Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern about Mob Attacks, Police Abuse and other Forms of Violence against LGTBI Persons

October 24, 2013

Washington – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses concern on situations of violence by angry mobs, instances of police abuse, and other forms of violence against lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual and intersex (LGTBI) persons, and reiterates its call upon OAS Member States to adopt urgent measures to prevent and punish these acts.

During the months of August and September 2013, the IACHR received numerous reports of irate mob attacks against LGTBI persons in the Caribbean. These attacks consisted of large crowds barricading, throwing objects (such as stones and Molotov cocktails), or calling for lynching of gay men. At least seven of these attacks were reported in the past two months: 5 in Jamaica and 2 in Haiti. Most English speaking countries in the Caribbean that are part of the OAS criminalize consensual same-sex intimacy. The IACHR believes that there is an inherent link between conduct that is punished by the State and violence against LGTBI persons. In general, legislation that criminalizes these conducts legitimizes and reinforces prejudices against LGTBI persons, or those perceived as such, and sends a social message to communities and societies that discrimination and violence is condoned or tolerated. Also, organizations have reported to the IACHR about the immense weight and important role played by dancehall artists, the media and religious groups in the societies in the Caribbean in general, which often contribute to the reinforcement of stereotypes and prejudices against LGTBI persons.

Regarding police abuse, the Commission was informed that on the night of August 18, two gay men were talking at a park in the Dominican Republic when they arrested, held overnight, mistreated, and severely humiliated allegedly because of their sexual orientation. On August 10, a trans woman in La Matanza, Argentina, after being attacked and insulted by a man, went to a law enforcement agent for help, who reportedly also hit her body with his baton, while telling her to go away. The Commission is concerned about cases of police abuse against LGTBI persons and recalls that States must ensure that their security forces are trained in human rights, in particular regarding non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Police abuse and institutional violence may directly compromise States' international responsibility vis-à-vis human rights.

Also, the IACHR remains concerned about the persistence of high numbers of murders against trans persons in numerous OAS Member States. The information received by the IACHR confirmed that during the months of August and September alone, at least 32 murders were committed against trans women, or those perceived as such in Brazil (20), Colombia (1), El Salvador (1), Honduras (1), México (5), the United States (3) and Venezuela (1). Moreover, serious attacks on trans women were reported in Brazil (3), Guyana (1) and Panama (1). A serious attack against a trans woman who is a human rights defender was reported in Argentina. The IACHR was informed of at least 24 cases of murders of gay men in the last two months in Brazil (22), the United States (1) and Jamaica (1), as well as the murder of five lesbian women in Brazil. Additionally, during the months of August and September, numerous cases of violent attacks against gay men and lesbian women were also reported in Argentina (2), Brazil (2) and the United States (7). In Mexico, health care personnel reported on an increase in recent years in the number of aggressions against young men severely beaten for showing affection towards other men in public. A Mexico City emergency room doctor reported receiving as many as 20 cases each month.

These numbers do not necessarily fully reflect the complexity of the problem of violence against LGTBI persons or those perceived as such, as underreporting remains a challenge. Also, reports received by the IACHR do not always signal the reasons behind these murders and attacks. However, the IACHR remains concerned about the special level of cruelty present in most of these attacks and killings. Reports received by the Commission indicate that State agencies in charge of the investigation of these crimes tend to often identify crimes against LGTBI persons a priori as "crimes of passion" or they tend to make biased assumptions based on the victims' lifestyle, blaming them for the attacks, all of which hinders the effective investigation of these cases. Moreover, in States that criminalize diverse same-sex conduct or diverse gender identities, many victims will not report crimes out of fear of prosecution. Additionally, these factors contribute to the lack of accurate official statistics about crimes based on prejudice and prevent an effective State response. Consequently, the IACHR urges States to open lines of investigation that take into account whether killings and acts of violence were committed because of the gender identity, gender expression and/or sexual orientation of the victims.

The IACHR recalls that since 2008 OAS Member States have annually condemned acts of violence and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Furthermore, all 35 States have committed to ensuring that LGTBI victims are given access to justice, without discrimination; to adopting public policies against discrimination by reason of sexual orientation and gender identity; and to producing data on homophobic and transphobic violence, with a view to fostering public policies that protect the human rights of LGTBI persons, among others. This last commitment is of key importance to the design of effective public policies to combat discrimination against LGTBI persons. The IACHR urges all OAS Member States to commit serious efforts to comply with international human rights standards and to continue taking steps to achieve the goals set forth in the six OAS General Assembly Resolutions on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity issued since 2008. Furthermore, the IACHR encourages Members States to seriously consider the possibility of decriminalizing same-sex conduct and diverse gender identities/expressions.

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 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. 79/13