Global Study on Homicide.

Before you read this, I do want to add an important note. Although the following statistics are frightening, for the most part North Americans traveling in Honduras do seem to be largely unaffected as long as they are careful. In 25 years of running teams in Central America, Heart to Honduras has never had a single team member fall victim to violent crime, and certainly not homicide. In addition, of all the NGOs in the Lake Yojoa area we have spoken with, none has lost a team member to violent crime. For this reason, we can continue to encourage people to consider a trip to Central America. The most important thing to consider before you travel is your host organization’s experience. An organization that has years of safe experience in Honduras will know where you can and cannot go. 

This month, April of 2014, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its 166-page Global Study on Homicide 2013, which “seeks to shed light on the worst of crimes – the intentional killing of one human being by another.” Needless to say, this makes for some pretty depressing reading, but nevertheless very worthwhile for those of us interested in working to reduce the grip of violence on this world.

I know that most of you will never read the full report, so I am providing a synopsis below. I have done my best to pull out some of the most important details. I am splitting my overview into two sections: the first on violence at the global level and the second on Central America and Honduras in particular.

Before you skip over this post, I ask you to consider reading it. For those of you that have been personally affected by homicide, care about Honduras, or are concerned about the developing world in general for that matter, this is a critical issue to understand. As the report says “Since its impact goes beyond the loss of human life and can create a climate of fear and uncertainty, intentional homicide (and violent crime) is a threat to the population.” Honduras in particular is a country that is being ravaged by homicide and its devastating, lingering effects on the rest of its society’s fabric. This is an issue that affects the daily lives of millions of people and that we as believers must engage with as we struggle to restore peace into suffering streets and shine light into dark places.

Homicide rates in this article are listed as described by the UN, murders per 100,000 people per year within a population. For example, the 2012 US homicide rate of 4.7/100,000 would mean that approximately 5 people per every 100,000 US citizens were murdered last year. This arrives at a grand total of 14,827 murders in the US during 2012. The homicide rate more accurately depicts the security within a country than a country’s homicide total since populations vary dramatically.

Murder (or intentional homicide) is the focus of this article. As defined by the UN, murder falls under the classification of non-conflict violent deaths, which excludes killings in war, times of civil unrest, or suicide. Outside of the definition of intentional homicide are killings in self-defense, killings in legal interventions and non-intentional homicide, none which are not treated in the following article. All following statistics pertain to intentional homicide only.

Homicide at the Global Level:
In 2012, man murdered an estimated 437,000 of his neighbors, placing the average international homicide rate at 6.2 murders per 100,000 people (6.2/100,000). Of the 19 geographical regions identified by the UN, the least violent regions were Western and Southern Europe as well as Eastern Asia, averaging homicide rates near 1/100,000. Southern Africa and Central America were the most violent, averaging more than 25/100,000. These “high-violence countries” are home to only 11% of the world’s population, yet account for 46% of all homicide victims. “This means that three quarters of a billion people live in countries with serious security concerns, all of which are located in either Africa or the Americas.” 

Global homicide victims are overwhelmingly male, accounting for 77% of victims. In addition, 43 percent of all murder victims are aged 15-29. Unfortunately, murders of children account for an alarming 8% of the global homicide numbers, with their combined deaths numbering 36,000 in 2012. Although women are at a much lower risk of homicide, they are disproportionally affected by violence by a significant other or family member. Two-thirds of the victims of this type of homicide are female; 47% of female homicide victims were killed by a significant other or close family member. “Thus while a large share of female homicide victims are murdered by people who are expected to care for them, the majority of men are killed by people they may not even know.”

Although these figures may seem discouraging, homicide rates in northern North America (including the US), Australia, Southern Africa, parts of Eastern Africa, New Zealand, Europe, and Asia have been declining since 1995. 

Homicide in Central America
One of two global homicide hotspots, Central America is currently riding a wave in a serious violent crime storm. Four out of five of the world’s most violent countries are in Central America, with Honduras taking the un-coveted top spot with a homicide rate of 90.4/100,000, followed by Venezuela (53.7), Belize (44.7), El Salvador (41.2), and Guatemala (39.9).

One of the most alarming figures relating to Central America within the UN report was that 1 in 7 of the world’s murder victims was a Central American male between the ages of 15-29, making young Honduran men among the most likely demographic to be killed in the world today. In Honduras, 1 in every 280 males aged 30-44 was murdered during 2012. This statistic is particularly devastating since this age place many of these men were in their prime: working age and in the midst of providing for and raising young families. The impact and influence on these children’s perception of personal security will be profound.

Homicide rates within Central America range dramatically from country to country and most fluctuate radically from year to year. This instability is widely credited to the corruption that plagues most of the region. However, two notable exceptions exist within the region. Within the past 12 years, Nicaragua and Costa Rica have varied mildly, but remain stable compared to the rest of the region. Country-by-country rates are listed in the following paragraph, with El Salvador and Honduras receiving more specific treatment below.

