Global homicide rates drop, but nearly 500,000 murdered in 2012

Soldiers in Honduras, which has the world's highest murder rate, carry the body of Miss Honduras Maria Jose Alvarado on November 19, 2014 (AFP Photo/Orlando Sierra)

Geneva (AFP) - Global homicide rates have plunged 16 percent since the beginning of the century, but nearly half a million people were still murdered worldwide in 2012, a UN report said Wednesday.

A total of 475,000 people were murdered around the globe that year, with the highest murder rates found in Latin America, according to the UN's first report on the status of violence prevention around the world.

Four out of five murder victims are men, and homicide remains the third leading cause of death among males between the ages of 15 and 44, after HIV/AIDS and road accidents, the report found.

Murder drops to the fourth leading cause of death for the same age group when women are added to the mix.

Homicide rates have fallen 16 percent worldwide since the year 2000, and 39 percent when only high income countries are counted, the report showed.

Out of the 133 countries that participated in the study, Honduras had the highest murder rate, with 103.9 homicides for every 100,000 people, while the murder rate in Venezuela stood at 57.6 and 43.9 in Colombia.

That compares to 5.8 in the United States, 0.6 in Switzerland and 0.4 in Japan.

"The homicide rates are very high in Latin America", said Etienne Krug, head of violence prevention at the UN's World Health Organization.

This, he said, was due to a range of factors including high income inequality, easy access to firearms in some countries, and a high cultural acceptance for violence.

Guns are used in one in two murders committed globally, the nearly 300-page report said.

The impact of violence stretches far beyond fatal incidents, according to the study, which stressed the urgent need for more decisive action from governments to prevent violence.

"Millions more children, women and men suffer from the far-reaching consequences of violence in our homes, schools and communities," it said, stressing that "violence shatters lives".

One in four children in the world has been physically abused and one in five girls has faced sexual abuse, according to the report, which also found that one in three women worldwide has been abused physically or sexually by their partner.

When asked, one in 17 elderly people say they have been subjected to violence in the past month.

"Well over a billion people are affected by violence in their lifetime, surviving it, but surviving it with a lot of consequences," Krug said, pointing not only to physical injuries, but also to psychological scars that push many into depression, substance abuse and crime and which can also lead them to commit violence themselves.