Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern about Violence and Discrimination against LGBT Persons Deprived of Liberty

May 21, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about recurring acts of violence and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) persons, or those perceived as such, who are deprived of liberty in the region. The IACHR calls on OAS Member States to adopt urgent and effective measures to guarantee the life, personal security and integrity, and human dignity of LGBT persons or those perceived as such in the region’s places of detention, including prisons and immigration detention centers.

In recent months, the IACHR has received troubling information on instances of violence and inhuman and degrading treatment against LGBT persons or those perceived as such, in prisons, lock up facilities, police stations, and immigration detention centers. LGBT persons who are deprived of their liberty are at a heightened risk for sexual violence –including higher risk for multiple sexual assaults- and other acts of violence and discrimination at the hands of other persons deprived of liberty or custodial staff. According to a 2010 Report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, LGBT persons are at the bottom of the informal hierarchy in detention facilities, which results in double or triple discrimination. 

The IACHR has also received troubling information on the routine use of solitary confinement as a measure aimed at “protecting” LGBT individuals. The IACHR reiterates that solitary confinement should only be used in exceptional circumstances, for the shortest period possible and only as a last resort measure. Solitary confinement and similar forms of deprivation of human contact for a prolonged period of time may produce physical and mental irreversible damage, and amount to inhuman or degrading treatment. Sexual orientation and gender identity should not be used as criteria to subject persons to unduly prolonged solitary confinement. Persons deprived of liberty must not be penalized or punished due to prejudice and discrimination based on perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity.

Sexual violence against trans women is heightened because of their routine or regular allocation to male facilities, without regard to specificities of the person or case. According to the information received, in several countries trans women are housed with the general male population in prisons and immigration detention centers. In other countries, trans women are placed in particular housing units within detention facilities (which could also include gay and bisexual men), but separated from the general male population. Although this segregation arguably responds to a need to guarantee their safety, the IACHR is concerned about information on worse living conditions in these cells or units, when compared to other units in the facility; and the possible limitation of programs and benefits afforded to the general population, which are key to rehabilitation or participating in early release programs. Protective measures regarding LGBT persons should involve no greater restriction of their rights than is experienced by the general population deprived of liberty. The decision on where to house trans persons should be done on a case by case basis, with due respect to their personal dignity, and to the extent possible, with prior consultation of the person concerned.

According to the IACHR Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas, persons deprived of liberty shall, under no circumstances, be discriminated against for reasons of sex, gender, sexual orientation or any social condition. The IACHR recalls that States, as guarantors of the rights of persons deprived of liberty, have a basic duty to ensure control and security inside places of detention, and prevent violence amongst detainees. States must refrain from committing acts of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment against persons deprived of liberty, including for reasons relating to sexual orientation or gender identity.

The IACHR urges OAS Member States to develop comprehensive policies and guidelines for adequate treatment of LGBT persons deprived of liberty, including medical care. The IACHR calls on OAS Member States to prevent violence against LGBT persons deprived of liberty, including, but not limited to: effective and independent complaint procedures to report rape and abuse; tailored risk assessment at in-take to ensure appropriate allocation, in consultation with the persons concerned; careful collection of data on LGBT persons deprived of liberty –respecting principles of confidentiality and privacy- and the violence exerted against them; and sensitization and diversity training of custodial staff, immigration and police officers.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 053/15