The IACHR Calls on State of Panama to Guarantee Human Rights of Trans and Gender-Diverse People during Partial Restrictions on Mobility during the COVID-19 Pandemic

February 4, 2021

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Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over reports of acts of violence and discrimination suffered by trans and gender-diverse people in Panama while measures are in place to partially restrict people's mobility based on their gender as part of the strategy to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, it called on the State to take immediate action to respect and guarantee the human rights of trans and gender-diverse people within a framework of equality and nondiscrimination.

The IACHR has observed that, since April 2020, the State of Panama has restricted the movement of people based on their gender at several points during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to information provided by the State to the IACHR, the gender-based restrictions implemented since January 14, 2021, only limit movement while conducting retail purchases and do not otherwise affect movement throughout the country. The State also announced that gender-based restrictions on purchases will be eliminated as of February 8, 2021, a decision that the IACHR looks favorably on.

However, the IACHR underlined that while these measures were in force, it received reports of at least 45 acts of violence and discrimination against trans or gender-diverse people in Panama between April 2020 and January 2021, including the arrest of a trans woman human rights defender on a day in which only women were allowed to circulate, on the grounds that the detainee's identity card listed her gender as male. There were also reports of trans people being prohibited from entering health centers, supermarkets, and other establishments selling basic necessities using the same argument. These acts have been classified by the Panamanian Ombud as violations of human rights, including the right to nondiscrimination and the prohibition of arbitrary detention.
While the IACHR acknowledges the need to adopt measures to contain the spread of the pandemic, it once again noted the discriminatory nature and effects of gender-based restrictions, particularly on the rights of trans and gender-diverse people. This is because such measures tend to be implemented within a context of widespread discrimination against LGBTI people and within a legal framework that lacks laws or simple, expeditious legal mechanisms for people to register, change, rectify, or adjust their name and other essential aspects of their identity on official documents, such as their picture and sex or gender, without having to comply with pathologizing requirements or obstacles such as surgical procedures. Furthermore, these measures do not usually establish clear protocols for the circulation of trans and gender-diverse people or guidelines for the action of public or private security forces if trans people's identity documents do not correspond to their gender identity or expression, as is often the case in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In response, the IACHR called on the State of Panama to observe the recommendations contained in Resolution 1/2020, in which it warned that restrictions or limitations on some rights may have a disproportionate impact on the enjoyment of other rights among certain sectors of the population. In this sense, although the measures discussed here will cease to be in force as of February 8, 2021, according to the State, the IACHR called on the authorities to take immediate action to analyze, correct, and provide reparation for the impacts these measures had on the human rights of LGBTI people.

When evaluating the impacts of these measures, the IACHR also urged the State to duly consider its recommendation to guarantee simple, expeditious, priority legal mechanisms for exercising the right to gender identity/expression during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, in response to the reports of violence and discrimination that took place while such measures were in force, it called on the State of Panama to fiercely condemn such acts against trans and gender-diverse people and to conduct investigations in each case, under the principle of due diligence.

Finally, the IACHR called on the States to implement training and awareness-raising programs for the general public with regard to the human rights of LGBTI people, particularly trans and gender-diverse people, as a measure to overcome and eradicate harassment, stigmatization, violence, and discrimination against them, taking into account the recommendations contained in the Report on Trans and Gender-Diverse People and their ESCERs. These training programs should include law enforcement officers, private security companies, and establishments that provide essential services, such as pharmacies and places where food is sold. Finally, the IACHR informed the State of Panama of its willingness to provide technical cooperation services in this area.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (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 and to defend 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. 024/21