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May 8, 8:16 PM EDT

Campaign to reduce killings in world homicide leader Brazil


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AP Photo/Felipe Dana

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Several human rights groups and think tanks on Monday launched a campaign to drastically reduce homicides in Brazil, the world leader in absolute number of annual killings.

In 2015, the last year for which comparative numbers are available, 56,212 people were killed in Brazil, according to the Igarape Institute think tank, which draws data from the United Nations and governments around the world. That is more than countries like China and India, which have much larger populations.

"For decades, Brazil has had the No. 1 ranking of total homicides," Ilona Szabo, Igarape's executive director, told reporters. "It's not OK to accept this level of violence."

The campaign aims to reduce homicides by 50 percent over the next 10 years, in part by making homicide a campaign issue in the 2018 presidential election. Other pieces of the plan involve pressuring the government to implement policies like therapy programs for drug users and reforming an overcrowded prison system that often puts non-violent offenders next to convicted killers. It will also push to reduce confrontations between military police and residents in slums.

The campaign has also launched in six other Latin American countries with high homicide rates: Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela. More than 30 organizations across the seven countries are participating.

While Latin America makes up about 8 percent of the world's population, it accounts for 38 percent of homicides, on average about 144,000 a year, according to Igarape.

When accounting for population size, El Salvador is the region's most violent: In 2016, its homicide rate was 91 people per 100,000. By comparison, Brazil's rate is 27.5 people per 100,000, which still gives it one of the world's highest rates.

The effect of that is profound. At least 50 million Brazilians age 16 or older know someone who has been the victim of homicide or larceny, according to a large survey released Monday by Datafolha and the Brazilian Forum of Public Security. Sixteen million Brazilians know someone killed by police, according to the survey, which interviewed 2,065 people in 150 cities between April 3 and April 8. The margin of error was 2 percentage points.

The homicide reduction campaign will have to overcome myriad challenges in Brazil. Latin America's largest nation is mired in a recession and bogged down by political polarization after a nasty impeachment fight led to the ousting las year of former President Dilma Rousseff.

The state of Rio de Janeiro is so broke that thousands of public workers are being paid months late, if at all. Frequent bursts of violence in Rio de Janeiro, which hosted the 2016 Olympics, have people worried that Brazil's flagship city could be heading toward chaos. In the last two weeks, buses have been burned, and shootouts between military police and drug traffickers in slums have left several people dead, including children.

Jurema Werneck, the executive director of Amnesty International in Brazil, acknowledged that the general climate would make it hard to get traction with policy makers.

"We can't let that be a reason for politicians not to act," she said.

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Peter Prengaman on Twitter: twitter.com/peterprengaman

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