El Salvador: Another Transvestite Is Murdered - When Will The State Act?

A transvestite known as "Walter" or "Walquiria" was shot to death in San Salvador, El Salvador, on November 19, 2000. A young man accompanying him, Orlando Sanchez, was wounded and is currently under treatment at Hospital Rosales.

The method of the crime--unidentified men firing at transvestites or homosexuals from a car, then speeding away--is identical to that of other murders committed in the last two years (see Background section). All these killings point to an organized campaign of death directed against gay men and transvestites in El Salvador, operating with the apparent indifference of authorities.

This indifference is intolerable. Such passive paralysis of the official will, such cool immobility in the midst of bloodshed, is an active encouragement to killing. When the State behaves like a bystander, it becomes an accomplice. The continued impunity for the lethal effort to "cleanse" El Salvador of transvestites and gays shows a State unable or unwilling to perform its most basic responsibility: safeguarding life.

After decades of violent conflict, El Salvador still finds itself divided: not between ideologies this time, but between the rhetoric of equal protection and the reality of indifference to death. This division is also a choice. The State must decide whether it will defend the lives of all its people, or go down the road of complicity with the enforcers of intolerance and the agents of murder. Enough time has passed, and enough lives have been lost. El Salvador, its police, its prosecutors, and its government, must choose.

Write to the Salvadorean authorities demanding a clear choice. Call for a full investigation of the murder of Walter/Walquiria, and due punishment for those found responsible. Demand full protection for the lives of LGBT people in El Salvador.

ACTION

Write to the following authorities:

Dr. Francisco Bertrand Galindo
Ministro de Seguridad Pública
Ministerio de Seguridad Pública
Alameda Juan Pablo II, arriba del Parque Infantil
San Salvador, El Salvador
Telefax (503) 221 39 55 /22136 88
Lic. Mauricio Sandoval
Director General de la PNC
Policía Nacional Civil (PNC)
Ministerio de Seguridad Pública
Alameda Juan Pablo II, arriba del Parque Infantil
San Salvador, El Salvador
Telefax (503) 221 39 55 /22136 88
Fiscalía General de la República
Final 13 Calle Poniente, Edificio 123, Centro de Gobierno
San Salvador, El Salvador
E-mail: ncornejo@salnet.net
Fax.: (503) 225-6171
Tel.: (503) 271-4200
Lic. Eduardo Penate Polanco
Procurador de Derechos Humanos
Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH)
9a. Avenida Norte y 5a. Calle Poniente, Edificio AMSA, No. 535
San Salvador, El Salvador.
E-mail: dipddh@gob.sv
Fax.: (503) 271-2886
Comisión de Derechos Humanos de El Salvador (CDHES)
Pasaje 1, No. 119, Colonia Médica
San Salvador, El Salvador.
E-mail: joacoh@es.com.sv
Fax: (503) 225-0086 or 225-9906

And send a copy to:

Entre Amigos
Avenida y Colonia Santa Victoria, No. 50
Costado Norte Boulevard de los Heroes
San Salvador, El Salvador.
E-mail: entreamigos@salnet.net
Telefax: (503) 225-4213 or 235-1640

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Mr...

We wish to express our outrage at continued killings of gay men and transvestites in El Salvador. In the latest, horrifying incident, a transvestite known as "Walter/Walquiria" was shot and killed in the early hours of November 19, 2000, in 59A Avenida Sur and Calle Arce, San Salvador. A young man who was with him, Orlando Sanchez, was wounded in the incident and is currently recovering at Hospital Rosales.

As you should be aware, this incident is part of a pattern. Cases of unidentified men firing at transvestites or homosexuals from a car, then speeding away, have multiplied in the last two years. In 1999, Nestor Adonai Marenco (in December) and to Jose Armando Rivera (in October) were murdered in the same manner. Human rights organizations working in El Salvador have documented seven [other?] murders, with a similar modus operandi, during 1999, and 12 during 1998.

