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El SALVADOR: No safe haven for LGBT people

Strengthen protections, end asylum pact with US.

 

By Neela Ghoshal

 

HRW (08.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3qkN5ZV – Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele agreed on December 15 to implement an Asylum Cooperative Agreement with the US government. It allows US immigration authorities to transfer non-Salvadoran asylum seekers to El Salvador, instead of allowing them to seek asylum in the US.

 

US President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to terminate the deeply flawed agreement, a deeply flawed deal that presupposes El Salvador can provide a full and fair asylum procedure and protect refugees. But for some groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, El Salvador provides no safe haven. Its own LGBT citizens lack protection from violence and discrimination.

 

A recent Human Rights Watch report confirms the Salvadoran government’s own acknowledgment that LGBT people face “torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, excessive use of force, illegal and arbitrary arrests and other forms of abuse, much of it committed by public security agents.” Social and economic marginalization further increase the risk of violence. Many LGBT people flee from home.

 

Between January 2007 and November 2017, over 1,200 Salvadorans sought asylum in the US due to fear of persecution for their sexual orientation or gender identity. In a groundbreaking judgment, a UK court recently granted asylum to a non-binary Salvadoran, finding that their gender expression exposed them to police violence and daily abuse and degradation.

 

Five years ago, El Salvador seemed poised to champion LGBT rights. It joined the UN LGBTI Core Group. It increased sentences for bias-motivated crimes. Its Sexual Diversity Directorate trained public servants and monitored government policies for LGBT inclusiveness.

 

Bukele, then a local official, pledged to be “on the right side of history” on LGBT rights. When he ran for president, his promises dissolved. He opposed marriage equality, effectively shut down the government’s sexual diversity work, and refused to support legal gender recognition for trans people. Despite the landmark conviction of three police officers in July for killing a trans woman, violence remains commonplace, and justice out of reach, for many LGBT people.

 

The Salvadoran government should back a gender identity law and comprehensive civil non-discrimination legislation, prosecute anti-LGBT hate crimes, and reestablish a well-resourced office to promote inclusion and eradicate anti-LGBT violence. It should axe the Asylum Cooperative Agreement.

 

As things stand, El Salvador fails to provide effective protection to its own LGBT citizens, let alone LGBT people fleeing persecution elsewhere.

Photo: A transgender woman shows a photograph of Camila Díaz, whom she met while migrating to the US, where they both turned themselves in to immigration authorities. Both women were eventually deported. © 2020 AP Photo/Salvador Melendez.





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Anti-LGBT persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

US barriers to asylum block path to safety.

 

HRW (07.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/33Urlfc – The governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have failed to effectively address violence and entrenched discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, leading many to seek asylum in the United States, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Yet policies by the administration of US President Donald Trump have made it almost impossible for them to obtain asylum.

 

The 138-page report, “‘Every Day I Live in Fear’: Violence and Discrimination against LGBT People in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and Obstacles to Asylum in the United States,” documents violence experienced by LGBT people in the three Northern Central American countries collectively known as the Northern Triangle, including at the hands of gangs, law enforcement officials, and their own families. Human Rights Watch found that Northern Triangle governments fail to adequately protect LGBT people against violence and discrimination, and that they face major obstacles if they attempt to seek asylum in the United States.

 

“LGBT people in the Northern Triangle face high levels of violence that their own governments appear unable or unwilling to address,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “For some LGBT people in the region, seeking asylum in the United States is the only hope of safety, but the Trump administration has blocked them at every turn.”

 

Human Rights Watch interviewed 116 LGBT people from the three countries. Some described violence by family members, leading them to flee home as young as at age 8. Others described bullying and discrimination that drove them out of school. Many said family rejection and discrimination led to economic marginalization, particularly for trans women, and poverty was likely to increase the risk of violence.

 

LGBT people sometimes face violence and discrimination from the very law enforcement agents charged with keeping them safe. Carlos G., a gay refugee who traveled to the United States from Honduras in 2018, said that gang members there shot him, telling him: “Today you’re going to die, faggot.” He was afraid to report the incident to the police, who had previously harassed him for being gay and demanded sexual favors. Carlitos B., a non-binary person from Guatemala, fled after their brother assaulted and threatened to rape them. When Carlitos reported to the police, they laughed at Carlitos’s gender expression.

