The latest UN homicide report shows that the Americas as a region now has the highest homicide rate in the world, with five Latin American countries topping the charts, and Central America one of the globe's most troubled sub-regions.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) newly released 2013 Global Study on Homicides (pdf) found that the Americas -- north, central and south -- was the most violent region in the world in 2012, with 16.3 killings per 100,000 people, followed by Africa with 12.5 (see UNODC graph). When the UNODC published its last global homicide study in 2011, the Americas had a homicide rate of 15.5 per 100,000, while the rate in Africa was 17.4 homicides per 100,000 (pdf).
The sub-region of Central America had the highest homicide rate in the Americas, at over 25 per 100,000; a rate more than four times the global average of 6.2, and only exceeded by Southern Africa.
Honduras maintained its status as the world's most dangerous country outside a war zone, with 90.4 homicides per 100,000. It was followed by Venezuela, with 53.7 murders per 100,000 people, up from 47.8 in 2011. The murder rate in Belize also rose, from 39.2 to 44.7.
El Salvador saw a significant drop in murders, from 69.9 per 100,000 in 2011 to 41.2 in 2012, but its homicide rate remained among the highest in the world. Guatemala had the world's fifth highest homicide rate, with 39.9 per 100,000.
Meanwhile, Colombia and Mexico, often thought of as two of Latin America's most troubled countries, had relatively low national homicide rates compared to the rest of the region. Colombia saw 30.8 murders per 100,000, and Mexico had 21.5.
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Latin America's struggle with violence can also be seen in a separate UN report published in 2013, that found it was the only region in the world where overall homicide rates increased between 2000 and 2010.
Central America's soaring murder rate can be attributed to gang activity and violence for control of drug trafficking routes, according to the new report. After the 2009 coup that toppled the government of President Manuel Zelaya, Honduras experienced a sharp rise in drug trafficking activity through the country, accompanied by a spike in homicides. Guatemala has been affected by fractures in its underworld and the encroachment of the Zetas. Tiny Belize has also been hit by gang warfare, with 13 street gangs vying for turf in the aftermath of a failed truce there.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Homicides
The drop in El Salvador's murder rate, meanwhile, can be explained by the truce established in 2012 between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 gangs. However, with the truce faltering and unravelling since the study was compiled, it is likely that rate is already higher.