Press Release

IACHR Urges States to Combat Impunity in Cases involving Prejudice against Trans Persons

November 18, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - On this year’s International Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) joins with the international community in honoring the memory of trans persons who have lost their lives or suffered attacks due the high levels of violence based on prejudice against people of diverse gender identities. The IACHR urges the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to adopt and expand measures that make it possible to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for such crimes and provide full reparation to the victims and their family members. These measures should be designed to combat impunity, which should include eliminating prejudice in the investigations as well as taking a differentiated approach to those processes.

The Inter-American Commission continues to be concerned about information it has received regarding the alarmingly high levels of violence and prejudice against trans persons in the region. The IACHR has received information indicating that about 238 trans persons and gender-nonconforming individuals in the Americas have been killed in the past 12 months, most of them in Brazil (123), Mexico (52), the United States (23), Colombia (14), Venezuela (14), and Argentina (10). Official statistics tend to underestimate the number of incidents involving crimes motivated by prejudice against LGBTI people, as victims tend to be reluctant to report their experiences for fear of extortion, breach of confidentiality, or reprisals.

The IACHR also expresses its deep concern over the information it has received, both from States and civil society organizations, regarding the existence of prejudice and partiality in the investigation of crimes against trans persons.

In countries of the Americas, those who work in State justice systems tend to make biased assumptions from the very outset of an investigation as to the motives, possible suspects, and circumstances of crimes, based on the victims’ actual or perceived gender identity. The IACHR expressed its concern over this trend in its report “Violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Persons in the Americas.” These biased assumptions have the effect of inhibiting the thorough collection of evidence and the carrying out of serious and impartial investigations. Instead, police officers and other agents of the justice system direct their actions toward finding evidence that confirms their prejudiced theory of events, which in turn frustrates the purpose of the investigation and may lead to invalidation of the proceedings. Discriminatory prejudice often leads to investigations being abandoned or closed without determining who was responsible, and can even prevent crimes from being investigated at all. This fosters high rates of impunity, leaving the victims and their families utterly defenseless, and leads to the chronic repetition of such crimes.

In addition, the Inter-American Commission expresses its deep concern over the information it has received regarding judicial decisions that justify killings or other acts of violence against LGBT persons. Courts in the region have partially or totally excused crimes such as murder or physical assault against trans persons, on grounds that these crimes were supposedly committed in response to same-sex sexual advances or because of the victim’s gender identity.

The Inter-American Commission calls on OAS Member States to effectively and impartially investigate all crimes committed against trans persons, and to develop investigation guidelines or protocols that include indications or elements that would assist police officers, prosecutors, and other investigators in determining whether a crime was committed based on prejudice against the victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or expression. As part of this effort, the IACHR urges States to take into consideration the specific circumstances of how violence based on prejudice is manifested in their countries—something that can vary or become exacerbated in different geographical areas—and to consult civil society organizations and LGBT activists in order to adequately craft protocols that set out indicators of potential prejudice-motivated crimes that are relevant to investigations in that country.

The IACHR welcomes measures adopted in recent years by some countries in the region to effectively investigate crimes committed against LGBT persons. For example, the IACHR notes that some OAS Member States have either established specialized prosecutorial units or appointed a dedicated prosecutor to investigate crimes against LGBT persons. The IACHR urges States to strengthen these areas, or create them if they do not already exist, as such areas make it possible to specialize in investigating, prosecuting, and punishing these killings and to provide redress to the victims.

However, the Inter-American Commission notes that it is important to redouble and standardize such efforts in the region, as trans victims of violence and their family members still face serious problems in obtaining access to justice. The IACHR calls to mind that the investigation into killings and other acts of violence against trans persons must begin promptly and without undue delay, and must constitute an effort by the State to take all necessary measures in the search for truth—to clarify what happened and unmask possible discriminatory motives—as this is a key component of the right to access justice and reparations.

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. 169/16