Global murder rates have declined slightly but remain very high in the Americas and parts of Africa, according to a new United Nations study.
Homicide rates in southern Africa and Central America are more than four times higher than the global average of 6.2 victims per 100,000 people, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report released on Thursday says.
The figures chronicle murder rates in 2012. The global average was 6.9 in 2010, the year of the last previous study.
That comes as no news to the city of San Pedro Sula, long considered the most violent city in Honduras, the country with the highest murder rate in the world: 90.4 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the study.
Someone in Honduras is almost 15 times more likely to be murdered than an average human being, and people run an even greater risk in San Pedro Sula, where death comes so quickly victims often don’t see it coming.
Wilmer Alvarado, 11, was heading in the front door of his school on Thursday when a gunfight between rival gangs broke out nearby. Alvarado died after being hit by a stray bullet; the bullet-ridden bodies of three gang members lay on the street nearby.
Antonio Mazzitelli, the Mexico representative for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said the region suffers because “unfortunately there is a history of violence, and secondly the strong presence of criminals and organised crime, and these are factors that surely encourage the use of violence.”
UN policy analyst Jean-Luc Lemahieu said the figures show that while Canada and the US remain below the global average – the US homicide rate was 4.7 per 100,000 inhabitants – some countries in Central and South America are making little progress.
“The Americas remain a very violent part of the world,” Lemahieu said, citing high murder rates in Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico.
He said violence between rival drug cartels has been a contributing factor to the troubles in Mexico, where the homicide rate has roughly doubled since 2007.
“With other parts of Central America, you have to look at the gang issue,” he said.
“The gangs are often created for people who are marginalised, who are looking for an identity. They need competition against other gangs, against society. They want to be seen, to be violent, to establish territory.”
Arabeska Sanchez, an analyst at Honduras’ University Institute for Democracy, Peace and Safety, said “nothing at all has changed here regarding the effects of violence.”
“The types of violence we are seeing are getting more and more brutal, with bodies put in bags and chopped up.”
South Africa still has a murder rate of about 31 per 100,000 people but has seen a steady reduction in the last five years.
“It’s still very violent compared to the global average, but the trend is in a positive direction,” he said.
Homicide rates are lowest in Europe, Asia and Oceania, according to the report, which was released in London. It estimates that only about 43 per cent of murders end with a conviction of the person responsible.
Even countries with stubborn problems of violence, like Venezuela, with a murder rate of 53.7 per 100,000, came in far behind Honduras.