Vicky Hernández et al. v. Honduras and Its Significance
The final decision in the Vicky Hernández et al. v. Honduras case in 2021 set a historic precedent for LGBTQ+ and, specifically, trans women’s rights in Latin America and the Caribbean creating a blueprint for other countries on how to move forward with accountability and justice.
Vicky Hernández was an LGBTQ+ rights activist in Honduras who advocated for rights of trans individuals and sex workers. Vicky’s murder occured on June 28, 2009 during the coup d'etat while a curfew was in place. It was followed by subsequent negligence on the part of the Honduran State that led to her now historic case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Red Lésbica Cattrachas represented Vicky’s family before the IACtHR arguing that Vicky was the victim of an extrajudicial killing, the State of Honduras was responsible for her death, the State’s investigation proved to be negligent, and that she was discriminated against because of her gender identity. In the hearing there were two key questions raised. (1) If the Convention of Belém do Pará could be applied to trans women and; (2) Whether Honduras could be held internationally responsible for the death of Vicky Hernández and if the lack of investigation by the State was 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 of Belém do Pará “defines violence against women, 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 IACtHR 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 addition to this issue was the question of holding the State of Honduras internationally accountable for the death of Vicky Hernández and lack of investigation that followed it. While the State of Honduras accepted partial international responsibility, the Court held that the murder of Vicky Hernández was “very probably committed for gender-based reasons and/or due to her gender expression or her gender identity” and “recalls that it has recognized that personal prejudices and gender stereotypes may affect the objectivity of state officials responsible for investigating complaints and influence their perceptions when determining whether or not an act of violence has occurred”.
As a result, the Court concluded that Honduras was internationally responsible for violating several fundamental rights of Vicky and ordered Honduras a series of reparations. These included requiring Honduras to continue the necessary investigations into Hernández’s murder and convict those responsible as well as requiring Honduras to publicly acknowledge its international responsibility and create a training plan for State security agents. The implementation of these reparations would go a long way to protect LGBTQ+ communities and create better relationships between LGBTQ+ communities and security agents. Improved relationships and implementation of training programs would mitigate targeted attacks and improve conditions of LGBTQ+ life and opportunity. In addition, within two years Honduras needs to adopt a procedure of gender identity recognition including “procedure should allow people to update their identity data in their documents and public registries”. These reparations would have important social ramifications. It would not only allow for transgender individuals to be recognized and addressed by their correct gender-identity, but also lessen discrimination and misgendering by others. One year after the decision, Honduras has yet to implement the required reparations.
The Judgment in the Vicky Hernández et al. v. Honduras case centers themes of accountability, dignity, and justice and provides a precedent of clearly established rights for trans women and LGBTQ+ individuals. However, there is still substantial work to be done around the world and, specifically in Latin America, with at least 1,300 LGBTQ+ murders in the region in the past seven years and constant targetting of LGBTQ+ activists. Local organizations, like Red Lésbica Cattrachas, and young activists continue to inspire more people to stop living in fear and to protest policies and laws that discriminate against LGBTQ+communities. Just after the Vicky Hernández case, two Honduran LGBT activists were named among the hundred most influential people in the world. One being Indyra Mendoza, director of the Cattrachas Lesbian Network and the other Claudia Spellmant, a trans activist who was the key witness in the case. Further, in celebration of this tremendous honor, Indyra Mendoza’s face was projected on the facade of a local church in her hometown of La Independencia, highlighting that the honor and acknowledgement are not only for herself but also for her community. The work of activists including providing legal representation, organizing activists, and standing up against discrimination involves communities and has the possibility to uplift the work of LGBTQ+ activism and amplify their voices to educate neighboring communities and countries. We should all applaud the work of Honduran LGBTQ+ activists as their sacrifices and advocacy will continue to have ripple effects on the progression of laws and policy as well as social and cultural evolution in Honduras and beyond.
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