Friday, December 14, 2012

'Our community is a family:' First sentence of LGBTQ murder since 2009 gives hope to Honduras's sexual diversity movement

Elizabeth Perkins, Honduras Team

Since the military coup that shook the country on June 28, 2009, Honduras’s LGBTQ community has found itself under attack; 87 have been murdered. One researcher documenting the violence described it as “open season” on Hondurans in the sexual diversity movement. Before the coup, in their May 2009 report Not Worth a Penny Human Rights Watch cited 17 deaths of transgender persons between 2004 and 2009. La Red Lésbica Cattrachas (The Honduran Lesbian Network) in their August 2012 report Situation of Violent Deaths in the LGTTBI Community in Honduras sited 5 LGBTQ deaths in 2008 and 25 in 2009. According to this report numbers have varied but remained high from year to year. 

On December 4, 2012 the Honduran Supreme Court heard proposals for the final sentence of the first LGBTQ murder case to be tried since the coup. Daniel Esquin Vasquez, 21, found guilty on November 13 of this year for the murder of Jorge Nelson Flores Bonilla was just 19 when he killed Flores. While this was not the first hate crime to be tried since the coup d’état, it was the first LGBTQ murder to be processed by the court since that date. The first case heard by the Supreme Court was that of a trans woman named Noelia who was stabbed 14 times on December 17, 2009 by a police officer. She survived the attack. According to Sandra Zambrano of APUVIMEH (Association for a Better Life for Persons Infected and Affected by HIV/AIDS in Honduras) of the 87 LGBTQ deaths since the coup 18 cases are currently being investigated.

APUVIMEH activists after the hearing on Nov 13
According to APUVIMEH’s November 13th press release, last month would have been the 31st birthday of Walter Tróchez whose case has made little progress in the judicial system. Tróchez was a widely known and well-respected LGBTQ rights activist and a prominent member of the resistance to the coup. December 13 marked 3 years since his death. APUVIMEH protests the impunity surrounding his case on the 13th of every month outside the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Recently a U.S. State Department official has been assigned to monitor Tróchez’s case exclusively. U.S. involvement in the Honduran judiciary system is significant. According to Sandra, there were 3 FBI attorneys on Flores’s case. They had been assigned as part of a Special Victims Taskforce to evaluate the Honduran judiciary process. This Taskforce was highlighted in the State Department’s response to a letter from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) in June. Polis’s letter asked for more intentional action against the repression experienced by LGBTQ Hondurans.

The alternative to the Honduran government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (widely criticized for its lack of transparency and considered by many to be illegitimate), La Comisión de Verdadhighlighted the U.S.'s position in its recent report The Voice of Greatest Authority is that of the Victims (link to report in Spanish). “[The U.S.] expressed its concerns about specific issues (like the situation in the LGBTQ community), but never recognized that what happened in Honduras was a coup d'etat which would have consequences in the internal policies of the United States, in terms of its cooperation with the Honduran Armed Forces and the distribution of arms.” Although the U.S. has been providing direct support in specific human rights issues, the human rights situation in Honduras is not being looked at as a systemic issue of a government heavily supported by the U.S. This approach amounts to putting lots of band-aids on a gaping wound, expecting that wound to heal on its own.

Pressure is mounting among legistlators for an alternative to this approach. As previously mentioned, in June Rep. Polis sent a letter to Hillary Clinton which was signed by 84 congressional representatives and outlined the situation of LGBTQ Hondurans requesting more intentional action to alleviate the intense repression being experienced by the community. The State Department responded to the letter outlining the things they were doing to respond to the repression of LGBTQ rights in Honduras, detailing a list of the 18 cases they were working on at the time. In October Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) also sent a letter to Clinton demanding a re-set on U.S. policy in Honduras. He outlined the human rights situation and called attention to the lack of confidence many Hondurans have in the U.S. government's human rights focus.

At the beginning of the proceedings on the 13th, after closing arguments from both sides, the presiding judge requested that Flores' family present themselves. Nearly half of the audience, some 15 to 20 members of the sexual diversity community stood. Organizations present included activists of the APUVIMEH community, Diversity in Resistance Movement (MDR), The Honduran Lesbian Network (Red Lésbica Cattrachas), and Independent Trans Activists of Tegucigalpa. Because Flores had no blood relatives present, they all stood in solidarity to represent him. When the judge asked someone to say a few words, Sandra stepped forward and explained, “Our community is a family.” 

In APUVIMEH’s press release, the organization’s president, José Antonio Zambrano, expressed hope and a sense of encouragement at what the organization sees as a step forward for the movement. “It fills us with satisfaction that we can see an immediate future of more cases being prosecuted. Murderers now should be aware that the arm of justice reaches them.” However, he also expressed the need to continue fighting for justice and respect for human rights, demanding that the Honduran government guarantee citizen security.

The LGBTQ community in Honduras needs more than a Special Victims Taskforce, which only works to process cases. The repression experienced within this community is a symptom of a larger problem of impunity. Rep. Berman summed up in his letter to Clinton the need for a drastic change in U.S. policy in Honduras: “The situation in Honduras, which will likely be with us for some time, forces us to make a choice. We can view the terrifying human rights situation through the lens of 'threats to citizen security,' as the State Department recently characterized it; or we can understand the same human violations through the prism of the coup and indeed of a lock-down on the political process by long-entrenched elites. If we choose the latter, Honduran chaos begins to look like something much closer to political repression. Until the U.S. begins to embrace this view, we will not get our Honduras policy right.”

1 comment:

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