Litigation

Trans Woman Extrajudicially Executed

On June 28, 2021, exactly 12 years after Vicky’s murder, the Court made a landmark ruling holding Honduras accountable for her death and issued a series of reparations. Over the past two years, it has partially complied with the reparations ordered, including by publicly recognizing its international responsibility for Vicky’s murder and the lack of justice in her case last spring.

Court Holds Honduras Accountable for the Murder of Trans Activist Vicky Hernández—Setting a Precedent for LGBTQ+ Rights in Latin America

In the midst of the 2009 Honduran coup d’état, with the streets closed to all but military and police forces, trans woman and activist Vicky Hernández’s body was found with a gunshot wound to the head.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Red Lésbica Cattrachas represented Vicky’s family before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), arguing that Vicky was the victim of an extrajudicial killing, the State of Honduras was responsible for her death, its investigation proved to be negligent and that she was discriminated against because of her gender identity.

Why is this a key case?

Vicky’s story—and the impunity the state has granted her killers—is all too familiar in Honduras, as the average life expectancy of a trans woman in Latin America is currently only 35 years. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in Honduras alone, nearly 500 LGBTQ+ people have been targeted and killed for their gender identity since 2009.

Yet, today Vicky’s story and the case that followed represent real hope for change.

A Case Timeline

On April 30, 2019, the IACHR presented the case, litigated by Red Lésbica Cattrachas and RFK Human Rights, to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, alleging that the Honduran state failed to investigate Vicky’s death and to prosecute those responsible, and violated other rights, including Vicky’s right to freely and safely express her gender identity.

In the November 2020 hearing, several key questions were raised: Could the Convention of Belém do Pará be applied to trans women? Was it possible to hold the state of Honduras responsible internationally for the death of Vicky Hernández? Furthermore, was the lack of investigation by the State motivated by her gender identity or expression?

The Convention of Belém do Pará is the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women. The Convention defines violence against women, and “establishes that women have the right to live a life free of violence and that violence against women constitutes a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The Convention protects women from any violence in public and private spheres across all areas of life. At the time the Hernández case began, it was initially unclear whether this convention applied to transgender women. However, on November 24, 2017 the Inter-American Court released an Advisory Opinion clearly asserting that the rights outlined in the Convention of Belém do Pára extended to all women of any sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression and that they are protected by the non-discrimination provision in the Convention. As a result of this Advisory Opinion and the original language of the Convention of Belém do Pará, judges of the IACHR voted a majority decision in applying the Convention to the Hernández case. This application of the Convention set a legal precedent for the protection of transgender women and other LGBTQ+ individuals in all countries under the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and even beyond.

In its ruling, the Court specified that at the moment of Vicky’s death there was “a context of violence, arbitrary detentions, murders and discrimination against LGBTQ persons, and in particular against trans women who were sex workers.” Moreover, it recognized that “in many cases, it was members of the public forces who perpetrated this violence.”

The Inter-American Court’s decision in Hernandez’s case is three-pronged, combining the state’s recognition and responsibility with precautionary measures and reparations, all designed to effectuate systemic change.

As part of its verdict, the court ordered Honduras to implement measures designed to protect trans people, including anti-discrimination training for security forces, improved data collection in cases motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias, and protocol to guide administration of justice in such cases.

The state must also allow people to change their name and gender identity on identification documents and public records.

The government must provide financial compensation to the Hernandez family – money that could save Vicky’s mother, Rosa Maria’s life, and provide educational opportunities to Vicky’s niece, Tatiana, who dreams of a university degree.

It is vital that all reparations are issued and a road map is put in place to protect LGBTQ+ people in Honduras, throughout Latin America, and in the rest of the world.

How is RFK Human Rights continuing to support this case, and others?

Kennedy and lawyers from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights spent time in May 2022 in Honduras meeting with officials and demanding responsibility for her murder and timely issuance of the other reparations. On May 10, the organization was on hand as President Xiomara Castro formally recognized responsibility on behalf of the state for Hernandez’s death and apologized to her family.

RFK Human Rights continues to provide legal support and partnership to Vicky’s family, and partners with LGBTQ+ activists on the ground in the region.

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

Vicky Hernández et al. v. Honduras


Month/Year of filing

December 2012 (RFKHR joined as a co-counsel in 2015)


Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated

Inter-American Court of Human Rights


Rights and legal instruments alleged violated (OR found to have been violated)

Articles 1.1 (obligation to respect rights), 2 (domestic legal effects), 3 (right to juridical personality), 4 (right to life), 5 (right to humane treatment), 7 (right to personal liberty), 8 (right to a fair trial), 11 (right to privacy), 13 (freedom of thought and expression), 18 (right to a name), 24 (right to equal protection), and 25 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights


Article 7 (to live free of violence) of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women “Convention of Belém do Pará”


Procedural stage

Supervision of compliance with Judgment


Counsel

RFKHR and Red Lésbica Cattrachas


Case Partners

  • This Week’s Spotlight on Human Rights

    Tags Share Across the world, journalists are under threat for sharing the truth Conflict in Gaza, war in Ukraine, a battle over the global environment – the world is becoming an increasingly hostile place, particularly for frontline journalists. Last year saw 99 killings of reporters, up 44% on 2022 and the highest toll since 2015.…