The Importance of Urban Safety Strategies in the situations of emergency and disaster
Between October 2020 and February 2021, the Alliance of NGOs on Crime
Prevention and Criminal Justice convened a series of high-level discussions under the
Banner, Change the World, to examine our collective efforts at promoting and
enhancing global urban safety against the crisis generated by COVID-19.
In 2002 the Economic and Social Council adopted a set of Guidelines for the
Prevention of Crime (Res 2002/13, Annex) which has ever since underpinned our
efforts to promote proactive strategies to build safety. The Guidelines reaffirmed the
importance of preventative safety strategies to:
- Promote the well-being of people and encourage pro-social behaviour through
social, economic, health and educational measures, with a particular emphasis
on children and youth, and a focus on the risk and protective factors associated
with crime and victimization;
- Change the conditions in neighbourhoods that influence offending,
victimization and the insecurity that results from crime, by building on the
initiatives, expertise and commitment of community members and by
broadening an understanding of urban safety principles.
Since then, investment in this field has produced an ever-growing body of evidence
of what works underpinned by strategy and policy at international, regional and local
levels which recognize the importance of investment in long-term social and spatial
development alongside criminal justice responses to building safer communities.
Since its appearance in 2019, no sector has escaped the disruption caused by
COVID-19 to strategies and plans adopted to move our safety agenda forward and
ultimately our achievement of the SDGs. These disruptions include short-term
diversion of funds to responses that divert sectors from their core business. We have
also observed the disproportionate impact on indigent communities and the most
vulnerable, the marginalization of women and a shrinking of space for civil society.
The negative consequences produced by approaches to address COVID-19, which
have in many instances been characterized by abandonment of human rights
principles in overly securitized responses, excessive criminalization of infringements
and to emergency actions that are not subject to usual levels of scrutiny need to be
reversed. If they don’t our achievements in safety, risk being undermined.
The April 2020 United Nations report on COVID-19 and Human Rights, we are all in
this together, notes:
- Unemployment and food insecurity have risen to unprecedented levels in many
countries within a very short space of time.
- Widespread closure of schools has interrupted the education of more than
1 billion children.
- Reduction of care and protection services for children, including abrupt closure
of care institutions and health services serving children, has increased children’s
vulnerability to violence, exploitation and abuse.
- Exacerbated COVID-19 risks in detention facilities.
- Women confined at home with abusers, without access to harm reduction
services and shelters, are at greater risk of domestic violence, and rates of
violence in the home are escalating.
- Strategies to contain the virus are difficult for those without good quality safe
housing; physical distancing, self-isolation and handwashing are impossible for
A/CONF.234/NGO/7V.21-01141 3/4 the homeless or residents of slums where lack of access to clean water and
sanitation is a fundamental issue.
- COVID-19 is sweeping through populous, high-density informal settlements
and to refugee, IDP and migrant camps, where physical distancing is
challenging, access of health services limited and populations especially
vulnerable to disease.
As practitioners we know each of these examples is a key facet in a holistic and
systemic approach to safety and unless reversed represents the undoing of decades of
work. As an Alliance we recognize that this unprecedented public health and
socioeconomic crisis is accelerating a human rights crisis and will risk becoming a
political crisis as populations lose faith in arbitrary State responses.
The immediate future holds a risk of high rates of unemployment, frustrated youth
and increasing economic crime against which unfortunately the political demand for
tough repressive responses will continue unless we can demonstrate an alternative
We realize that emergencies and disasters and public health crises will remain a risk
and that the body of knowledge built up in the prevention field is now more important
than ever. As we seek to build back better, crime and violence prevention and
community development practitioners need to be more astute. Public budgets will
shrink, investment priorities will shift and short-term political gains might be the
order of the day.
We have been encouraged by the proactive approaches of our treaty bodies and
international and regional human rights organizations to reaffirm the importance of
maintaining our rights obligations in the face of C19 management.
We reaffirm our conviction that this crisis requires a comprehensive multisectoral
response and at the conclusion of our discussions we call on our partners to
unequivocally confirm their commitment to a developmental rights based response to
This commitment should be evidenced across all the principles set out in the 2002
“Guidelines” which include:
• Government leadership
• Socioeconomic development and inclusion
• Cooperation and partnerships
• Sustainability and accountability
• Human rights and rule of law
• Interdependence and
In this regard we are heartened by the UNODC Africa Strategy recognition that
effective prevention and pro-safety action requires multisectoral responses at the
individual, community and society levels and their commitment that:
- Evidence-based prevention strategies will be scaled up to support and build the
resilience of societies, institutions and at-risk and vulnerable groups.
- Increased collaboration with community- and faith-based organizations and key
influencers (such as families, children, youth and sub-groups and their religious,
traditional and indigenous leaders) will be a priority, alongside continued
engagement with schools, academic institutions and the media.
We recognize that there is a critical role for partnership in almost every public health
issue. We need to move away from insular or linear initiatives but rather see our
A/CONF.234/NGO/74/4 V.21-01141 efforts as part of a comprehensive system of safety. We need to invest in strengthening
civil society and building personal dispositions and attitudes towards active
citizenship. Accountability to our colleagues, to our partners and to our communities is key to
successful prevention efforts. Mechanisms of accountability need to be practical and
accessible to the public. Human Rights frameworks have enormous value to offer in terms of problem-solving and should underpin all of our efforts. Our emergency and disaster management plans were unprepared for the gender-based
violence that erupted during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Our procedures exacerbated
the risks here and in many other areas. As we develop responses to future emergencies, we need to be thorough and comprehensive in our planning and in our commitment to sustained collaboration. No sector can be left out, no sector can work in a silo, and no sector can work without the active participation of civil society.
We call on the international community and member States to continue to prioritize
investment into safety strategies, particularly those at local level, which are proven to
work such as:
• Support programmes for young families
• School aftercare programmes
• Housing and urban renewal
• Harm reduction initiatives
• Addiction treatment
• Participative, creative expression of human dynamism
• And many others
Mindful of the unique constrictions COVID-19 and possible future crises may place
on developed approaches to promoting safety, we call on our partners to develop and
disseminate relevant recommendations and advice that will identify and address key
considerations in approach and implementation required under these circumstances.
09 Mar, 2021