Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over Recent Violent Attacks against LGBTI People in the Americas

March 14, 2019

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the acts of violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) people that have been reported since the start of 2019 in different countries in the Americas. The IACHR calls upon OAS member states to take urgent, effective measures to guarantee the life, safety, personal integrity, and dignity of people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and bodily diversity, including through laws and policies that promote cultural change in societies. It also calls on states to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for these events.

So far in 2019, the IACHR has received information regarding violent incidents including assaults, malicious murders, sexual violence, and discrimination against LGBTI people in the region. In the course of the monitoring work it carries out on violence against LGBTI people in the Americas, the IACHR has received information on the following specific attacks and warns that the invisibility surrounding this issue means that other such incidents may have taken place that have not yet come to light.

The IACHR was informed that on January 1, 2019, a gay couple from the city of Porvenir, Chile, were attacked by two men who threw a pot of boiling water at one of them and immersed the other in a tub of boiling water. One of the victims of the attack, José David Muñoz Vargas, 52 years old, suffered severe burns on 22% of his body and was admitted to a hospital in Santiago. The IACHR was also informed that on the same day, in the city of Valparaíso, Chile, a 24-year-old man was attacked by people who had offered to help him reach his destination in the Laguna Verde area. According to information received from civil society representatives, the victim was pulled out of the car he was traveling in with two other people and was physically attacked after a telephone conversation revealed that he was gay. He received cigarette burns on his hands and was hit on the head with a rock. The IACHR also received information on a case of rape and aggression against a 14-year-old Chilean girl who civil society representatives reported was abused sexually by her stepfather because she was a lesbian and beaten by her biological father for the same reason. The IACHR notes that these events have been publicly condemned and are being investigated by the relevant authorities. The IACHR also notes that the president of the Republic of Chile has condemned all acts of aggression that are perpetrated on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Furthermore, the IACHR learned of the murder of a 17-year-old Peruvian boy on January 1, 2019, in San Martín, Peru. The murderer was the boy’s own father, who allegedly shot him for being gay and then committed suicide. With regard to this particular case, the IACHR notes that authorities have begun investigations and that the exact motives for the murder are not yet clear. In this sense, the IACHR is aware of how difficult it is to determine whether a given act of violence was prompted by prejudice and notes that establishing this requires a thorough investigation into the causes of attacks under the principle of due diligence.

The IACHR also learned that on January 5, 2019, Pablo Dell’Oso, a young gay man, was attacked as a consequence of his sexual orientation and left unconscious after leaving a nightclub in the city of Córdoba, Argentina. Another similar incident took place on the same day, when trans activist Lara María Bertolini’s skull was fractured after being attacked with a bottle while she was walking her dog in the City of Buenos Aires. The attacker made discriminatory statements during the assault. The IACHR also received reports about an attack on a group of gay and lesbian young people on January 6, 2019. The group was verbally and physically assaulted at a nightclub at the end of the Diversity Festival in the city of El Bolsón, Río Negro Province, Argentina. The attack was apparently brought on by two young men kissing in the street. The Argentine state informed the IACHR that in the cases of Pablo Dell’Oso and the young people in El Bolsón, complaints were filed with the appropriate police departments.

The IACHR is concerned over the information it has received regarding the violent, malicious murder of Quelly da Silva, a 35-year-old trans woman who was murdered on January 20, 2019, in Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil. The perpetrator allegedly committed the crime because he considered the victim to be “a demon.” After killing her, he cut out her heart and left a religious image in its place. The IACHR also learned of the death of Vanusa da Cunha Ferreira, a 36-year-old lesbian, on January 19, 2019, in the Brazilian state of Goiás. According to the information the IACHR received, the accused confessed that he tried to rape the victim to change her sexual orientation and then killed her to stop her from struggling. The cause of death was multiple blows to the head.

The IACHR was also informed of an attack on a gay male couple on January 20, 2019, in Rosarito, Mexico. According to media reports, a group of individuals allegedly broke into the couple’s house in the state of Baja California and attacked them with stones. One of the two died of serious head injuries following the attack.

The IACHR also received information regarding the murder of two trans women in El Salvador in two different incidents that took place on February 3 and 8, 2019, respectively. The first of the victims died in hospital from multiple injuries. The second victim was attacked with a machete and also died in hospital as a result of this.

In addition to the worrying information about these violent incidents against LGBTI people entailing extreme viciousness and cruelty, the IACHR is concerned about the fact that such attacks are significantly underreported. Violence against LGBTI people in the Americas is often not reported to authorities or covered by the media, which leads to invisibilization. In this regard, OAS member states have an obligation to implement data collection policies to better document particular manifestations of violence and discrimination and to produce statistical information on violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity with a view to developing public policies that protect the human rights of LGBTI people.

In light of the above, the IACHR reiterates that when violence against LGBTI people is condoned or tolerated, this violence is reproduced, which stokes prejudice against these groups. The IACHR notes that OAS member states have made efforts to investigate into these events and reminds them of their duty to act with due diligence to investigate, prosecute, punish, and provide redress for human rights violations, including murders and other acts of violence, in compliance with their international obligations. It also wishes to stress that in these cases, due diligence means that states must take into account the different ways in which LGBTI people experience violence and adjust their lines investigation accordingly, so as to take into account possible motivations based on prejudice relating to sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, and/or bodily diversity.

The IACHR notes that several of the acts of violence reported at the beginning of 2019 occurred in public spaces. In this regard, the IACHR wishes to stress that like all people, LGBTI people have the right to go about their business freely in both public and private spaces without suffering violence or discrimination. Being able to use public spaces without suffering discrimination or violence is an important factor in the social inclusion of the LGBTI community, as it fosters social cohesion, the exchange of ideas and experiences, respect for diversity, and political participation, and promotes a feeling of belonging to the community or place where one lives. In this regard, the rapporteur on the rights of LGBTI people, Commissioner Flávia Piovesan, stated that “LGBTI people should not have to avoid visiting public parks out of fear they might be attacked at any moment due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. LGBTI people being denied access to public and cultural spaces because of violence and discrimination translates into a major limitation on their right to exercise their personal autonomy, to develop freely, and to form relationships with other human beings, with their community, and with the outside world.”

The IACHR also wishes to emphasize that acts of violence against women—including lesbian, bisexual, and trans women—are experienced as intersecting manifestations of structural and historical sexism and prejudice against non-normative sexual orientations and gender identities. Lesbian women are particularly at risk of sexual violence due to misogyny and gender inequality. Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, rapporteur on women’s rights, added that “states have an obligation under the Convention of Belém do Pará to prevent, punish and eradicate all forms of violence against women, including lesbian, bisexual, trans, and intersex women. This is part of every woman’s right to live free from violence and discrimination.”

In light of the above, the IACHR wishes to reiterate that states should take all necessary measures to prevent violations of the human rights of LGBTI people under their jurisdiction, particularly when they are aware of the risk that these people are exposed to. It also wishes to stress that this obligation includes a duty on the part of states to foster cultural change within their societies through positive actions, with a view to modifying social patterns of violence and discrimination against people with different sexual orientations and gender identities, regardless of whether these are real or perceived.

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 and to defend 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. 065/19