Press Release

IACHR Condemns Alarming Numbers of LGBT Killings in the Region So Far this Year

March 23, 2017

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the alarming number of killings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people (LGBT) in the region and urges the States to investigate these deaths with a differentiated approach and ensure that they do not go unpunished. The Commission is concerned about the information it has received indicating that in the first months of this year, at least 41 serious crimes against LGBT persons have been reported in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, the United States, and Venezuela.

The Commission has received information from civil society organizations indicating that so far this year, 17 serious crimes based on prejudice against LGBT persons have been reported in El Salvador. The Commission was informed that in the third week of February, three trans individuals were killed and another violently attacked. One of the victims, identified as Elizabeth Castillo, was kidnapped and killed. Her body, showing signs of torture, was found on the road outside Villa de Cuyultitán, after she had attended the funeral of two trans women—identified as Yasuri Jandres, 22, and Daniela Rodríguez, 29—who had been shot to death in the city of San Luis de Talpa. The same week that these three women were killed, unknown individuals violently attacked a trans person, who was hospitalized and reportedly has yet to be identified. According to the information received, the identity of those responsible for all these crimes remains unknown.

The Commission notes with concern that the information available indicates that to protect their lives, trans people from El Salvador have been forced to flee to other countries, such as Mexico and the United States. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has also reported at least 136 cases of forced displacements of LGBT persons, motivated by fear and threats to their personal integrity.

The Commission is concerned to observe that the following African-American trans women have been killed in the United States so far this year: Mesha Caldwell, 41 years old; JoJo Striker, 23; Keke Collier, 24; Chyna Gibson, 31; Ciara McElveen, 21; and Jaquarrius Holland, 18. Meanwhile, police have characterized as a homicide what happened to 28-year-old Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, a two-spirit person, defined as a person who has both feminine and masculine spirits and recognize gender as a continuum that includes diverse identities, sexual orientations and social roles. In Pennsylvania, a 23-year-old trans man, Sean Hake, was killed by three gunshots to the torso, fired by a police officer who had responded to a domestic violence call.

With regard to Brazil, the Commission received information indicating that every 28 hours an LGBT person is violently attacked due to homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia. For example, the Commission learned of a 20-year-old gay man, Marcos Valdevino, who was attacked by an unidentified man at a party. The case went viral on social media after he posted photos of his injuries and fractured arm and said, “This is the price you pay for being gay in Brazil.” The Commission has also been informed about violent attacks that ended the lives of Ágatha Mont, 26; Mirella de Carllo, 39; Emanuelle Muniz, 21; Hérika Izidoro, 24; Michelly Garcia, 25; and Jennifer Celia Henrique, 37; Lexia Alves de Brito, 30; Camila Albuquerque, 20; Bruna Tavares, 17, all of them Brazilian trans women. In one notable cases, 42-year-old Dandara dos Santos was tortured and killed by five men in Fortaleza, an incident that was captured on video and went viral on social media. According to available public information, based on that video police arrested three adolescents and two men allegedly responsible for torturing and eventually killing Dandara.

In Venezuela, the body of a trans woman, 32-year-old Alexandra Peña Vizcaya, was found in the state of Lara. The expert examination carried out reportedly found that she had been kidnapped and tortured, her penis cut off and the skin on her face peeled back. This homicide has the same characteristics as the murder of a gay man, 60-year-old Ibán José Chávez, whose body was found in January of this year. The Commission was also informed that the body of someone perceived as a trans woman had been found showing signs of abuse and bullet wounds.

In Colombia, the information the Commission received indicates that Silvana Pineda, a 34-year-old trans woman, was killed when she was walking down the street in the municipality of La Dorada. In Barranquilla, the body of Johnny Mercado Ballestas, a 36-year-old man perceived as gay, was found tied to a chair; he was gagged and his body showed clear signs of torture.

In addition, the information available indicates that in Córdoba, Argentina, a 27-year-old trans woman was stabbed in the arm with a bladed weapon by her partner.

“This situation in disturbing and unsustainable,” said Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren Praeli, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Persons (LGBTI). “States must urgently adopt the necessary measures to put an end to these situations and ensure that these crimes are investigated using a differentiated approach. The high levels of barbarity and cruelty could be because the perpetrators were motivated by prejudice based on the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, something that must be clarified. There must be no impunity, and reparation must be made to the victims and their families,” he added.

As it recommended in its 2015 report Violence against LGBTI Persons, the Commission urges the OAS Member States to develop guidelines or protocols that include indicia or elements that would assist police officers, prosecutors, and other investigators in determining whether a particular crime was committed based on prejudice against the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity, to ensure that they meet their obligation to investigate and punish those responsible.

According to the IACHR Registry of Violence and the 2015 report Violence against LGBTI Persons, 80 percent of trans persons killed between January 2013 and March 2014 were 35 years of age or younger. The IACHR observes with concern that, according to the information available, the average age of the trans women killed since January 1 of this year was 28.

The IACHR calls to mind that in serious and urgent situations, the IACHR may ask a State to adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to individuals under its jurisdiction, regardless of whether there is a case or petition pending before the Commission, In addition, the Commission underscores the importance for States to ensure the safety of all LGBTI persons, guaranteeing that they can freely and fully exercise their human rights without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or bodily diversity. 

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. 037/17