5 Facts You Need to Know About Vicky Hernández v. Honduras

On November 11, 2020, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will join the Red Lésbica Cattrachas, our co-counsel, to argue the case of Vicky Hernández vs. Honduras. Here’s what you need to know about this landmark case and what it could mean for trans women as well as the broader LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex) population in Honduras and across Latin America.

1. Vicky Hernández’s death signaled a rapid rise in the killing of LGBTQI individuals in Honduras, a trend reflected across the region.

The Red Lésbica Cattrachas is a multidisciplinary collective of advocates working to advance and protect the rights of LGBTQI people in Honduras. Cattrachas has been documenting human rights abuses against LGBTQI individuals in Honduras since its founding in 2000, and can pinpoint Vicky’s murder during the 2009 Honduran coup d’état as the beginning of a period of heightened violence against LGBTQI people in the country. A significant spike in transphobic crimes was linked to curfews enacted by de facto President Roberto Micheletti, in an increasingly militarized state. Between the coup in 2009 and 2019, more than 370 LGBTQI people were killed, and trans people constitute the second-largest group of LGBTQI people killed during this period. Those numbers are egregious, but the violent deaths LGBTQI people face are only a part of their story. Vicky’s case is emblematic of the systemic discrimination LGBTQI people face throughout their lives in Honduras and across Latin America, in a society where they are consistently denied basic human rights and excluded from social protections in marriage, education, health care, and economic security, and at work.

2. The hearing will mark the first time trans women will testify before the Court about the violence the LGBTQI community faces in Honduras and the region.

At a time when violence and discrimination against the LGBTQI community works to silence or erase the narratives of LGBTQI people in Honduras and across Latin America, two trans women will testify about the significance of Vicky’s case to the trans community. Marlene Wayar, an Argentine social psychologist, the author of Cross-dressing: A Good Enough Theory, and editor of El Teje, the first travesti/trans newspaper in Latin America, will serve as an expert witness, testifying about the State as the cause of systematic violence against trans people. Claudia Spellmant, the former director of Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, a Honduran organization founded by trans women to advocate for their rights, with which Vicky was an activist, will tell the Court about Vicky’s life and address the violence she faced before her death—violence that Spellmant herself has experienced firsthand.

3. We are arguing that Vicky Hernández was the victim of an extrajudicial killing.

Vicky was a 26-year-old Honduran trans woman, an HIV-positive sex worker, a beloved daughter, sister, and activist. She was killed on the night of the Honduran coup d’état, on June 28, 2009, when a 48-hour curfew was imposed and the streets were closed to everyone but military and police forces. Vicky was visiting with a friend and left soon after hearing the news of the curfew. Late that night, she was shot in the head, and her body was left in the street until morning. In addition to the execution-style killing and the fact that her body was left out publicly during the curfew, among other factors point to the state’s involvement. First, the state’s investigation of Vicky’s death has been characterized by negligence, inaction, and a culture of impunity for the state agents who murdered her. In addition, Vicky’s case file does not include an autopsy report, key witnesses were not interviewed, the state never followed clear leads, and the case was written off as a crime of passion. We are asking the Court to hold the Honduran State to the international standards governing investigations of extra-legal, arbitrary, and summary executions in the Minnesota Protocol, which were clearly not adhered to in Vicky’s case.

4. It is clear that Vicky Hernández was discriminated against because of her gender identity as a trans woman.

The cursory investigation into Vicky’s murder, and the attitudes and notes of investigating authorities reflect the discrimination trans women in Honduras face, even in their death. Despite her gender identity, authorities identified Vicky as male and labeled her clothing as “for a woman.” Throughout the investigation, authorities failed to use Vicky’s name on her documents and records, insisting on calling her by the name she was given at birth, which she no longer used. In the case file, authorities also noted in a section designated for contact information that one of Vicky’s friends was trans. Vicky’s case presents an opportunity for the Inter-American Court to protect LGBTQI individuals from the clear discrimination Vicky faced for her gender expression, by developing new jurisprudence that would include gender expression as a part of the fundamental freedom of expression recognized by Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

5. We are asking the Court for reparations that will expand protections for trans women in Honduras and the region.

Beyond recognizing the violations to Vicky and her family’s human rights, Vicky’s case has the potential to have a lasting practical impact for trans women in Honduras who are all victims of the State’s entrenched violence and discrimination. With respect to Vicky’s case itself, we are asking the Court to require the State of Honduras to move forward with the investigation in a timely, effective manner that recognizes the direct involvement of state agents, the prejudice involved in the crime, and the possibility of sexual violence. Additionally, to prevent future cases like Vicky’s, we are asking the Court to mandate that Honduran law enforcement officers be trained about the threats and risks LGBTQI individuals face. We have also asked the Court to require Honduras to establish an LGBTQI center in San Pedro Sula, named after Vicky, that would provide access to resources and opportunities that were denied to Vicky and that continue to be denied to LGBTQI individuals, including HIV testing and health care, legal representation, and job training. Such remedies could become benchmarks for countries across the region.