UNITED NATIONS (CMC) — Young men in the Caribbean are second only to those in Central America most at risk of being killed by gunfire, according to a global report on homicide released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) yesterday.
Homicide rates in the Caribbean and Central America are "near crisis point," said the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its first-ever global study on homicide, which blames firearms for the rising murder rates in those two regions, where almost three quarters of all homicides are committed with guns, compared to 21 per cent in Europe.
Around the world, women face increased likelihood of being murdered in domestic violence, the study said.
Overall, the Americas accounted for 31 per cent of the 468,000 homicides worldwide last year. The region was second to Africa at 36 per cent, with 27 per cent in Asia, five per cent in Europe, and one per cent in Oceania, the report said.
The UNODC said drugs trafficking, organised crime and the prevalence of firearms are driving the murder rate in Central America and the Caribbean — the only region where the evidence points to rising homicide rates.
While the rate of firearm homicides in the world last year stood at 42 per cent, the weapons were featured in 75 per cent of cases in South America and 65 per cent in the Caribbean compared with 21 per cent in Europe.
"Since 1995, the homicide rate has decreased in many countries, mainly in Asia, Europe and Northern America, to the extent that it can be a relatively rare occurrence," the UNODC study said. "Yet it has increased in others, particularly Central America and the Caribbean, where today it can be seen to be nearing crisis point."
With 1,428 people murdered in 2010, Jamaica topped the English-speaking Caribbean wth the highest murder rate, with firearms accounting for 52.1 per cent, the report notes. But rivalling the Caribbean Community's largest member state are some of its smallest-- St Kitts and Nevis at 38.2 per cent and the United States Virgin Islands at 39.1 per cent, surpassing murder rates in Trinidad and Tobago (35.2 per cent), Guyana (18.4 per cent) and Barbados (11.3 per cent).
Cuba (4.6 per cent), Anguilla, and Antigua and Barbuda (both at 6.8 per cent) and British Virgin Islands at 8.6 per cent, recorded the lowest murder rates in the Caribbean.
Belize rivals the rest of its Central American neighbours with its 41.7 per cent murder rate (130 victims) in 2010 -- ironically double the 18.1 per cent murder rate in Mexico, where 20,585 people were killed last year as drug gangs battle the government in the hemisphere's bloodiest war on drugs and crime.
In countries with high murder rates, especially involving firearms, such as in Central America, one in 50 males aged 20 will be killed before they reach the age of 31 — several hundred times higher than in some parts of Asia, the study said.
Organised crime, especially drug trafficking, accounted for a quarter of deaths caused by firearms in the Americas, compared to only five per cent of gun killings in Asia and Europe.
But the UNODC warned that the statistic did not mean organised crime groups are not active in Central America and Caribbean, but rather that they may be operating in ways that do not employ lethal violence to the same extent.
"In Central America and the Caribbean, changes in drug trafficking markets have, in one way or another, contributed to rising levels of homicide," the UNODC study said.
The UNODC also pointed to an example of how one country — Colombia — has reversed escalating murder rates through "strict law enforcement measures", reducing both drug trafficking and the homicide rate.
Some eight out of 10 homicide victims and perpetrators are men. But, the UNODC said that while men are more likely to be killed in public places, women are mainly murdered at home, as in Europe where half of all female victims were killed by a family member. In Europe, women comprised almost 80 per cent of all people killed by a current or former partner in 2008.