Urban violence

IRRC No. 878

Urban violence

Cities are attractive: they are the melting pot of political, economic and cultural affairs. Urbanisation, however, has brought with it a growing sense of vulnerability among many city dwellers faced with insecurity, exposure to hazards and insufficient access to basic services. In addition, violence in urban areas poses a serious challenge, which in many cities is reaching unprecedented levels. Gangs and other forms of organized crime generate more and more - often transnational - violence and insecurity, calling even for military action to counter them. Finally, rapid urbanization and the changing context of violence create new challenges for those giving aid and working to prevent conflict, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Table of contents

  • Editorial: Urban Violence
  • Interview with Dennis Rodgers

    The interview was conducted in Geneva on 16 July 2010 by Toni Pfanner, Editor-in-Chief of the International Review of the Red Cross, and Michael Siegrist, Assistant Editor.

  • Violence and humanitarian action in urban areas. New challenges, new approaches

    Based on the experience of the ICRC and of its partners, this article describes the vulnerability of the the poor and of migrants in urban areas. It presents the difficulties with which humanitarian organizations, which are often accustomed to working in rural areas, have to contend and describes innovative responses.

  • Humanitarian challenges of urbanization

    The plight of more than one billion people nowadays living in informal settlements, characterized by vulnerability and poverty, should be the concern of humanitarian organizations. Applying the ‘human security’ framework and ‘livelihoods’ approach can enable them to take a proactive role.

  • Understanding gangs as armed groups

    Gangs have long been considered a source of violence and insecurity, but they are increasingly identified as a cause of instability and a threat to the state. Yet gangs operate mainly in non-conflict settings, raising questions about whether applying a conflict lens to understand gangs is appropriate.

  • Territorial gangs and their consequences for humanitarian players

    Territorial gangs are among today’s main perpetrators of urban violence, affecting the lives of millions of other people. This article looks at some courses of action that may be taken by humanitarian agencies in an environment of this nature: dialogue with the gangs (including how to create a degree of trust), education, services, and dialogue on fundamental issues.

  • Organized crime and gang violence in national and international law

    Although they are not new, states only recently began to perceive organized crime and gang violence as serious threats to public security. This article outlines the difficulties of dealing adequately in legal terms with these phenomena and analyses the different approaches adopted so far at the national and international level.

  • Military operations in urban areas

    Fighting for and in cities is costly, slow, and often inconclusive. But sometimes they are unavoidable, either because they are located on main road or rail junctions or because of their value as political and/or economic prizes. Urban expansion in both north and south has made cities today the main theatres of military and humanitarian operations. This article analyses armies’ structures, equipment, and doctrines that are undergoing a process of adaptation.

  • Military involvement in law enforcement

    Law enforcement is not a task usually undertaken by military forces, at least within domestic legal contexts. Conversely, maintaining or restoring security within dysfunctional or ‘post-conflict’ areas of operation is a role commonly undertaken by them. This article reviews the experiences and legal frameworks associated with military participation in UN-sponsored peace operations and unilateral/multilateral stabilization and counter-insurgency operations.

  • Regulating the conduct of urban warfare: lessons from contemporary asymmetric armed conflicts

    A survey of contemporary armed conflicts indicates that major military powers are increasingly facing militarily weaker adversaries and being drawn into unconventional engagements in cities. It is submitted that higher standards of reasonableness be imposed upon military commanders, and furthermore that civilian populations be spared more effectively from the effects of urban warfare by applying customary law.

  • A synopsis of urban violence in South Africa

    On 27 April 1994, all South Africans were permitted to vote for the first time, signalling the birth of a democratic state built on a constitutional democracy. This article gives an overview of the various forms of violence in South Africa and also briefly considers the state’s responses to them within the various legal frameworks.

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