Administration Urged to Press El Salvador on Protection of Transgender Citizens

Washington, D.C.Following an alarming string of murders of transgender women in El Salvador, Human Rights First today called on the State Department to urge the Salvadoran government to investigate and combat bias-motivated violence in the country. Since Saturday, February 18th, three transgender women in the La Paz department of the country have been murdered by unknown assailants. Some reports from local NGOs indicate even more alarming numbers of murders of LGBT people in the country in recent weeks.

“The reported murders in El Salvador are just one example of the extreme violence, homophobia, and transphobia that is prevalent in the country,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “The United States should promptly condemn these acts of violence and press the Salvadoran government to thoroughly investigate these incidents.”

Gang members are suspected to be behind the recent murders, although some have expressed concern about the possible complicity of police or state forces. Members of the LGBT community in the region have gone into hiding and activists have put their own lives at risk by coming to the aid of those escaping the violence. One of the three victims disappeared and was later found dead after attending the funeral of two transgender women murdered on Saturday.

“In September 2015 our legislature passed enhanced hate crimes penalties that apply to murders based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” noted Karla Avelar, a trans woman, human rights activist, and the executive director of COMCAVIS Trans. She called for a thorough investigation by the appropriate authorities of the possible hate crime murders committed over the last several days. “Since the reforms to the penal code, over 40 brutal murders of LGBT people have been registered, yet as of now, not one person has been convicted under the recent reforms. We demand that the Salvadoran state apply the law and thoroughly investigate these murders as possible hate crimes.”

In January 2017 Human Rights First published an issue brief titled, “Bias-Motivated Violence Against LGBT People in El Salvador.” Based on the findings from an investigative trip to El Salvador and ongoing engagement with local activists, Human Rights First concluded that LGBT Salvadorans face institutionalized violence, a climate of homophobia and transphobia, and lack of access to justice. Activists report an increase in the numbers of individuals forced to flee the country and seek asylum elsewhere—including in the United States—due to the violent environment.

“These murders share several common denominators, including the patterns of violence, hate, and persecution that underscore the extreme vulnerability that LGBTI people face in El Salvador,” added Avelar. “None of us want to leave our native country, but we are forced to flee and seek asylum in the United States and other countries in order to protect our lives.”

Human Rights First has expressed concern over provisions in President Trump’s January 25th executive order that would limit access to asylum for vulnerable populations, including LGBT people fleeing violence in Central America.

Human Rights First urges the U.S. Government to take several steps in response to these murders:

  • The U.S. Department of State should urge the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office, the Presidency, and other relevant authorities to thoroughly investigate these murders in the context of the enhanced penalties for hate crimes in the penal code and to firmly denounce all violence against members of the LGBT community.
  • The U.S. Department of State should provide support to local activists working to collect data on violence against LGBT people.
  • The Trump Administration should halt any initiatives that would compromise the integrity of the asylum system and leave vulnerable individuals—including LGBT people—at great risk of returning to face violence, discrimination, and even death.

“Provisions in the executive order seeking to return Central Americans and others seeking refuge to Mexico to await adjudication of their asylum claims would have a severe negative impact on LGBT people, who would continue to face institutionalized violence and discrimination in Mexico. It is crucial the that Trump Administration ensure that those fleeing violence have meaningful access to protection at our borders,” added Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord.


Published on February 23, 2017


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