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Letter to the President of Guatemala,Oscar Berger Perdomo

On the Deadly Attacks Faced By Transgender People

I am writing in regard to disturbing reports that we have received of repeated acts of violence against and intimidation of transgender women, lesbians, and gay men in Guatemala. We are particularly concerned about the December 17 attack that left Juan Pablo Menéndez Cartagena (known as Paulina) dead and Kevin Robles (known as Sulma) seriously wounded, and the credible reports we have received that the perpetrators of this brutal killing were police officers. We respectfully urge you to take appropriate steps to ensure that there is a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of these crimes and that those responsible for them are brought to justice.

Excmo. Oscar Berger Perdomo
Presidente de la República de Guatemala
Casa Presidencial
6 a. Avenida, 4-18 Zona 1
Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA

February 21, 2006

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing in regard to disturbing reports that we have received of repeated acts of violence against and intimidation of transgender women, lesbians, and gay men in Guatemala. We are particularly concerned about the December 17 attack that left Juan Pablo Menéndez Cartagena (known as Paulina) dead and Kevin Robles (known as Sulma) seriously wounded, and the credible reports we have received that the perpetrators of this brutal killing were police officers. We respectfully urge you to take appropriate steps to ensure that there is a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of these crimes and that those responsible for them are brought to justice.

According to the Organización de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA (OASIS), a non–governmental organization (NGO) that works for the prevention of HIV/AIDS and for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, Paulina and Sulma were walking at an intersection in Zone One of Guatemala City in the early hours of December 17 when they were approached by four men on motorcycles who ordered them to stop. One of the men then shot Paulina twice in the head, killing her almost immediately. Either he or another person then shot Sulma three times, leaving her seriously wounded. Eyewitnesses have reported to OASIS that the assailants were members of the Policía Nacional Civil.

Paulina was OASIS' sistente de Comunicaciones. She was a former sex worker who also did HIV/AIDS outreach and prevention among sex workers. Sulma is a member of and volunteer with OASIS and is a sex worker.

Since the attack, OASIS has reported increased police surveillance of Sulma and other transgender sex workers, causing them to fear for their lives. Police have reportedly threatened Sulma that, as a witness to the attack, her life is in danger. The office of OASIS and members of its staff have also been targeted for police surveillance. According to OASIS, the Ministerio Público has made no further investigations into the attack since preliminary investigations in late December.

The attack on Paulina and Sulma is only the most recent in a series of reports received by Human Rights Watch of violence against LGBT communities in Guatemala. On December 21, 2005, days after the attack on Paulina and Sulma, men in an unmarked red car with tinted windows reportedly robbed gay male sex workers at gunpoint. On October 7, 2005, transgender sex worker Juan Manuel Villa Soto (known as Mishel) died after she was so severely beaten that her head was crushed. OASIS reports at least seven murders of transgender sex workers in Guatemala in 2005, including those of Paulina and Mishel, and at least six murders of gay men and transgender women who were not sex workers. Among the latter, Flavio Jose Morales was shot to death in Zone Three of Guatemala city on October 12; Luis Sican was shot to death on November 6 on Thirteenth Street in Zone One; and Hector Osmin Garcia was shot to death by a security guard on October 7 while distributing flyers for a beauty salon. According to the Coordinadora Ciudadana por la Diversidad Sexual (CCDS), a non–governmental organization that works to end homophobia and to promote human rights, nineteen transgender women were violently murdered between January and July of 2004. According to local rights advocates, none of these cases have been prosecuted.

Other Guatemalan lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocates and organizations have reported attacks and threats in recent years. On May 13, 2003, two men attempted to kidnap Jorge López Sologaistoa, President of OASIS, but he managed to escape from the car they had forced him into. On May 23, 2003, Mr. Sologaistoa and other members of OASIS were pursued by five men in a car. On July 7, 2004, three threatening phone calls and an ominous visit took place at the office of two LGBT NGOs in Guatemala City, CCDS and the Colectiva de Lesbianas Liberadas (LESBIRADAS), an organization that provides services and support to lesbian and bisexual women. The callers hurled insults and threatened LESBIRADAS' staffers with sexual assault. The visitor asked specifically for Claudia Acevedo, one of the group’s leaders. He warned the group against "being so public, because given the way things are right now, with all those maniacs out there and with what is happening to women…"

Articles 1 and 2 of the constitution of Guatemala affirm the government's responsibility to protect the person and to guarantee life, liberty, justice, security, and peace. Article 4 also affirms the equality of all human beings. Furthermore, Guatemala is bound by international treaties that protect basic rights and bar discrimination. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Guatemala acceded in 1992, and the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), to which Guatemala acceded in 1978, bar arbitrary deprivation of life, guarantee the right to security of person, and guarantee freedom of expression. In the case of Velásquez Rodríguez in 1988, the Inter–American Court of Human Rights asserts the responsibility of states for patterns of violations committed by private individuals. In the case of Toonen v Australia in 1994, the United Nations Human Rights Committee held that the protections of the ICCPR against discrimination in all areas of rights should be understood to include sexual orientation as a status protected against unequal treatment.

Furthermore, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders has called specific attention to the "greater risks...faced by defenders of the rights of certain groups as their work challenges social structures, traditional practices and interpretations of religious precepts that may have been used over long periods of time to condone and justify violation of the human rights of members of such groups. Of special importance will be women’s human rights groups and those who are active on issues of sexuality, especially sexual orientation." (See "Report of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on human rights defenders," U.N. Doc.E/CN.4/2001/94, at 89g.)

We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure the safety of LGBT people, sex workers, and human rights defenders working on sexual health and human rights in Guatemala. Specifically, it is crucial that that there be prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations of the December 17 attack—as well as the other similar attacks reported over the past year—and that those responsible for them are brought to justice. It is also critical that your government ensure that the Policía Nacional Civil do not engage in surveillance as a form of harassment and other acts of intimidation of Sulma and other transgender sex workers, nor of OASIS and other NGOs advocating for the rights of LGBT people in Guatemala. Finally, we believe that it would be extremely beneficial for the Policía Nacional Civil to work with representatives of LGBT and sex worker communities to introduce sensitivity training that condemns discrimination against LGBT people and sex workers in accordance with human rights principles

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Jessica Stern
Researcher
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program

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