed by a surge in 2021.


Overall, countries in the Americas continued to have the highest homicide rate of the five global regions – more than six times Europe’s, which was the lowest.

In 2021, eight of the 10 countries with the highest homicide rates were in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report said, citing factors such as crime groups competing for control of markets, weak rule of law and social inequality.

Honduras, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico were among those with the highest homicide rates. The two in the top 10 outside Latin America and the Caribbean were Myanmar and South Africa.

In Ecuador, the government blamed a surge of killings on drug gangs that use the country as a transit point en route to the United States and Europe.

In Myanmar, after overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in February 2021, Myanmar’s military junta met sustained resistance in the countryside from militias allied with that government. A 2022 U.N. report said troops had carried out mass killings and targeted civilians.

Myanmar’s military said it had a duty to ensure peace and security. It denied atrocities had taken place and blamed “terrorists” for causing unrest.

The UNODC homicide study, published every four to five years, analysed developments up to 2021 as that was the latest year with a full set of data.

The study said it looked at killings of one person by another that were intentional and unlawful.

“Death as a result of terrorist activities” was included despite the lack of an international definition of terrorism, and most conflict deaths were excluded, though “it is often difficult to disentangle” the types of killing in conflict situations that should be included and those that should not, the study said.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)