 

Pricila P., a trans woman from El Salvador, said police forced her off a bus and beat her. “One of the police officers grabbed my testicles and squeezed,” she said. “He said, ‘You’re realizing you’re a man because you feel pain.’ He said that I would become a man by force.” She fled to the United States in 2019, after gang members assaulted her, abducted her gay friend, and warned her that she would be next.

 

Both Honduras and El Salvador have passed hate crimes legislation in the last 10 years, but neither country has convicted anyone on hate crimes charges. In a landmark ruling in July 2020, a court in El Salvador convicted three police officers of murdering Camila Díaz, a trans woman who had been deported in 2018 after attempting to seek protection in the United States, but a judge dismissed hate crimes charges against them.

 

None of the three countries has comprehensive civil law protections against discrimination, Human Rights Watch said. While Honduras outlaws employment discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, activists said they know of no cases in which the law had been enforced. In Guatemala, a pending Life and Family Protection Bill could be used to justify discriminatory denial of services on “freedom of conscience” grounds.

 

Given the persecution that many LGBT people face in the Northern Triangle, the US government should rigorously protect their ability to safely enter the United States and apply for asylum. Instead, the US government has increasingly closed doors to them with a series of policies that restrict access to asylum and that narrowly interpret the refugee definition in ways that exclude LGBT people from protections they previously enjoyed.

 

In March 2020, the US government entirely closed its land borders to asylum seekers based on the pretext of Covid-19, leaving them to suffer persecution in their home countries or be stranded in Mexico. In June, the US Departments of Justice and Homeland Security proposed a major regulatory change to the US asylum system that would severely restrict LGBT people’s ability to be granted asylum by barring asylum on the basis of “gender.” In September, the Justice Department issued yet another regulation that puts asylum even further beyond their reach, tightening time limits on asylum applications and allowing immigration judges to introduce their own evidence into asylum cases, even if such evidence reflects biases such as anti-LGBT prejudice.

 

These policies followed other severe measures the Trump administration has taken to prevent asylum seekers from ever reaching the United States and to limit their access to asylum if they do, including family separation; prolonged detention; the “Remain in Mexico” program; an expedited asylum review process allowing for little or no contact with lawyers; an attempt to bar asylum seekers who transited through third countries before arriving at the US border; and a policy of transferring Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers to Guatemala, where they lack effective protection. Among the asylum seekers affected by all these measures are LGBT people, who may be particularly at risk of violence and discrimination in northern Mexico.

 

“The governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras need to stem rampant anti-LGBT violence and ensure that laws and policies protect LGBT people from persecution, including by police,” Ghoshal said. “As long as LGBT people continue to experience threats to their lives and safety based on their identity in their countries of origin, the US should welcome them with open arms, rather than slamming the door on them.”





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Murder trial for El Salvador transgender woman to proceed

Deported from the US to her death.

 

By Cristian González Cabrera

 

HRW (11.03.2020) – https://bit.ly/2IRRjEV – An investigating judge in San Salvador ruled today that a criminal case against three police officers charged with aggravated homicide of Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman murdered in January 2019, can proceed to trial. Much to the chagrin of trans activists, the charges of unlawful deprivation of liberty, as well as the classification of the murder as a hate crime based on gender identity under a hate crimes law that went into effect in 2015, will not go forward.

 

Prosecutors allege that the police officers detained Camila and brutally assaulted her in a pickup truck before throwing her out of the moving vehicle. Camila’s case has become a clarion call for justice and accountability for anti-trans violence in El Salvador, where at least seven transgender women have been murdered in the last five months: Anahy Miranda Rivas, Jade Camila Díaz, Victoria Pineda, D. Rosa Granados, Cristi Conde Vásquez, Briyit Michelle Alas, and Tita. Human Rights Watch has interviewed other Salvadoran trans women who have described horrific physical and sexual violence at the hands of gang members, neighbors, and the police.

 

Camila’s case also underscores the hazards of hostile United States asylum policies. Camila tried repeatedly to flee the anti-trans violence she faced in El Salvador (and later in Guatemala and Mexico). When she finally reached the US in August 2017, immigration authorities detained her and subsequently deported her in November. Just over a year later, she was killed – one of many Salvadorans deported from the US who have since been murdered.

 

A successful and effective prosecution for Camila’s murder may help deter further violence against transgender women in El Salvador. In addition, Salvadorans who wish to claim asylum in the US should be given a fair chance to do so and present the case about the persecution they face. This could be a step to ensuring that Camila’s murder is the beginning of the end to violence against other trans women in El Salvador.


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