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NEWS

COVID-19 measures lead to further injustice against the LGBTQ+ community in Latin America

FairTrialsAdmin - June 30, 2020 - COVID-19 Updates, Commentary, New criminal offences, Rule of Law

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean were dangerous places for trans people. Latin America and the Caribbean have “the highest rate of violence and hate crimes against [sexual and gender minorities] in the world,” generally committed with impunity. Brazil is the world’s deadliest country for trans people, with at least 124 murders in 2019. Police have only identified suspects in 8% of those cases. In Mexico, murders of trans persons largely go unpunished, with authorities repeatedly misgendering victims and bungling investigations. For example, in 2016 Paola Ledezma’s killer was arrested red-handed, but he was freed 48 hours later by Mexico City prosecutors for “lack of evidence.” He is at-large despite a subsequent arrest order, while prosecutors have ignored recommendations and an order to apologize for their misconduct from Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission. Transphobic murders have only recently been prosecuted as hate crimes in the region: Argentina and Colombia saw their first hate crime convictions in 2018. Paraguay saw its first conviction for the murder of a trans woman last year, following 61 uninvestigated killings since the 1990s.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has introduced new challenges for trans people in the region. Gender-based curfews in Peru and Panama to tackle the spread of COVID-19 have led to several incidents of transphobic abuse by police and made daily survival even more difficult. Trans people don’t know if their self-identification will be respected, especially if it doesn’t match their ID cards. Changing the gender on an ID in Peru involves applying to a judge, and Panama requires gender-affirmation surgery, which presents serious barriers. Such policies also leave non-binary persons in limbo. Peru’s ‘pico y género’ measure, whereby men and women are allowed out on alternating days to control the spread of COVID-19, has seen the trans community terrorized, as police targeted trans women despite President Vizcarra’s explicit order against using the curfew as a “pretext” for homophobic actions. In one case that was caught on video, police detained several trans women for being out on a day for women and forced them to do squats while shouting “I want to be a man.” This was not an isolated incident, either: The policy’s first two days alone saw at least five official complaints against police for transphobia. This, coupled with the policy’s failure to significantly reduce the amount of people in public spaces, led the Peruvian government to abandon it after eight days. Panama’s policy has caused widespread fear, especially since police often check IDs at supermarket entrances. Activists reported that at least four trans persons had been hassled by police or the public in the first days after the policy was enacted, including a trans woman who was fined $50 for going outside on the day for women. The Ministry of Public Security said it has spoken with security forces to avoid discrimination, but gender-based curfews remain in effect in two of the country’s provinces.

Transphobic abuse by police in the context of preventing the spread of COVID-19 has also been documented in Latin American countries without gender-based curfews, where every interaction with police carries a danger of transphobic violence. In Argentina, a 19-year-old trans girl was verbally abused, beaten, and sexually assaulted after being detained for violating lockdown. She was threatened with further abuse if she spoke out and was coerced into signing a confession for drug possession. In Honduras, a trans activist is one of many trans people arbitrarily detained by security forces for supposed curfew violations. Honduran rights groups have also received at least ten reports of attacks and threats against trans women by security forces, as well as reports that some trans women have been coerced into sex in order to avoid being detained. Argentine activists have also expressed alarm at the conditions faced by trans prisoners, 76% of whom were detained without a final sentence as of the end of 2018. This month, a Buenos Aires prison has been condemned for not providing medical care for weeks to a trans inmate with tuberculosis.

 

Fair Trials, with the help of Nathalia Guerrero, and in collaboration with Red Comunitaria Trans and Promsex have collected stories and information that reflect the dangers of instituting gender policies that affect vulnerable groups, and the crucial role the police play in the discriminatory, arbitrary and violent arrests of transgender people.

 

 

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please call the media team on +44 (0) 7749 785 932 or email [email protected]

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