With a rate of 8.5, Costa Rica leads Central America as the safest, most stable country with homicide rates hovering just barely above the international average. Guatemala’s 2012 rate of 39.9, although slightly higher than 2011, follows five years of steady rate reduction and could be part of a downward trend. Mexico’s rate remains similar to the past two years at 21.5, but is still alarmingly nearly 3 times higher than the 2007 rate. Panama posted its lowest rate, at 17.2, since 2007, but is still nearly double the rates it averaged near the turn of the millennium. Belize, with the very high rate of 44.7, continues a dangerous downward spiral that has worsened over the past decade. Nicaragua posted a rate of 11.3, while although not a wonderful number, is the result of a consistent, gradual drop in rates since 2007.

El Salvador
With a 2011 homicide rate of 69.9, El Salvador was second only to its neighbor Honduras for the title of “Most Homicidal Country.” However, something significant happened in El Salvador in 2012 that made international headlines, but was probably not celebrated nearly enough. The homicide rate in El Salvador dropped to 41.2. That number signifies a 40% reduction in homicide at the national level. Forty percent! What happened in El Salvador to make people stop killing each other? 

Image from totallycoolpix.com credited to Stringer/Reuters.

Like much of Central America, El Salvador has been a country infected by organized crime and gang violence for years, without much hope of change. However, a truce brokered by the international community, religious leaders, and the Salvadoran government brought a sudden halt to a turf war that had been raging between Mara Salvatrucha and rival gang Barrio 18. However shaky this truce may be, as indicated by a sudden outbreak of violence earlier this year, for one year El Salvador has enjoyed a noticeable respite from the battle that has been raging in their streets.

Thanks to the bravery of a few Catholic priests, some politicians, international aid groups, and gang leaders, hundreds of lives were saved last year. This success in El Salvador sets an impressive precedent for the rest of Central America and the international community.

According to the US State Department, 90% of all cocaine flights, and 42% of all cocaine headed to the US passes through Honduras. This drug traffic, an influx of Mexican drug cartels, gangsters deported from the US, ravaging political and police corruption, and the country’s poverty rate combine to produce the world’s highest homicide rate, estimated at more than 90 homicides per every 100,000 citizens. These numbers work out to ~20 murders a day in a state roughly the size of Ohio.

San Pedro Sula, the industrial center of Honduras, once again ranks as the most violent city in the world with a homicide rate of 169 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. This means that murder is committed there at three times the rate of the United States’ most violent towns, New Orleans (rate of 56) and Detroit (rate of 54). New York City ranks in with a docile rate of 5/100,000. To put this in perspective, not even the combined total murders in New Orleans, Detroit, New York, and Baltimore match the murders that happened just in San Pedro Sula in 2012, even though the population of these combined cities is more than 10 million people – 14 times more than San Pedro Sula’s population of near 700,000.

Summary and Reaction
Within the overarching crime of homicide exist various motivations, which the UN has broken down into three key typologies:

1. Homicide related to other criminal activites: Killings “that are aimed, directly or indirectly, at obtaining illicit profits.”

2. Interpersonal Homicide: Killing “that is not instrumental to the accomplishment of a secondary goal, but is rather a means of resolving a conflict and/or punishing the victim through violence when relationships come under strain.”

3. Socio-political Homicide: Killings “that originate in the public sphere and are typically committed as an instrument for advancing social or political agendas.”

Of these three motivations, Honduras’ fantastic rate is most dramatically affected by “Homicide related to other criminal activities.” As demonstrated by El Salvador where a truce between two major gangs dramatically reduced the homicide rate, Central Americans are caught hunkered down in an active war raging between factions that fight and kill mercilessly in order to supply our humble nation with drugs. If you lack a reason to stop consuming illegal drugs, I urge you to think of the support you provide to men that murder mothers, fathers, and children every day in Central America. Cocaine is not an endless spring of self-sustaining bliss, but rather a pipe that drains pleasure and life from impoverished Central American families in order for Americans to keep feeling good.

We have personally seen multiple bodies along the roadside. I have watched my dog eat the scattered brains of yet another dead stranger that the drug gods have demanded as a sacrifice in our small town. Although we may personally be much safer as North Americans, we live with under same omnipresent dread that hangs over Honduras like so many rainclouds. The effects of violence do not end with a life taken, but continues to extend its tendrils into the hearts and minds of men, women, and children. Noise in the night used to be a dog stirring in its sleep; now it is a gangbanger, looking for vengeance. The road once was an enjoyable walk to the next town; now it is a deadly obstacle that must be run in order to buy food for your children. The motorcycle that was once an economical means of transportation is now an easily assaulted means to an end.

The world’s history has proven that greater stability is possible through holistic development. When transformational, sustainable, holistic development occurs, the change within a country reaches much deeper than just the starting of an economic engine. As a people become empowered, place their trust in God, begin to love their neighbor and forgive instead of destroy, the path of entire countries are changed. Lives are literally saved as people turn from violence and focus their energy into growth.
Our Faith gives us the motivation to seek peace. When we allow that faith to carry us through shadowed alleys into the very lairs of darkness, the Light within us often grows stronger than the darkness can contain.

No comments:

Post a Comment