As Outdated Homicide Case Takes On New Life, Some Transgender Individuals Dare Hope

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Outraged by a long-ignored slaying in Honduras, attorneys are urging a human rights courtroom in Central America to power governments to raised defend transgender individuals in a area the place they’re targets.

In a area the place consultants put the life expectancy for transgender girls at solely 30 to 35 years, Vicky Hernández didn’t make it even that lengthy.

Ms. Hernández was 26 when she was discovered shot within the eye on a Honduras road, a slug of unknown caliber and a used condom beside her physique.

Twelve years later, investigators nonetheless haven’t run forensic assessments on that proof. It’s nonetheless not clear whether or not the authorities ever carried out an post-mortem. And two different transgender girls who reported having witnessed a police patrol automotive roll as much as Ms. Hernández simply earlier than she ran off and went lacking have been themselves killed inside a 12 months of her demise.

However now, the case could also be about to make authorized historical past as a regional human rights courtroom deliberates whether or not the Honduran authorities was answerable for Ms. Hernández’s demise and owes her household reparations.

It’s the first time the Inter-American Courtroom of Human Rights will rule on whether or not governments have executed sufficient to guard transgender individuals. And whereas the Hernández case places a highlight on a sample of abuse in opposition to susceptible individuals in Honduras, it’s being intently watched in a area the place many international locations stay hostile towards transgender individuals.

The courtroom, primarily based in Costa Rica, may order the Honduran authorities to enact measures designed to stop violence in opposition to transgender individuals, setting a authorized precedent within the area.

Ms. Hernández’s homicide in San Pedro Sula was among the many first of an explosion of killings of transgender girls in Honduras that adopted a June 2009 coup during which the nation’s president was rousted from mattress and exiled.

The following morning, Ms. Hernández, a intercourse employee, was discovered lifeless after an evening during which, due to a strict curfew, no person however regulation enforcement and navy authorities have been imagined to be roaming the streets.

That timing is taken into account important, as a result of it means that what may ordinarily be dismissed as simply one other demise in some of the harmful cities in some of the harmful international locations on the earth may need been one thing extra: an extrajudicial killing. The federal government has denied that its forces performed any position, however for a lot of, the circumstances raised sturdy suspicions that whoever needed Ms. Hernández lifeless wore a uniform.

Activists have lengthy denounced the wave of human rights violations that adopted the 2009 coup, and blamed those that took energy for what they thought of focused killings. And Ms. Hernández was an activist for trans girls who had been violently attacked earlier than.

“The coup unleashed new ranges of violence, deadly violence,” mentioned Angelita Baeyens, vp of worldwide advocacy and litigation for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a Washington-based group, which introduced the go well with.

That group, in addition to a Honduran human rights group known as Cattrachas, took the federal government of Honduras to the Inter-American Courtroom of Human Rights, an offshoot of the Group of American States. A trial was held nearly in November, and a ruling is anticipated quickly.

Ms. Baeyens mentioned the courtroom may do extra than simply make a discovering within the Hernández case. It may additionally take steps like ordering the authorized recognition of transgender individuals’s new names and requiring that modifications to official I.D. playing cards be allowed — one thing governments within the area typically refuse to do now. The courtroom may additionally name for the elimination of legal guidelines that enable the police to carry suspects for doubtful causes.

Transgender girls in Honduras say they’re continually harassed, crushed and even killed, and that the violence is commonly perpetrated by regulation enforcement.

“They name it social cleaning,” mentioned Claudia Spellmant, a transgender activist who fled the nation in 2013 after repeated assaults, and now lives in New York. “They don’t need trans individuals on the road.”

With few employment alternatives obtainable to them, many transgender girls in Honduras — rejected by their households, the church and society at giant — flip to prostitution. They hit the streets each evening, the place they’re uncovered to deprave cops and violent purchasers, say activists in addition to present and former intercourse staff.

Krishna Flores, 24, a transgender intercourse employee in Tegucigalpa, the capital, mentioned she had been assaulted twice this 12 months. Cops minimize off her hair, burned her make-up and purse and lobbed tear fuel at her. Lastly, she mentioned, she ran right into a stranger’s dwelling for security.

“The reality is,” Ms. Flores mentioned, “right here in Honduras, the place we’re, there’s lots of violence in opposition to trans individuals. From the police, or individuals who search us out to have relations with us, individuals who don’t wish to pay us. And typically it’s the navy. They scream horrible issues at us.”

