U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Urged to Stand with Salvadoran LGBT Community in Time of Violence
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today called on the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador Jean Elizabeth Manes to publicly express her concerns regarding bias-motivated violence in the country. The call came in a letter following a recent string of horrific murders of transgender women that have terrorized the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. The organization also called on the ambassador to meet with a broad cross-sector of Salvadoran LGBT civil society to express her support for combatting hate crimes and protecting members of vulnerable communities.
“In a climate of generalized violence and impunity, the protection of the most vulnerable is an essential starting point to improving the daily lives of all citizens,” wrote Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “By meeting with LGBT civil society and taking a public stance against bias-motivated acts of violence against vulnerable people, you will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to advancing human rights and to combating hate crimes and impunity.”
Since Saturday, February 18, three transgender women in the La Paz department of the country have been murdered by unknown assailants. One of the three victims disappeared and was later found dead after attending the funeral of two transgender women.
The letter praised past efforts by the embassy to act as a source of support for members of the LGBT community, but highlighted the need for continued engagement given the state of human rights for LGBT people in El Salvador. Although enhanced hate crime penalties for murders and threats motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity were added in September 2015 to the Salvadoran penal code, they have yet to be used despite widespread acts of violence against the LGBT community.
In January 2017 Human Rights First published an issue brief, “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. Human Rights First has expressed alarm and concern over President Trump’s new executive orders on immigration and refugees, which will limit access to asylum for vulnerable populations, including LGBT people fleeing violence in Central America.
“The Salvadoran LGBT community is persecuted at home and now faces challenges seeking safety elsewhere,” said Gaylord. “In the aftermath of these tragic murders and on the eve of International Women’s Day, Ambassador Manes has an opportunity to reaffirm the United States’ historic commitment to protecting vulnerable populations by meeting with LGBT civil society and broadly condemning the bias-motivated violence that forces many to leave their home countries in search of safety.”
For more information or to speak with Gaylord, contact Christopher Plummer [email protected], or 202-370-3310.