Press Release

IACHR Condemns Mass Shooting at a Gay Bar in the United States

June 14, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemns the attack that took place in the early hours of June 12, 2016, at Pulse Nightclub, a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, United States, which left 49 persons killed –as well as the gunman– and 53 persons injured, in what has been depicted as the worst mass shooting in American history. The IACHR urges the federal and state governments to undertake urgent steps to thoroughly investigate the mass shooting and the underlying causes that led to it and to adopt urgent legislative measures to reduce gun-related violence, and other necessary measures to overcome pervasive prejudice and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) persons in the country.

Authorities have identified the gunman as 29-year-old American citizen, Omar Mateen, who was killed in a shootout with the police, and who used a rifle of military origin (a .223 caliber AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle) as the main weapon for the attack. The authorities indicate that there is an ongoing criminal investigation taking place. According to publicly available information, the gunman had claimed allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) and praised the Boston Marathon bombers. According to one news agency affiliated with ISIS, the attack was carried out by an Islamic State fighter. However, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), James B. Comey indicated that it is too early to determine that this has been a direct attack by a terrorist organization, as part of a foreign-directed plot.

US President Barack Obama, called the attack “an act of terror and an act of hate,” and indicated that it was “especially heartbreaking … for all our friends - our fellow Americans - who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender." This attack occurred the weekend when many pride parades and celebrations of LGBT persons and sexual and gender diversity were taking place in different cities around the country. News outlets have indicated that the gunman opened fire at the Pulse Nightclub where more than 200 people were in attendance of a “Hispanic party”, and that the vast majority of persons killed had last names which could indicate Hispanic origin or heritage.

“The LGBT community knows too well the face of violence and discrimination. In fact, for many LGBT persons, prejudice-based violence is a daily occurrence. This attack shows that while we have overcome many obstacles in the recognition of the human rights LGBT persons, there is yet a lot to be done to achieve full equality, and freedom from violence and discrimination for LGBT persons; including State-led measures to end pervasive societal intolerance towards diversity”, Francisco Eguiguren Praeli, IACHR first vice-president and Rapporteur on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Persons, noted.

The IACHR urges the United States to take effective measures to prevent and reduce gun-related violence, such as through effective gun control policies. The Commission has indicated that the factors that are conducive to violent environments include easy access to firearms and the large number of guns in the hands of private individuals. Further the IACHR has highlighted the importance of effective background checks, and psychological testings, as well as other effective measures on license and registration requirements, such as restricting assault weapons –such as the AR-15-style rifle used by the gunman in this attack- only to State forces due to their lethal nature.  

The IACHR notes that the United States’ response to the recommendations by UN Member States, in the context of the 2015 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), during which the government affirmed its strong support to expand the number of firearms transfers that are subject to background checks but with limited, common-sense exceptions. The Commission notes the New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make our Communities Safer issued on January 4, 2016 by the White House, which included several measures to reduce gun-related violence, but highlighted that “some of the gaps in [the] country’s gun laws can only be fixed through legislation”. The IACHR urges the United States, including all branches of government, to adopt effective measures to substantially reduce and curtail gun-related violence, and to prevent mass shootings.

Finally, the IACHR has indicated that violence against LGBT persons is a complex and multifaceted social phenomenon and not just as an isolated incident or individual act. Many acts of violence against LGBT persons—often known as hate crimes—are better understood as part of the concept of violence based on prejudice toward non-normative sexualities and identities. Different sexual orientations and identities challenge fundamental normative notions about sex, sexuality, and gender. In this sense, violence and sexual violence against LGBT persons are used to punish and denigrate those who do not fit into these concepts because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. This violence also has a symbolic impact, as it sends a message of terror to the entire LGBT community. The IACHR notes the progress made in recent months and years to address violence and discrimination against LGBT persons by the government of the United States. However, the IACHR urges the federal and state governments to adopt further urgent measures to address the underlying causes of violence against LGBT persons, or those perceived as such, including broad measures to combat discrimination, prejudice, and social and cultural stereotypes against LGBT persons.

A principal, autonomous body of the OAS, the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 076/16