Ms. Flores mentioned it’s common to have rocks, luggage of water, rags and eggs thrown at her from shifting vehicles. She is advised that she is a humiliation to society. In January, officers yanked on her hair extensions and shaved her head.

“It was traumatic,” Ms. Flores mentioned.

A lawyer for the federal government mentioned that whereas it was clear that sturdy spiritual beliefs — 85 p.c of the inhabitants of Honduras is both Catholic or evangelical — fostered discrimination in opposition to transgender individuals, Honduras “categorically rejects” the notion that Ms. Hernández was killed by cops or troopers.

Legal professionals for Ms. Hernández’s household are asking for monetary compensation for her household and structural modifications to Honduran policing.

If the courtroom does rule in favor of the household, any reparation ought to have in mind the dearth of proof tying the federal government to Ms. Hernández’s demise, the federal government’s lawyer within the case, Sonia A. Escobar Rodríguez, mentioned in a abstract of her arguments that she shared with The New York Occasions.

“There isn’t a proof in any respect, and nor can it’s rationally inferred, that these answerable for Vicky Hernández’s demise have been members of the general public security forces, just because a patrol automotive making an attempt to keep away from lamentable tragedies occurred to be close by,” wrote Ms. Escobar, who works on the Honduran Lawyer Normal’s workplace.

Ms. Escobar’s abstract mentioned the federal government had made important advances in public security, equivalent to bettering the prison criticism system and strengthening the judiciary. She mentioned it had additionally offered sensitivity coaching to dozens of presidency staff. And he or she mentioned violence motivated by sexual orientation or gender identification is now an aggravating think about sentencing.

Rosa Seaman, Honduras’ vice secretary of Human Rights, mentioned the federal government had created a particular investigations unit for crimes in opposition to the susceptible, together with homosexual and transgender individuals.

However, she conceded, coaching for police officers has had blended outcomes.

“Some obtain it properly,” Ms. Seaman mentioned. “However I wish to be frank and sincere: Others have lots of prejudices, particularly after I inform them they must respect gender identification. Trans girls are probably the most discriminated in opposition to and are extra typically the sufferer of crime and lose their lives.”

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, an knowledgeable on gender identification discrimination for the United Nations, mentioned that even within the context of the “worrisome violence” in Honduras, crime in opposition to transgender individuals was “exacerbated” and disproportionate.

“The case of Vicky Hernández goes to turn out to be extraordinarily vital milestone,” he mentioned, including that it’ll assist individuals acknowledge that “trans girls reside their lives in a vortex of discrimination and violence.”

Cattrachas, the group that helped carry the Vicky Hernández lawsuit, has logged 119 killings of transgender individuals for the reason that 2009 coup.

“There’s a sample in all of those instances: They’re all shot within the head, there have been no autopsies and no investigations,” mentioned Indyra Mendoza, the founding father of Cattrachas. “And whereas it’s true that in Honduras in addition they kill lecturers and cabdrivers, these murders will not be the results of spiritual prejudice and fundamentalism. And people have some probability of getting justice.”

Information collected by human rights organizations present that Honduras has the very best price of murders of transgender and different gender numerous individuals on the earth, with Brazil and Mexico shut behind.

Practically 500 transgender girls have been killed in Latin America from 2014 to 2019, in line with Sin Violencia LGBTI, a regional data community.

In Brazil final 12 months, 175 transgender girls have been killed, in line with the Nationwide Affiliation of Transvestites and Transsexuals. Already in 2021, 53 transgender individuals have been killed, in line with the advocacy group, with the youngest sufferer simply 13.

That has made the Vicky Hernández lawsuit of deep curiosity throughout the area.

“We’re watching very intently as to how the results of the case may impression the state of affairs within the area,” mentioned Bruna Benevides, a researcher for Brazil’s Nationwide Affiliation of Transvestites and Transsexuals, though she expressed doubt that her nation’s conservative president, Jair Bolsonaro, would embrace any rulings that helped transgender individuals.

Rihanna Ferrera, who misplaced her run for workplace in Honduras in 2017 below her male start title, mentioned the case was vital as a result of it may power the federal government to not less than make some tangible enhancements, like permitting authorized title modifications. Ms. Ferrera’s sister, Bessy, who was additionally transgender, was murdered in 2019.

“After what occurred to my sister, I made a decision to not go away and as a substitute to confront this discrimination, stigma, violence and criminalization,” she mentioned. “We’d like to not take away individuals from the hazard. We have to confront the state and inform the state: Right here we’re, and we’re at risk. We don’t have to depart. You, as the federal government, have to resolve this.”

Oscar Lopez contributing reporting.

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