Honduras, the World is Watching
In June, our attorneys won a landmark case before the Inter-American Court, which ordered the state of Honduras to implement new protections for LGBTQ+ people. In their op-ed for the New York Times en Español, Angelita Baeyens and Kacey Mordecai remind Honduras the clock is ticking to comply with the Court’s demands.
Latin America is a cruel region for trans people. Many of them die in violent and unclear circumstances, and justice rarely resolves their cases. Their life expectancy, according to various studies, is 35 years.
Being trans in that part of the world means, in too many cases, being condemned to violence, poverty, and marginalization. Life options, many times, have been summarized in fleeing their countries or staying and being attacked, discriminated against, or killed.
That was the case with Vicky Hernández, a Honduran trans woman, sex worker, and passionate activist, who also was a dear daughter and sister. Her life mattered. But, in 2009, at 26, she was killed by a shot to the head. Her body was left in the street. An autopsy was not done. Vicky’s murder remains under investigation and the Honduran state said that her murder had been a “crime of passion.” It’s hard to argue that in a country where more than 119 trans people have been killed in similar circumstances over the past decade: they were shot in the head and there were no investigations.
So we decided to seek justice for Vicky. From Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and together with colleagues from Red Lésbica Cattrachas, we took the case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the highest authority on human rights in the region. It was a multi-year effort, but we knew the resolution would have significant legal implications. Our goal was to demand justice for Vicky’s death and impunity in her case, but we also wanted something more ambitious: to make visible the physical violence, stigma, and social exclusion that trans people face in Honduras and Latin America. This is the time to demand structural changes to remedy that situation.
By investigating Vicky’s life and death, we understood the lack of access to basic services, the difficulties in obtaining formal employment, and the legal barriers to name change and recognition of her gender identity and expression suffered by trans people. We saw how a persistent culture of impunity has prevented the punishment of those who commit transphobic crimes, and how many governments in the region have chosen to ignore this reality.
To do Vicky justice, you have to understand how the system fails trans women and how it can be improved.
And, in that sense, the historic judgment of the Inter-American Court presents an opportunity that we cannot waste.
The case of Vicky Hernández opened a window of action to increase the protection of people from the LGBTQ+ community in Honduras and reiterated the Court’s jurisprudence on the right not to be discriminated against: “the recognition of gender identity by the State is of vital importance for guarantee the full enjoyment of the human rights of transgender people, including protection against violence, torture and ill-treatment.”
Thus, exactly 12 years after her murder, Vicky finally received some justice. The Court issued an emblematic judgment by declaring the State of Honduras responsible for her death, not only because of the strong indications of participation of state agents in the murder—which occurred during a curfew in the middle of the coup, when there were only police authorities and the military in the streets—but because of the lack of investigation of the facts. The Court established a series of reparations for Vicky’s family and ordered that Honduras reopen the investigation into her murder.
The Court recognized that Vicky’s was the direct result of the violence and structural discrimination that the LGBTQ + population faces in one of the countries with the highest murder rates of trans people in the world. So the regional court has ordered changes to prevent and combat that violence. And the Honduran State has a legal and moral obligation to do so. And soon.
Claudia Spellmant, a Honduran trans activist who was granted asylum in the United States and now lives in New York, told us that Vicky “died from wanting to eat, she was pushed by a discriminating society.” Her call is clear and painful: “We are in the unprotected streets.” Claudia, who testified before the Inter-American Court about the persistent discrimination faced by trans people in Honduras, said it as bluntly as possible: “Many girls have died.” And “if a precedent is not set, and if Honduras does not comply with the Court’s recommendations, I think it will continue to happen,” said Claudia. We agree.
The judgment must be complied with. And to start making it a reality, the government of Honduras has a two-year term in which it must create a simple and accessible administrative mechanism to allow people to change their name and gender identity in official documents, and must implement training programs for the security forces in the matter of violence by prejudice, among other measures.
The clock is ticking for Honduras to comply with the measures ordered in the judgment of the Inter-American Court.
But this decision should not end in Honduras. The other countries in the region have in this decision a roadmap to guarantee the rights of trans people. It should not be necessary to bring other cases similar to that of Vicky Hernández for there to be a true transformation in Latin America. But if this does not happen, we will be here from civil society to continue demanding its fulfillment. And we will not rest until we reach it.
Angelita Baeyens is the vice president of advocacy and international litigation for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization.
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