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Italy’s mafia murders are in a decades long decline

By Matt Phillips
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

By the standards of the terror-filled late 1980s and early 1990s, Italy is in the midst of something of a pax mafiosa.

According to the United Nations’ latest global study on homicide (pdf), the number of organized-crime-related murders in Italy plummeted roughly 80% between 1992 and 2012, thanks largely to a sharp decline in murders associated with the traditional Sicilian mafia known as the Cosa Nostra. (For the record, in Italy “mafia” is used in reference to the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. But in this post we’re using it more broadly as a stand-in for organized crime groups around the country.)


Still, 2012 saw 70 reported mafia-related deaths, mostly in the traditional strongholds of Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicily. And mafia-related killings still account for 10-15% of all Italian homicides.

While significant, the two-decade decline in murders comes off a very high base. The early 1990s was the pinnacle of a running war between organized crime and the government that had worsened in the wake of the 1986 maxi-trial prosecutions, in which hundreds of Sicilian mafia members were convicted. The 1992 murders of anti-mafia magistrates  marked something of a new milestone for violence. (There have long been accusations that the government then entered a series of secret negotiations with organized crime in an effort to halt the carnage.)

The decline in mafia-related deaths doesn’t necessarily mean these organizations are any less active, however. Italy’s Joint Research Centre on Transnational Crime has compiled a “mafia index” based on direct and indirect indicators, including charges against people for mafia associations, city councils dissolved for mafia infiltration, and assets confiscated from organized crime.


The takeaway? While mafia activity and homicide tend to be a package deal, that isn’t always the case. “As such, areas with high mafia-related homicides have a high mafia presence, but a high mafia presence does not necessarily result in organized-crime-related homicides,” the UN report concludes.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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