LGBTI people in Central America flee murder, violence and discrimination

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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in three Central American nations are fleeing increasing levels of persecution and undertaking perilous journeys to Mexico and the U.S., according to a newly released report by Amnesty International.

Once there, the report warns, they risk exploitation and deportation back to their home countries.

Violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala is by no means limited to these vulnerable groups. The three countries have some of the highest murder rates in the world.

But LGBTI citizens of violence-ridden El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala face “rocketing levels of discrimination and gender-based violence…from criminal gangs and members of security forces”, according to an accompanying statement from Amnesty published on November 27.

According to Adeline Neau, an investigator for Central America for Amnesty International and the author of the report, LGBTI citizens face continuous violence. “They cannot feel safe in their countries, cannot find justice, cannot find protections, and that’s why they finally decide to leave,” she told WikiTribune.

Almost 90 percent of Central American LGBTI asylum seekers reported sexual and gender-based violence in their native countries, according to a previous United Nations Refugee Agency report published in 2016 (link only available in Spanish).

According to Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM), a research project commissioned by Transgender Europe (TGEU), 2,609 trans and gender-diverse people across 71 countries were murdered between 2008 and September 2017.

Almost 80 percent of the killings took place in Central and South America, with Honduras and El Salvador witnessing the highest and second-highest number of reported murders per million inhabitants, respectively.

However, the real figures are likely to be much higher, given that many cases involving violence against trans and gender-diverse people go unreported. For example, 72 percent of trans women in El Salvador who suffered attacks decided not to report them because a lack of trust in the country’s judicial system, according to a 2015 report by the United Nations Development Programme and Salvadoran Ombusdperson. (The report is only available in Spanish).

In Honduras, the impunity rate for violent deaths of LGBTI people between 2008 and 2015 stands around 80 percent, according to local NGO Cattrachas (link only available in Spanish).

Carlos, a gay Honduran man whose name was altered for security reasons, told Amnesty: “I never tried reporting [the abuse] because of what happened to some friends. As soon as a friend of mine reported the abuse, those who had committed it went to his house to get him. That’s why he ran away to Mexico. Another friend was killed right after he reported what had happened to him.”

A portrait of Carlos. Source: Amnesty International / Sergio Ortiz

But the plight of LGBTI refugees does not end across the border, said report author Neau. “When they come to Mexico, well, the same keeps happening,” she said. “Sexual assaults, aggressions, discriminations, so that’s what really shocked me. That’s why the title of the digest [report] in English is: No Safe Place.”

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