Which country is the most violent in the world? The answer to that question can change depending upon which specific type of violence one chooses to evaluate. For example, one measure of violence might be to examine statistics such as the number of homicides, mass shootings, and stabbing deaths to determine the murder rate of each country. Another measure might be to compare the total number of terrorist attacks or violent crimes per country. Rape statistics per country are another possible avenue of investigation and would likely help determine the most dangerous countries for women. It might also be appropriate to check a list of countries currently at war with drug lords, insurrectionists, or one another. Each of these metrics is a valid measure of violence, and each will result in a unique list of countries. That said, when enough data can be compared, trends do emerge that show certain countries are burdened with a greater degree of ongoing violence than others.
Perhaps the most comprehensive measure of a country's level of violence is the annual Global Peace Index from the Institute for Economics & Peace, which is designed to measure peace but in the process also measures the opposite of peace: violence. This report gauges the presence or absence of violence, from the simple fear of it to actual violent acts, across 23 categories that are then grouped into three domains: Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict (6 indicators); Societal Safety and Security (10 indicators); and Militarisation (7 indicators). These indicators cover a wide range of topics, from military conflicts and political instability to homicide rates and levels of violent crime. 2021's most peaceful country, Iceland, attained an overall score of 1.1 (low scores are better). However, thirteen countries managed to score 2.9 or more, indicating that they were the least peaceful/most violent countries in the world.
The national cost of violence
The most obvious negative impact of violence is its potential to inflict injury or death upon people. However, violence can also damage a country and its people in many less direct and/or less obvious ways. One of the most far-reaching effects of prolonged violence is its tendency to suppress the economy and the infrastructure, which can result in decreased income from tourism, a less functional industrial sector, reduced wages, increased poverty, and reduced access to public services from clean water to public education to health care. The end result is a massive overall reduction in quality of life. If these trends continue, they can ultimately make the country one of the world's worst countries in which to live (or, for foreigners, the worst counties to visit).
Top 13 Most Violent Countries in the World (Global Peace Index 2021):
- Afghanistan - 3.631 (higher scores indicate less peace)
- Yemen - 3.407
- Syria - 3.371
- South Sudan - 3.363
- Iraq - 3.257
- Somalia - 3.211
- Congo (Dem. Rep of) - 3.196
- Libya - 3.166
- Central African Republic - 3.131
- Russia - 2.993
- Sudan - 2.936
- Venezuela - 2.934
- North Korea - 2.923
As the Global Peace Index (the rest of which is viewable in the table further down this page) implies, most of the most violent countries on Earth are located in three geographical regions: Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Violence in these regions is frequently sparked by ongoing poverty and fueled by factors such as oppressive or exploitative governments; civil wars and/or armed insurrections; or tensions between people of different races, ethnicities, or religions.
Five additional studies of violence per country
Additional tools, metrics, and studies can offer further insight into the various levels of violence in each of the world's countries. Many of these evaluations produce conclusions that support, even mirror those of the Global Peace Index. For example, the risk management company Drum Cussac released a study that tabulated data in the categories of political, medical, environmental, infrastructural, and security risk. Based on this data, the ten most violent countries included Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Burundi, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Libya. The only one of these that falls outside the GPI's top 13 is Burundi, which still lands at 35th most violent out of the 163 countries on the GPI.
Meanwhile, a 2021 "Travel Risk Map" by fellow risk management specialists International SOS measured indicators ranging from political violence and petty crime to medical services. The resulting map gave its highest risk rating to (in no particular order) Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, and parts of Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Egypt near the Gaza Strip.
Other studies focus upon specific categories of violence, which can produce different results. Brazilian think tank the Igarape Institute analyzes the number of homicides in nations across the world to determine the most violent countries. This study's 2019 data found that 17 of the 20 countries with the highest homicide rates were located in Latin America. In fact, seven of these countries: Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, are among the top 20 countries in the world for overall death count from homicides. Overall, Latin America and the Caribbean have 8% of the world's population, but 33% of its homicides.
An unrelated analysis by the World Economic Forum investigated the prevalence of terrorism and violence in each country and chose the nations of Pakistan, El Salvador, Nigeria, Yemen, and Colombia as among the most dangerous countries in the world. In another report, Insider Monkey compiled data on crime and political instability and selected as its most dangerous countries (in descending order) Syria, Libya, Somalia, Venezuela, Honduras, Papua New Guinea, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Central African Republic.
The Top 10 Least Violent Countries in the World (Global Peace Index 2021):
- Iceland - 1.100 (Lower scores are better)
- New Zealand - 1.253
- Denmark - 1.256
- Portugal - 1.267
- Slovenia - 1.315
- Austria - 1.317
- Switzerland - 1.323
- Ireland - 1.326
- Czech Republic - 1.329
- Canada - 1.330
On the opposite end, the world's safest countries are Iceland, New Zealand, and Portugal, which also happened to be three of the world's four most peaceful countries during 2021. Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Taiwan have some of the overall lowest crime rates worldwide.