“It’s not just that they kill us. They don’t even investigate who did it”. This is how LSettingsGBTQI+ community organisations in Honduras describe the situation in the country, where over 90% of hate crimes go unpunished. In fact, the LGBTI Violent Deaths Observatory maintained by the Cattrachas Lesbian Network has found that only 29 of the 150 hate crimes committed over the last five years have been prosecuted. “These levels of impunity indirectly contribute to the collective perception that violence and discrimination against the LGBTI population are accepted by the State and its officials”, the Sexual Diversity Committee warns. High levels of impunity add to the difficulty of reporting hate crimes. Over half of attacks against LGBTQI+ individuals in Honduras are committed by police officers: “Could you imagine going to the police to denounce the police?”, they ask.
This situation reflects the discrimination and inequality faced by the LGBTQI+ population, which remains a consistent pattern in Honduras that is reflected in increasing systemic violence. Whereas in 2020, at least 20 members of the LGBTQI+ community were killed, 2021 “began very violently”, with five murders since the start of the year, according to the Arcoiris LGBT Association, which has been accompanied by Peace Brigades International (PBI) since 2015. In 2018, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, expressed his concern over the situation of the LGBTQI+ community, and identified the “inaction of the State to reduce the use of the media in inciting violence against them,” as one of its causes.
Access to Justice Board
Facing this situation, and in order to create a space for dialogue with justice and security officials in the country, the LGBT Access to Justice Board (the Board) was created in 2016. This initiative, composed of various organisation defending LGBTQI+ rights in Honduras, was formed in order to shed light on hate crimes and establish common strategies to prevent and respond to the violence this collective faces in the region. The Board is a diverse space that includes LGBTQI+ organisations, national authorities and representatives from the international community. Social organisations include the Arcoiris LGBT Association, Humans in Action, Pro-Union Organisation of La Ceiba (OPROUCE), Association for Prevention and Education in Health and Sexuality (APREST), the Centre for LGBTI Development and Cooperation (Somos CDC), Gay-Lesbian Community of the South and Horus, which represent different regional boards from Tela, La Ceiba, San Pedro Sula, Choluteca, Nacaome and Tegucigalpa.
Through this participation, the Board draws attention to the realities on the ground throughout the country, and calls upon relevant institutions and authorities to investigate and ensure due process in the investigation of cases. Moreover, the Board also functions as a space for coordination, allowing for the promotion of public policies that promote equality such as the Marriage Equality law and Gender Identity Law.
The Board also includes the participation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the National Commissioner for Human Rights (CONADEH), and the embassies of Germany, Spain, and the United States. Their participation is highly valued by LGBTQI+ organisations: “The embassies are there, they seek out and propose solutions to advance investigations,” says David Valle, Project Coordinator of Somos CDC.
Achievements and Obstacles
One of the positive aspects highlighted by the creation of the Board is the increased fluidity of communication for participating organisations, which allows for a wider vision of the situation for LGBTQI+ individuals on the national level and the rigorous analysis of the attacks they face. Executive Director of Arcoiris LGBT Association and Board facilitator, Esdra Sosa, declares, “In this manner LGBT organisations do not cease our work across all the areas in which, unfortunately, the government continues to discriminate against us. We are seeing how we can combat political stress and the context of violence in the country”.
Although the organisations recognise advances in the investigation of cases, reflected in the increase of prosecutions from the Investigative Police Directorate (DPI) over the past year, concerns remain over generalised delays in the investigation of cases presented to the Special Prosecutor for Offences against Life and the “institutional indifference” described by organisations over the lack of responses. Organisations also refer to difficulties in communication with the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Supreme Court of Justice, which have yet to respond to invitations to join the Board. Similarly, member organisations report their concern over the fact that the DPI has not participated in the space since December last year, which hinders dialogue concerning the progress of investigations.
No Significant Advances from the Special Prosecutor for Offences against Life
In light of a lack of advances in cases presented to the Special Prosecutor for Offences against Life, member organisations of the Board intend to conduct a study on why cases have not progressed, and find a way to advocate for their investigation. In the Board’s five years of operations, the only case to see significant advances was that of Bessy Ferrera, a transgender woman and member of the Arcoiris LGBT Association who was assassinated in 2019.
On 31 March, International Transgender Day of Visibility, Vanesa Zúniga, a trans woman and activist with APREST, was murdered in Atlántida Department. The LGBT Access to Justice Board urged once again that the Special Prosecutor’s office conduct a thorough, impartial, and prompt investigation. CONADEH also condemned the assassination and recalled that over the past 10 years, at least 150 members of the LGBTQI+ community have been killed in Honduras.
Facing violence, impunity, and obstacles to their access to justice, LGBTQI+ organisations place their trust in the Access to Justice Board. “We are not asking for new or special human rights for LGBT people. We only want them to respect the rights that all human beings have”, Esdra Sosa declares.