A Celebration of Courage: Felipa 2000 Awardee: William Hernandez (El Salvador)

William Hernandez is the executive director of Entre Amigos, an organization that fights for the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people in El Salvador. Through his years in activism, Hernandez is credited with integrating LGBT issues into allied social movements. As a high profile activist, Hernandez has carried out his work despite receiving anonymous death threats. These threats take place in a context of violence and intimidation directed at civil society in El Salvador, and particularly at the LGBT community. Nevertheless, Hernandez continues to rise to the occasion of grassroots activism and organizing in the defense of LGBT people's human rights.

The threats against Mr. Hernandez are not an isolated crime. Entre Amigos activists point to the general impunity enjoyed by many offenders in El Salvador, and to a record of indifference on the part of the criminal-justice system toward violence or abuse against members of the homosexual community, with only cursory or perfunctory investigations being undertaken. Almost thirty murders have taken place since 1998. In addition, on December 6, 1998, unknown persons broke into the Entre Amigos offices and went through the confidential records of the group. A sound system was stolen during the break-in, in order, activists believe, to make it appear a robbery. Hernandez received a death threat on March 7, 1999, the day of El Salvador's presidential election and many others thereafter, including an assassination attempt earlier this year. Following an international campaign Hernandez has been placed under special police protection.

Entre Amigos' efforts in documenting and denouncing human rights violations have attracted the attention of the authorities: the National Civil Police and the General Attorney have started to investigate some cases involving LGBT people, in a country where impunity is the norm for crimes committed against disadvantaged populations. Much more pressure is needed to ensure that these investigations continue, that those connected to the crimes are prosecuted and sentenced, and ultimately that LGBT people in El Salvador can live in security and can have their human rights respected. Hernandez' courage and leadership under duress is a guarantee that this struggle continues and is an example to activists everywhere.