The Guatemalan government must take immediate steps to stop a pattern of deadly attacks and possible police violence against transgender women and gay men, and end impunity for these crimes, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Guatemalan President Oscar Berger.
One transgender woman was murdered and another was critically wounded on December 17 when they were gunned down on a street in Guatemala City. Paulina (legal name Juan Pablo Méndez Cartagena) and Sulma (legal name Kevin Robles) were stopped by four men on motorcycles at an intersection in Guatemala City's Zone One, the center of the city.
Eyewitnesses reported that the assailants were wearing police uniforms and riding police motorcycles that identified them as members of the national police. The assailants shot Paulina twice in the head, killing her immediately. They shot Sulma three times, and she is still recuperating from her injuries.
Paulina, a former sex worker, worked for the Organización de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA (OASIS), a nongovernmental organization that works to prevent HIV/AIDS and to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Sulma is a volunteer with OASIS and a sex worker.
Since the attack, Sulma and other transgender sex workers have reported being subject to undue police surveillance, causing them to fear for their lives. According to Sulma's report to OASIS, police warned her that, as witness to the attack, her life is in danger. OASIS said that its office and personnel have been under undue police surveillance. According to OASIS, the Office of the Public Prosecutor has made no further investigations into the attack since preliminary investigations in late December.
"These cold–blooded shootings are just the latest tragedy in Guatemala's pattern of deadly violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity," said Jessica Stern, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "The police have not done enough to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and now there is concern that they may be responsible for someone's murder."
LGBT people in Guatemala regularly face attacks and threats. In 2005, at least 13 transgender women and gay men were murdered in Guatemala. On December 21, two men in an unmarked car with tinted windows robbed two gay male sex workers at gunpoint in Guatemala City.
In the space of a single month, three gay men were murdered in Guatemala City late last year. Luis Sicán was shot to death on November 6 in Guatemala City’s Zone One. Flavio José Morales was shot to death in Zone Three of on October 12. Héctor Osmín García was shot to death by a security guard on October 7 while distributing flyers for a beauty salon. According to OASIS, there have been no prosecutions in any of these cases.
In its letter to Guatemala's president, Human Rights Watch outlined several steps that the government should take to end the violence and intimidation targeting LGBT people in Guatemala.
First, the government must ensure prompt, thorough and impartial investigations of the December 17 shootings — as well as other similar attacks reported over the past year. The authorities must also ensure that those responsible for these crimes are brought to justice.
In addition, the Guatemalan government should end any undue police surveillance of Sulma and other transgender sex workers, of OASIS and other NGOs advocating for the rights of LGBT people in Guatemala.
Human Rights Watch recommended that national police work with representatives of LGBT and sex worker communities to introduce sensitivity training in accordance with human rights principles to end discrimination against LGBT people and sex workers.
"Sulma has good reason to fear that the people who attacked her could strike again,"said Stern. "Guatemalan authorities must take immediate steps to protect LGBT people and hold their assailants accountable."
Human Rights Watch sent letters today detailing these human rights abuses to President Oscar Berger, the Office of the Minister of the Interior, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the national police, the Solicitor for Human Rights, and the Representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala.