Author: Allison Lopez
Honduran LGBT activist Nelson Arambú recently did a speaking tour with the Honduras Solidarity Network around the United States to brief people about the human rights violations in Honduras and specifically about the plight of the LGBT community. LAWG was pleased to arrange his Washington visit with advocate Sergio Moncada. Although this is Nelson’s first time doing a U.S. speaking tour, it is not the first time that a leader of the Honduran LGBT community visits the United States to ask Congress and the U.S. public to help the LGBT community. Last year Pepe Palacios, another leader of the Honduran LGBT community, came and spoke to audiences in the United States; the year before that, Erick Vidal Martinez came and gave a similar tour. As the situation in Honduras goes from bad to worse –including for the LGBT community–Nelson is here to plead the U.S. government and the international community not to neglect Honduras—and not to make the situation worse. This is what he had to say.
Nelson: When Pepe Palacios was here in the U.S. last year he reported 115 murders in the LGBT community from the coup in June 2009 until the time of his visit in February 2013. I am now reporting that that figure has increased by 61 murders to 176.
Something that I have noticed when addressing LGBT audiences here in the U.S. is the fact that they are often shocked by these statistics. Because they enjoy relatively more rights than their counterparts in other countries, it is often very difficult for American LGBT people to understand what it means to be LGBT in Honduras and the reason why we come back to the U.S. every year to highlight what is happening on the ground. In Honduras, instead of fighting for marriage equality, as our LGBT counterparts here in the U.S. are doing, we are fighting for the basic right to not be murdered. It is a far cry from fighting for marriage equality, which is why it is so important for us to come back every year to update congressmen and the American public on the wellbeing of the Honduran LGBT community.
Partly from pressure from the U.S., a special victims’ unit was created within the Honduran Public Ministry which is charged with investigating crimes against the LGBT community. This unit has had assistance from the FBI; however, in the 2.5 years since the unit was created, not one single murder has been resolved. There has been very little accountability on what the unit is doing. The only degree of pressure has come from the U.S. embassy in Honduras.
The efforts by the Honduran state to limit human rights have been demonstrated by the dismantlement of any institutionalized protection of human rights by mostly shutting down government institutions charged with promoting and protecting the human rights of vulnerable sectors of the population –such as women, children, indigenous communities, and Afro-Hondurans.
We hope is to increase international pressure for three things: the first is to keep the issue of human rights in Honduras alive. The result of this issue falling through the cracks has been that 25,000 people have been murdered in the last 5 years. Take just the example of the LGBT community: when Erick Martinez came to two years ago, he reported the murder of 75 LGBT people. When Pepe Palacios was here last year, he reported 115 murders and now I am here reporting a figure of 176 murders. Obviously this figure is increasing every year and we cannot let this fall through the cracks. We urgently need a UN High Commissioner on Human Rights office to be opened in Honduras. In light of the government dismantling entities previously charged with protecting and promoting human rights for vulnerable groups, there is an urgent need for an international government body that can promote and protect our rights.
One of the things we ask is for the U.S. Embassy to make more consistent statements regarding human rights. In the opinion of many, the statements by the U.S. Embassy have been very ambiguous: Lisa Kubiske, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Honduras, has on one hand highlighted the dire state of human rights in the country. But just two months ago, she made a public statement applauding the progress being made by the Honduran government on human rights.
We also ask that the special unit that was created to investigate LGBT crimes in the country –which was created with U.S. funding- be pressured to report on what it has been doing and to find out what the result has been in the 2.5 years since its creation. We want to know which cases are close to being solved and which require additional resources.
One last point is the issue of the militarization of Honduras. The country receives a large amount of financial aid, much of which is going to the police and the military; institutions which are documented to have links with organized crime. In addition to that, there are documented cases of the police and the military targeting campesinos and LGBT people specifically. If you take into account that the country does not manufacture any weapons, then you must ask yourselves how it is that American-made weapons are reaching the hands of members of organized crime. When you have corrupt police and military forces like we do, there is no one to protect the general public. That is why we ask the U.S. government that if there is any aid they continue to provide to the Honduran police and military, it has to be increasingly conditioned on human rights.
We hear about how sometimes there is a change of culture, where people are more openly LGBT or more willing to report a crime that was committed based on orientation or gender identity. Are more people taking about LGBT crimes or are there just more people being open about whom they are?
