The war in Syria remained the most lethal in 2016. But with 23,000 murders, Mexico had the world's second-highest murder rate last year.

Posters showvictims of the Mexican drug war on the 10th anniversary of its start at the Monument of the Mexican Revolution in Mexico City, December 11, 2016.
Posters showvictims of the Mexican drug war on the 10th anniversary of its start at the Monument of the Mexican Revolution in Mexico City, December 11, 2016.

Mexico's ruthless drug cartels left the country with the world's highest murder rate last year, second only to Syria, a report released on Tuesday by a London-based security and conflict institute revealed.

With nearly 23,000 homicides in 2016, Mexico's murder tally was second only to Syria's 60,000 – a country which has since 2011 been racked by war.

"It is very rare for criminal violence to reach a level akin to armed conflict," said Antonio Sampaio, one of the authors of the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Armed Conflict Survey 2017.

"But this has happened in the Northern Triangle of Central America (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) and, especially, Mexico," said the researcher.

He added Mexico's militarised drug battle increasingly resembles an armed conflict.

While homicides are generally reported at a rate per 100,000 people, Sampaio said many countries in armed conflict lack reliable population data.

"We think absolute numbers are a good way of measuring intensity," he said.

"Plus 23,000 is a huge number; no doubt about that."

Iraq had roughly 17,000 murders, while Afghanistan had 16,000 last year.

Mexico's unchecked violence

Since taking office in 2012, President Enrique Pena Nieto has sought to cast Mexico as a modern economy, pushing through energy, telecommunications and labour laws aimed at kick-starting growth.

But, his administration has been scarred by stubbornly weak growth, a perception of corruption and confused tactics on how to end a decade of drug violence.

The first few months of 2017 have shown no signs that the violence has stopped.

In January, Reuters reported that Mexico's declining security budget could help drive the 2017 murder tally to its highest level ever.

"The inability of the Mexican economy to grow by significant rates ... is a reason why the state is incapable of implementing a nationwide, significant security strategy to the same level that other Latin American countries have," Sampaio said.

A split within the Sinaloa cartel, which was run by kingpin Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman until his arrest last year, and the continued ascent of fearsome newcomers the Jalisco New Generation cartel also contributed to the rise in homicides, Sampaio said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies