brazil attack
An off-duty Brazil police officer draws a bead on three armed robbers who broke into his garage to steal his car. He killed one of them.

A staggering 64,000 homicide victims in Brazil in a single year is as high as the annual death rate in the Syrian civil war.

The South American nation had the highest number of killings of any nation in the world, according to studies by several United Nations agencies which used global data from 2012, the most recent available.

That's comparable to the number of people who have been killed annually in Syria's civil war, reports the Los Angeles Times. Brazil's homicide rate remains even higher than Mexico's, despite the drug war raging there since 2006.

One out of five of all murders victims in the world Is Brazilian, Colombian or Venezuelan, reports the Brazil-based Instituto Igarape. Of the total 437,000 murders around the globe in 2012, a surprising 33% occurred in Latin American or the Caribbean, home of just 8% of the world's population.

Honduras has the highest murder rate per capita in the world (85.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants), followed by Venezuela (53.7) and the US Virgin Islands (46.9). By comparison, Britain's rate is 1.2 per 100,000 population, while the US is 4.7.

Murder rates in Colombia have fallen from 381 per 100,00 in 1991 to today's 30.3, largely as a result of the end of the drug wars. But violence among guerrillas, paramilitary groups and Colombian security forces still remains high. And as Colombia cracked down on drug gangs some of them pushed into Venezuela, spiking violence there.

Rising prosperity hasn't helped to bring down the murder rate

But the crime rate and murders have a particularly stubborn stranglehold in Brazil, according to the UN surveys. Despite increasing prosperity in the nation, the homicide rate has barely budged since 2000.

"All else being equal, we expect that if there is a major drop in inequality, homicide rates go down," Christopher Mikton of the World Health Organisation Prevention of Violence Team, who worked on the UN report, told the Times. However, "in 2000, Brazil's homicide rate was 32.2 per 100,000 residents, and in 2012 it was just over 32.4".

But while prosperity may have increased, the income gap hasn't appeared to narrow with the ow super-rich sharing the nation with desperately poor and unskilled youth. Experts also blame the continued power of drug gangs, corruption among police and an ineffective court system for the continuing crime.

The one bright spot is that the number of homicides has dropped in larger and more affluent cities, such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — but they've jumped in the poorer north eastern region.