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Americas overtake Africa in U.N. homicide study

U.N. study shows violence in Central and South America put region in top spot; Honduras has world's highest rate

The Americas have overtaken Africa as the region with the most murders in a single year, the United Nations said in a report published Thursday.

The Global Study on Homicide 2013 ranks regions of the world according to the number of homicides they experienced and tracks the weapons most commonly used to commit them.

For the first time, homicide in the Americas (North, Central and South) outranks the total number of homicides in all of Africa — despite the numerous ongoing crises in various African nations.

There were 437,000 homicides worldwide in 2013, and 36 percent of them occurred in the Americas, followed by Africa at 31 percent and Asia at 28 percent. Europe and Oceania had the lowest rates, at 5 percent and 0.3 percent respectively.

Honduras had the world’s highest murder rate at 90.4 per 100,000 people.

The homicide rates in Central America and southern Africa are both more than four times the global average of 6.2 per 100,000 people.

According to Geoff Thale, program director at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), homicide rates in Central America have been growing over the last decade for three reasons: the growing problem of gang violence; organized crime, particularly drug trafficking; and the inability of state and local officials to enforce the law, allowing for increased trafficking, extortion and bribes.

“All of that state weakness combined with gang violence and organized crime has led Central America to higher levels of homicide,” Thale said.

There is reason for the U.S. to be concerned. The violence in some places — Honduras, for example — is pushing people out of their countries. According to Thale, who just returned from the U.S.-Mexico border, many of the people trying to cross into the U.S. are Hondurans fleeing the violence created by the drug trafficking.

With the exception of the spike caused by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the North American homicide rate has declined over the last five years to its current level of 6.5 per 100,000 people in the United States and 1.9 in Canada.

Across the world, men commit the vast majority of murders, about 95 percent worldwide. They also comprise about 80 percent of homicide victims.

Domestic violence accounted for 15 percent of all homicides. Of the 63,600 people killed by it, the overwhelming majority — 70 percent — were women.

“Home can be the most dangerous place for a woman,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the United Nations’ director for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs. “It is particularly heart-breaking when those who should be protecting their loved ones are the very people responsible for their murder.”

Guns were the primary means of murder in most regions, with 66 percent of all homicides in the Americas involving a firearm. In Europe and Oceania, sharp objects — such as knifes or other types of blades — were the primary weapons used.

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