Nelson: The answer is complicated so my answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ A simple look at the figures contrasting the 20 murders of LGBT people in the 15 years prior to the coup (1994-2009) versus the 176 murders of LGBT people in the 5 years since the coup shows that there is certainly more violence directed at the LGBT community; however this does not necessarily tell us whether Honduran society is more accepting of the LGBT community. Personally I do not believe that Honduran society is any more accepting of the LGBT community than it was 15-20 years ago.
The other thing we cannot be too conclusive and say that this violence is exclusively rooted in homophobia because it is not just the LGBT community who are the victims of the violence in Honduras. As many of you know, Honduras now has the highest murder rate in the world with 25,000 murders having occurred in the last 5 years. This means that the population as a whole, not just LGBT people, are subject to a higher degree of violence. As a result of this violence, in Honduras we are beginning to see a surge in internal displacement; in the past five years alone 36,000 have been internally displaced in Honduras. Over the past five years, the number of gay men fleeing the country has increased dramatically. However, as I mentioned before, LGBT people are not the only ones being affected. As many of you have seen on the news, many children are leaving Honduras to come to the U.S.; when asked many have said that they are simply fleeing the violence in their home country.
Do you find that violence against LGBT people has been different than violence against other minority groups and victims? Are cases of LGBT violence treated differently in the justice system vis-à-vis crimes against other minorities?
Nelson: Of course; within the judicial system the treatment has been drastically different. You need not go any further than the case of Walter Tróchez, a well-known human rights LGBT activist who was murdered in 2009. Despite the fact that this is one of the most emblematic cases that this unit has been charged with investigating, nothing has been done to solve the murder. Surely that is a sign that LGBT cases are not being treated equally in the judicial system. The media also treats violence against LGBT people in a similar manner; very little is reported in the Honduran media regarding violence against the LGBT community vis-à-vis violence against other vulnerable groups.
Have you noticed any overlap in violence against LGBT people and political dissidents or activists?
Nelson: There is some conjecture due to the fact that a number of the murdered LGBT leaders were also known members of the opposition that arose after the military dictatorship.
Are there any groups which target LGBT people specifically or are the attacks on LGBT people committed by random individuals?
Nelson: The police, the army as institutions. There are cases that have an easy solution where there are witnesses to the crimes and enough evidence to convict the perpetrators, but many are unsolved.
In February 2013 there was international pressure to amend Article 321 of the country’s penal code so that it would also include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender as a crime. Six months later, Catholic Church and evangelical church leaders pressured the Honduran Congress to create a commission to look into dismantling this amendment.
Could you talk a little bit more about the murders of trans women?
Nelson: Among the LGBT community, the most affected by the violence have been trans women. However, it is very difficult to say this with certainty because there is very little data about the LGBT community and even less about the persecution of LGBT people in Honduras. But out of the 176 murders that have occurred in the last five years, 78 of those have been of trans women. Since trans women comprise one of the smallest groups within the LGBT community you can certainly say that the transgender community has borne the brunt of violence against the LGBT community. Furthermore, if you look at murder patterns, the murders of transwomen tend to be more violent than those of other groups within the LGBT community. Often the bodies of trans women show signs of dismemberment, torture, and castration. Obviously the hate crimes against trans women are more violent than those against other members within the LGBT community. But again, a lot of this information is anecdotal.
Do you think it would be helpful to get more embassies interested in putting pressure on the Honduran government to do more to protect the LGBT community?
Nelson: Of course, the more people from people from the international community that are involved the better. However, the international community needs to be aware of one very important fact: some countries simply do not care about how they are perceived internationally in terms of human rights. This is the case with the current government of Honduras; it is common knowledge that the country cares very little about human rights. In fact, its track record has gone from bad to worse as the government continues to close down more and more human rights ministries, lets crimes go unresolved and limits freedom of speech. A law was recently passed which allows the government to withhold government secrets from the public and allows it curtail the freedom of the press and to spy on its own people. Due to the government’s reputation as a known human rights violator it is very important that we pressure the international community into opening an office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Honduras; they are the only ones who can and will protect the rights of the LGBT people and the Honduran people as a whole because the Honduran government is certainly not going to do it.