Pablo Ruiz Hiebra is UNDP's coordinator for Crisis Prevention and Recovery in Latin America and the Carribbean.
17 Apr 2014
In recent years, public outcry for improved citizen security has led to the introduction of quick, high-visibility solutions to address the problem – solutions such as putting the army in the streets or drafting hasty penal reforms. Unfortunately, results from such initiatives tend to be more questionable than their initial popularity.
In light of this, some countries (namely Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, or the Dominican Republic) are attempting to come up with more comprehensive, wide-ranging solutions – solutions combining better coercive capacity of the State with real efforts geared towards the prevention of violence. These countries have succeeded in implementing comprehensive public policies for citizen security, introducing short-term, medium-term and long-term initiatives.
Over the last few years, UNDP has supported the development and assessment of such initiatives as one of its priority areas, placing special emphasis on human rights and the fight to end gender-based violence. I think it would be useful to examine two processes of citizen participation that can serve as a reference for the rest of the region:
In Brazil, the call for the first Conference on Public Safety (CONSEG) marked a historic turning point, as municipalities, states, security experts, social bodies and government agencies responsible for citizen security were involved in a wide-ranging participatory process that mobilized 1.5 million Brazilians. The objective throughout the process was to define the main principles and guidelines surrounding the National Policy on Public Safety, as well as to enhance the idea of security as a basic human right. We participated in this process, and we also helped organize a knowledge fair on practices and policies pertaining to citizen security. At this fair, there was a demonstration of 470 new initiatives on citizen security in the country.
In Costa Rica, President Laura Chinchilla convened a national consultation process to draft public policy addressing citizen security. The process also involved the country’s main political parties, and UNDP provided technical support. Using various methods, including group discussions with communities and social groups, social networks, and a dedicated free phone number to gather input, the Comprehensive and Sustainable Policy on Public Safety and the Promotion of Social Peace (POLSEPAZ) was established – a policy that is used as a tool for drafting policy and identifying expertise at the state level.
Despite initial criticism, three years after its introduction, there has been a noticeable drop in the murder rate – from 12.4 percent in 2010 to 8.8 percent in 2012. In terms of perception, the percentage of the population considering citizen insecurity as the biggest problem facing the country fell from 49 percent to 18 percent between July 2011 and March 2013.
Both experiences have taught us valuable lessons in terms of citizen participation, as well as the importance of institutions being active in their communities. Such experiences also suggest that an initiative’s initial level of popularity is in no way reflective of its impact, or that total involvement by the population can improve the quality of the response to the problem of citizen insecurity. No doubt we will continue to learn even more on issues such as these through the process underway.
We should ask ourselves: How can citizens work with governments to reduce violence and improve security?
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