217. The rates of crime and violence in the Hemisphere today have made citizen security one of society’s chief demands of its state officials. The situation today is the result of a process that has been underway for decades, in which social, economic, cultural and institutional factors have converged, operating as enablers allowing various forms of violent behavior to develop and multiply, mirroring the sharp increase in crimes that pose a threat to the effective exercise and enjoyment of human rights.
218. Everyday, the societies of the Hemisphere are up against new and ever changing challenges to the kind of democratic co-existence that fosters tolerance, solidarity and respect for the rights of all persons. Salient among these challenges is violence, which manifests itself in a variety of ways: organized crime; the large numbers of firearms in private hands; the abuse of narcotic drugs; violence against women; violence against children and adolescents; violence against the indigenous population and violence against Afro-descendents; disputes that involve social and community movements, and the rarely-studied phenomenon of the violence associated with juvenile delinquency and its many causes.
219. In a number of countries of the region, the response to the situation has been to reinforce approaches that have proved to be ineffective in solving society’s demands for citizen security, based upon harsher penalties, fewer procedural guarantees, and to have adolescents charged as adults when accused of criminal offenses. The State’s failure to adequately respond to the violence and crime triggered a reawakening of social mentalities based on intolerance and stigmatization of individuals or groups of individuals and in the process laid the groundwork for vigilante justice by “social cleansing” groups, “deaths squads” or para-police or para-military groups.
220. While some problems associated with citizen insecurity can be found in all countries of the region, no single policy fits every situation; instead, specific policies have to be crafted to deal with concrete situations. The historical processes at work in the Hemisphere and the political, social, economic and cultural conditions have created different realities in each member State. In the case of some countries, one also has to consider the effects of the transitions they have undergone, from civil war, to dictatorial government, and now to democratic government. Still other countries have kept their democratic institutions and the rule of law fully intact. In some sub-regional blocks, violence and crime is associated primarily with organized crime, especially drug trafficking; in others, the main problem is social violence; in still others, juvenile violence is fast becoming a major cause for concern.
221. The Commission’s concept of citizen security is a situation in which persons are able to live free of the threats caused by violence and crime, and the State has the necessary means to guarantee and protect the human rights directly threatened by violence and crime. Taking a human rights approach, citizen security is, in practical terms, a condition in which individuals live free from the violence practiced by State and non-state actors.
222. Contrary to a long-held belief, citizen security is not solely up to the police. Citizen security is an amalgamation of multiple actors, conditions and factors. The following are just some of those factors: history and the structure of the State; government policies and programs; the observance of economic, social and cultural rights; and regional and international scenarios. The police are, however, an irreplaceable cog in the machinery that guarantees the human rights threatened by violence and crime. Unlike what happens in authoritarian regimes, in a democratic form of government the police force is a central part of those guarantees. Police also play an important role in ensuring that the administration of justice functions properly: they are responsible for conducting criminal investigations, identifying assailants, victims and witnesses, gathering and analyzing material evidence, and preparing reports for prosecutors and judges.
223. Within the region, the professionalization of the police force has in general run into two obstacles: on the one hand, it has not been a sustainable undertaking; on other, the model used has been of a military-style authoritarian professionalism, with the police somewhat isolated from the rest of society. The legitimacy and the efficacy of the police are essential to fostering citizen security, justice and human rights in democratic societies. However, they are not sufficient. The police play a pivotal role in preventing, deterring and controlling crime, violence and human rights violations. However, to do so, the police need the support and cooperation of those in the criminal justice system, governmental organizations, civil society organizations and private enterprise. And yet, the relationship between the police and the criminal justice system, the government and even society itself has sometimes been one of hostility instead of cooperation.
224. Fostering citizen security from a human rights approach demands that attention also be devoted to the security and rights of the agents of the State, which includes members of the police force. Frequently denied the security that observance of their fundamental rights gives, police perform their functions without the conditions and the authority necessary to effectively ensure citizen security. The member states have an obligation to protect and ensure the professional rights of the members of its police force and to provide them with the training, infrastructure and equipment needed to perform their duties properly.
225. While the policy on citizen security ought not to be confused with the State’s social policies, those countries where the problems of inequality and discrimination are more acute, are more vulnerable to crime, violence and human rights violations. Reducing inequality and discrimination can play a vital role in citizen security within the Hemisphere.
226. The member states have undertaken international obligations to protect and ensure the human rights directly threatened by the dangers that interpersonal violence and crime pose. These obligations are both positive and negative in nature. A State fulfills these obligations by designing, implementing and constantly scrutinizing its public policies on citizen security, which are to be comprehensive, sustainable, and aimed at ensuring observance of the human rights of all persons subject to its jurisdiction. Observance of its international obligations in the area of human rights is another tool the State has to adequately address the demands that the societies of the region continually place on citizen security.
227. Member States have a duty to protect and ensure the human rights at stake in the area of citizen security through plans and programs aimed at prevention, deterrence and, where necessary, measures of lawful suppression of acts of violence and crime, based on the guidelines and within the boundaries set by the standards and principles on human rights within the universal and regional human rights systems.
228. The Commission recognizes that in order to fulfill the obligations referred to in the preceding paragraphs, the member states may occasionally have to limit or restrict the exercise of certain rights. These limitations or restrictions comply with internationally accepted standards on human rights only when they are informed by the principles of necessity, lawful purpose, proportionality, rationality and nondiscrimination.
229. Public policies on citizen security necessitate the creation or strengthening of state institutions that effectively and efficiently answer a democratic society’s needs in this regard. This is mainly reflected in the way this institutional structure responds to the following priority issues: treatment of victims of violence and crime; the operation of private security firms; democratic governance of citizen security; the professionalization and modernization of the police force, and the participation of the armed forces in citizen security functions.
230. As has been said repeatedly throughout this report, the member states’ obligations vis-à-vis citizen security come from a normative core comprised of the duties to protect and ensure that they have assumed under international human rights law, especially with regard to the right to life, the right to physical integrity; the right to personal liberty and security and the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions. Having said this, the positive and negative obligations of the State vis-à-vis citizen security also consist of the right to due process and to judicial protection, the right to privacy and protection of one’s honor and dignity, the right to freedom of expression, the right of assembly and association, and the right to participate in government.
231. The Commission is troubled by the public authorities’ inefficient response or failure to respond to society’s needs in the area of citizen security and the negative consequences this could have for democratic governance and the rule of law. By the same token, the Commission is pleased with the efforts that the member states are making at the domestic, bilateral and multilateral levels to build adequate responses to the needs of all those subject to its jurisdiction. It encourages them to persist in that effort and offers its continuing cooperation, as part of its specific mandate.