Honduras: End Violence Against Transgender People

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Honduras: End Violence Against Transgender People

Government Should Prosecute Attackers and Prohibit Discrimination

San Pedro Sula - Honduras should act to end an epidemic of violence against
transgender people by investigating, prosecuting, and convicting those
responsible, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The
organization also called on Honduran authorities to repeal legal
provisions on "public morality" and "public scandal" that give police
excessive power and enable abuse.

The 45-page report, "‘Not Worth a Penny': Human Rights Abuses against Transgender People in Honduras,"
details abuses based on gender identity and expression, including rape,
beatings, extortion, and arbitrary detentions by law enforcement
officials. It also documents police inaction and recurrent failure to
investigate violence against transgender people. At least 17 travestis
(as many transgender people are called) have been killed in public
places in Honduras since 2004. None of these killings have led to a
prosecution or conviction.

"The police have an obligation to protect people and to investigate
violence, no matter who the victims are," said Juliana Cano Nieto,
researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights
Program at Human Rights Watch. "The Honduran State is failing miserably
on this basic issue of human rights."

Violence against transgender people is a constant in Honduras, and
the attacks rarely lead to an investigation or prosecution. On January
9, 2009, unknown assailants shot and killed Cynthia Nicole, a leading
transgender rights activist. No one has been apprehended or charged
with her murder. Most recently, on May 7, two unknown men beat Bárbara
Paola, an outreach worker for a Tegucigalpa-based LGBT organization,
Arcoiris. Local LGBT rights groups told Human Rights Watch that the
case is not under investigation, and that no one has been prosecuted or
imprisoned.

Based on interviews with victims of and witnesses to violence, the
report also cites cases of violence on the part of police in Honduran
cities in recent years. Several transgender people told Human Rights
Watch that police officers rape them and extort money from them
regularly. A 19-year-old transgender person told Human Rights Watch
that police punched her in the face, beat her with a baton, and broke a
broomstick against her back before throwing her into jail.

The report documents other cases in which police have stood by and
watched when transgender people are attacked, and shows how police fail
to pursue investigations in other instances.

Often police justify their actions with reference to vague language
in the Law on Police and Social Affairs - such as a need to protect
"public morality" and guard against "public scandal." For example, an
outreach worker told Human Rights Watch that police officers accused
her of stealing, hit her head against a glass door of a building, and
accused her of "public scandal."

Some actions to protect public morality are permitted under
international human rights law, mainly if they are clearly set out in
domestic law, are shown to be necessary, and are applied
proportionately. This is clearly not the case in the provisions of the
Law on Police and Social Affairs in Honduras, however. Vague provisions
in the law enable police violence and abuses against other marginalized
communities as well as transgender people.

Comparable laws are found in Guatemala, some states in Mexico, and
some provinces in Argentina. Yet in other Latin American countries,
like Colombia, judges have quashed similar laws on the grounds that
such concepts are too broad and invite discriminatory treatment.

Human Rights Watch acknowledged that Honduras has taken positive
steps by making a public commitment to end violence on the grounds of
people's sexual orientation or gender identity, in particular by
supporting the Organization of American States (OAS) "Resolution on
Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity" in June 2008.

However, Human Rights Watch called on Honduras to translate these
international statements into local action. Honduras should repeal the
sweeping provisions in the Law on Police and Social Affairs and pass
specific anti-discrimination legislation that bars discrimination on
all grounds, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender
expression.

The report release coincides with the annual meeting of heads of
state of the Organization of American States (OAS), of which Honduras
is the host. The theme for this year's meeting is "Toward a Culture of
Non-Violence."

"As host to the 39th General Assembly, Honduras should send the
message that non-violence is a human right for all," said Cano Nieto.
"The Honduran government should start by repealing domestic legislation
that enables violence."

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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