Thus far, the record of the Salvadorean police and criminal justice system indicates a disturbing reluctance to fulfil its responsibilities when gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender persons are involved or at risk. The government of El Salvador has clear responsibilities under international human-rights standards. It is obligated to respect the human rights of all persons in El Salvador, including their freedoms from arbitrary arrest and cruel and inhuman treatment. It is also obligated to protect their rights from violation, or violence, by others--to defend them from brutality, and to safeguard their right to live.

We demand a full investigation in the case of Walter/Walquiria. We demand appropriate punishment for those whom a fair trial finds responsible for the crime. We also demand that attention be given to all other unsolved cases affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons, to render a debt of justice due to the victims and to their communities. As you are aware, the National Civilian Police (PNC) is now going through a welcome process of internal reform, courageously punishing officers found guilty of illegal acts. Prompt investigation of acts of violence against groups already marginalized in society will only add to the new image of lawfulness and integrity that the PNC is trying to project.

When a government remains idle before serious human right violations, it conveys the message that some human lives are less important than others. This only encourages continued violence: and it corrupts the ideals of solidarity and equality which form the foundation of societies. On the other hand, quick and committed action by authorities (like the officials of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who responded swiftly to the murder of a gay man by a gang of skinheads) lets all a country's inhabitants know that their lives are respected, and that the values of justice and peace are recognized by their government.

Sincerely,

BACKGROUND

According to witnesses who reported to the PNC (National Civilian Police) and the newspaper La Prensa Grafica, Walter/Walquiria, a transvestite, and Orlando Sanchez were walking around 59A Avenida Sur and Calle Arce in San Salvador at about 3 AM on Sunday, November 19, 2000. Suddenly, a gray van approached them at high speed. At least two men shot at Walter and Sanchez from the car's windows. The car did not stop, and left the area immediately after the shooting.

Walter/Walquiria received five gunshot wounds and died instantly. Sanchez received three - two in one leg and another in the back- and was taken to Hospital Rosales, where he underwent surgery and is currently recovering. According to his father's testimony, the young man had gone out to celebrate his 18th birthday with some friends. Then he met Walter/Walquiria and asked his friends to leave him alone with her.

Full identifying information on Walter/Walquiria has not been released by the PNC.

The method in this crime was the same as in the murders of Nestor Adonai Marenco (December 1999) and Jose Armando Rivera (October, 1999). Seven similar killings were reported in 1999 and twelve in 1998. None of those cases has been solved, or even seriously investigated, by the police. 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.

Gay men, lesbians, and transgender people have been subjected to a campaign of terror, violence, and murder in El Salvador. On the night of Friday, December 10, 1999 in San Salvador, Nestor Adonai Marenco (37 years old) left the "Tulito" bar--where he had worked for the last 15 years--together with his roommate Rafael Ernesto Martinez ("Sandra") and another drag queen known as "La Raiza." A taxi approached them on the street, carrying five men dressed in black. Five shots were fired at Marenco, who tried to run but failed to escape. According to reports by the National Civil Police, one bullet struck him on the temple and another in the face. He died instantly.

The San Salvador newspaper "El Diario de Hoy" reported on December 1, 1999 that "One of the witnesses, who refused to identify himself, pointed out that the individual in question was murdered because he had been a witness to the murder of Doris." Jose Armando Rivera, also known as "Doris," had been killed in the same neighborhood in October. The newspaper also reports that another witness, similarly preferring to remain anonymous, stated, "There is a group of people who feel bothered by the existence of homosexuals."

The Salvadorean government has ratified international treaties committing it to protect the right to life, liberty and security for all its citizens, without any discrimination whatsoever. Among these treaties are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art.2, 6, 9 and 26) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Art.1,4,24). It must be held to these commitments. Impunity in the end becomes effectively indistinguishable from State complicity in violence. Official indifference must end. El Salvador must act on its commitments, and choose the path of life.