MEXICO CITY Honduras retains the world's highest murder rate, according to a United Nations report published on Thursday, with the Americas overtaking Africa as the region with the most peacetime murders per 100,000 people.
Torn apart by gang warfare and invaded by Mexican drug cartels, the Central American nation of Honduras had a 2012 murder rate of 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people, almost double Venezuela's rate of 53.7.
According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime's report, Central America fared particularly badly. Belize had a murder rate of 44.7, while El Salvador's was 41.2 per 100,000.
In a previous report in 2011, Honduras topped the list, with El Salvador in second place and Venezuela in third.
In the U.N.'s latest report, the Americas overtook Africa as the region with most murders, thanks to a surge in organized crime, which is often funded from the proceeds of drug smuggling.
Nearly 40 percent of the 437,000 murders committed globally in 2012 took place in the Americas, with the majority in Central and South America, the report found.
"Overall, organized crime (or) gang-related homicide accounts for 30 percent of homicides in the Americas," the report said.
Central American countries that have a long history of gang violence, such as Honduras, have seen the problem worsened in recent years after Mexican drug cartels moved in, taking advantage of shaky public institutions to set up key logistical operations for moving drugs from South America to the United States.
Other countries with high murder rates include Guatemala, with 39.9 murders per 100,000; South Africa with 31; Colombia with 30.8; and Brazil with 25.2.
In Mexico, where about 85,000 people have died in drug-related killings since a 2007 military-led assault against the warring cartels, the murder rate was 21.5 per 100,000.
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Ken Wills)