Global Burden of Armed Violence 2015

Chapter Four:
Unpacking Lethal Violence

Introduction & Chapter Summary

This chapter examines how disaggregated data on lethal violence can serve to inform effective evidence-based policy-making to prevent and reduce armed violence. In addition to providing quantitative information, this type of data can provide insight into qualitative factors such as the socio-economic characteristics of victims and offenders, locations, motives, methods and weapons used, and circumstances leading to a lethal outcome. Moreover, it allows for the generation of diagnostics, the identification of targets for interventions, and assessments of programme efficiency. Yet such data-based processes represent only one of the two complementary components that enable effective policy-making. The other component is political will—not only to promote the collection and processing of data and its public dissemination, but also to make use of evidence to develop and implement policies and programmes.

Map 4.2 Homicide rates by department in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, 2013

Source: ACAPS (2014)

The past few years have witnessed a significant increase in the availability of systematically disaggregated data on lethal violence. This trend is clearly reflected in successive editions of the Global Burden of Armed Violence (GBAV): while the 2008 edition offers only broad regional estimates based on limited data, the 2011 edition is able to produce a global overview at the national level (Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2008; 2011; see Box 2.2). By the latter edition, more countries were making relevant information available, encouraged not only by advances in data collection technology, but also by an increased awareness of the importance of sharing data on crime and violence in the context of monitoring trends and measuring the impact of crime and violence prevention policies.

Like the 2011 GBAV, this volume takes a ‘unified approach’ to armed violence, meaning that it considers both conflict and non-conflict settings or, put differently, that it covers all conflict, criminal, and interpersonal forms of lethal violence (Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2011, pp. 11–42).1 While data from conflict situations largely documents casualties,2 data from non-conflict environments is generally focused on homicides, as recorded by law enforcement, criminal justice systems, and public health authorities. Wealthy countries tend to have the greatest capacity to establish and maintain efficient recording systems on violent deaths, and thus to collect detailed and disaggregated data; in contrast, limited recording capacities tend to prevent effective data gathering in middle- and low-income countries, including ones that suffer from high levels of violence.

When disaggregated, comprehensive national data can reveal useful information about the distribution, intensity, and impact of lethal violence, which may be significantly higher among specific demographic groups, at particular times, or in certain areas, such as border zones or urban areas. Indeed, detailed local information can shed light on perpetrators and victims, as well as on armed actors and communities at risk (Florquin, Kartas, and Pavesi, 2014; Wepundi and Lynge, 2014).

Photo: A Turkana herdsman watches over his cattle along the mountain chain bordering Kenya and Uganda, near Lokichogio, Kenya, July 2010. © Gwenn Dubourthoumieu

Mis- and underreporting can weaken the reliability of data on lethal violence. ‘Honour’ or dowryrelated killings, or mob killings of alleged ‘witches’, mostly targeting females, may not be reflected in homicide statistics because they are not considered by law, public consent, or prevailing cultural norms to be homicide (Alvazzi del Frate et al., 2014; Dziewanski, LeBrun, and Racovita, 2014, pp. 13–14). With families of the victims and close members of the community often involved in the killing, cases may not be reported—adequately or at all. Furthermore, law enforcement and criminal justice actors may tacitly endorse the crimes or downplay their severity, for instance by failing to carry out a proper investigation or by meting out lenient sentences (Alvazzi del Frate et al., 2014). Meanwhile, some victims of lethal violence may not be acknowledged due to inefficiencies in the criminal justice or public health sectors or because a state is experiencing destabilizing hostilities that complicate casualty recording (Minor, 2012a). To some degree, the establishment and maintenance of sub-national data frameworks that capture multiple forms of violence can help to prevent such underreporting.

This edition of the Global Burden of Armed Violence is able to rely on significantly more disaggregated data than the previous editions. Consequently, it broadens the scope of analysis, capturing manifestations of lethal violence in a multitude of settings.

This chapter finds that:

  •  The geo-localization of lethal events is an analytical tool that can assist policy-makers in setting priorities and designing interventions to target high-risk areas and groups, as well as in monitoring their effectiveness.
  • In addition to shedding light on local dynamics in lethal violence, sub-national data allows for the detection of transnational patterns, such as increasing violent death rates in border areas of neighbouring states.
  • Institutions that collect disaggregated data on casualties—be they criminal justice and public health agencies or civil society organizations in non-conflict settings or casualty recording systems in conflict zones—currently use varying definitions, methods, and degrees of coverage. Efforts are under way to establish international standards on casualty recording.
  • Observatories on crime, conflict, and violence can mobilize a large number of stakeholders and can also raise the bar regarding quality standards for collecting, processing, and disseminating local and national disaggregated data on violence.
  • In the context of violence reduction programming, municipal-level and other sub-national data on violent deaths is particularly relevant in that it reveals drivers of violence that are not discernible at the national level and allows for more accurate assessments of the effects of interventions.
  • The collection and dissemination of disaggregated data can help to shed light on inequalities across groups and communities and can serve to inform violence reduction programming in response to changing dynamics in lethal violence. In particular, details on violent events and data disaggregated by sex, age, and other socio-demographic characteristics of victims and perpetrators can be of key significance in tracking progress towards the post-2015 development goals.


1 Signed in 1979, the Convention contains an agenda for national action to tackle discrimination and ensure gender equality (CEDAW, 1979).