Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance is launching a new report, The Night Is Another Country, which reveals horrific acts of abuse and violence against transgender women in Latin America.
Together with the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender People (REDLACTRANS), the Alliance is highlighting how a shocking trend of systematic targeting of a population on the basis of their identity is going uninvestigated in countries including Guatemala and Honduras.
The Night Is Another Country demonstrates that because of persistent discrimination, transgender people have their most fundamental rights – to life, health, education and work – violated, and that the murders and extra-judicial killings of transgender women human rights defenders in particular are not being dealt with by the justice system. Some 80% of the transgender activists interviewed for the report claim to have been subjected to violence or threats allegedly from state actors.
Transgender women in Latin America face an extremely high HIV prevalence of around 35 percent compared with the general adult population which stands at about one percent. Marginalising them dissuades individuals from seeking health services and leads to a derailing of HIV prevention efforts. With the exception of Argentina, the gender identity of transgender people is not recognised by law, thereby rendering them invisible and meaning that public healthcare institutions do not cater for their needs.
The report indicates that 60 transgender women were murdered in Colombia between 2005 and 2012 without a single person having been brought to justice. In the same period 35 transgender people were killed in Guatemala with only one person brought to justice.
It also highlights how more often than not transgender women in Latin America are thrown out of their homes at a young age and excluded from education meaning that the vast majority are pushed into sex work, even as teenagers. This in turn leads to a much greater risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
According to Anamaria Bejar, head of the Alliance’s Latin America and the Caribbean team: “The Night Is Another Country findings show that transphobia in the region is leading to a terrible climate of impunity with executions, torture and arbitrary detentions of transgender women, many of whom are human rights defenders, going unpunished.
“Transgender people represent a significant proportion of new HIV infections in Latin America and the Caribbean, due in part to the social exclusion that they face and the context of violence and discrimination that surrounds them. It is virtually impossible to provide an effective HIV response focused on this at risk group unless governments respect, protect and fulfil their obligations towards their transgender communities and, in doing so, put an end to senseless killings and dehumanising brutality.”
Shaun Woodward MP, who is speaking at an event in London to launch the report, said: “This excellent report highlights the shocking and often systemic violence against transgender women and those defending the human rights of the transgender community. Intimidation, threats and fear are horrifically high in Latin American countries and this report makes a compelling case for both cultural change and legal enforcement of basic human rights for transgender women.”
Key recommendations made in The Night Is Another Country: Impunity and violence against transgender women human rights defenders in Latin America include:
- All cases of alleged human rights violations perpetrated against transgender women should be investigated, prosecuted and punished
- An urgent need for a Gender Identity Law in countries without one in order to legitimise the right to identity of transgender people without being required to submit to invasive surgical or psychological interventions
- The recognition by the police, prosecution services, courts and prison system of transgender as a category to be included in the compilation of statistics on violence so as to properly monitor human rights violations and abuses
- States to run training courses on human rights and gender for officials working at all levels of the security and justice systems
- Therapies and other medical or psychological activities that seek to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity should be banned
- Prisons, care provision such as hospices for people living with HIV, and health care systems need to accommodate transgender women in facilities intended for women and protect them from abuse and degrading treatment, including rape
The Alliance and REDLACTRANS have launched the Just Like You campaign urging national governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to pass gender identity laws to guarantee the rights of transgender citizens. For more information, go to http://www.whatspreventingprevention.org/
Rosario (not her real name), a transgender human rights campaigner from San Pedro Sula in Honduras, transitioned at 19 and for several years worked in HIV and sexual and reproductive health programmes until the coup d’état in 2009 which threw the country into crisis. Because she had worked with vulnerable populations such as the transgender community, she was considered to be a political target and had no choice but to return to itinerant sex work which she had been involved in on and off for 20 years.
Last October, she was the victim of a vicious attack after leaving a bar when four men in a car drew up beside her and the next thing she knew she had been shot. Rosario believes that the attack was the result of a “social cleansing policy” targeting sex workers and that she is a particular focus because she had previously tried to identify police officers involved in the death of one of her trans colleagues. The attack in October is the fourth time she has been shot at; she bears 12 bullet wounds as a result. As many of her friends and colleagues have either disappeared or been killed in recent years, she was too frightened to report the shooting, believing that it would further single her out.
For further information, a copy of The Night Is Another Country, to talk to a spokesperson or for high res images, please contact:
Ann Noon, Media Manager, International HIV/AIDS Alliance