El Salvador: Demand Official Investigation Into the Murders of Three Sex Workers

OTS (El Salvador Sex Workers´Organization) and Flor de Piedra (another sex worker organization in San Salvador, El Salvador) are denouncing the murder on Sunday, 17 April 2005, of Maribel, a sex worker who was repeatedly stabbed in the face and neck and then suffocated in her room, in the course of her work. This is the third murder of a sex worker in that area of San Salvador since 8 April. In all three cases, the murder or murderers acted with extreme cruelty. In none of the cases have local authorities undertaken a proper investigation into the murders.

Murders of female and trans sex workers are unfortunately common in El Salvador. Police abuse of female and trans sex workers, as well as gay men who are publicly known as such, is also commomplace. The Salvadorean LGBT organization Entre Amigos has denounced state indifference to the safety and security of LGBT people in El Salvador. During 2004, Entre Amigos documented the murder of 4 gay men and 1 transgender person, and denounced official inaction. To date, Salvadorean authorities have solved none of the murder cases. In July 22-23, 2003, members of the UN Human Rights Committee questioned the Salvadorean Attorney General Office staff for their failure to act on these cases when El Salvador reported on their compliance with their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Please write today to the following authorities demanding:

  • A thorough investigation of the murder of Maribel and the other two women who have been killed since April 8 in San Salvador by the National Civilian Police and the Prosecutor’s Office
  • More NCP protection in the areas where sex workers work
  • Supervision of police and judiciary investigations by the Human Rights Office at the Attorney General Office
  • A clear statement by state officials, by their actions that they recognize the duty of the government to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of ALL the citizens of El Salvador, regardless of moral judgements that individuals might have regarding the life and employment choices that any one individual makes.

Please send your letters to

Licenciado Ricardo Meneses
Director de la Policia Nacional Civil (Nacional Civilian Police Director)
Fax (503) 289-1621
E-mail: ricardomeneses@pnc.gob.sv
Licenciado Marcos Gregorio Sánchez Trejo
Procuraduría General de la República (Attorney General Office)
Fax: (503)2218221
E-mail: marcostrejo@hotmail.com
Licenciado Belisario Artiga
Fiscalía General de la República (Attorney General Office)
Fax: (503) 249-8613
E-mail: nerecinos@fgr.gob.sv
Doctora Beatrice de Carrillo
Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Office at the Attorney General Office)
Fax: (503) 222-0655
E-mail: despddh@pddh.gob.sv
Licenciada Zoila de Incenti
Directora del Instituto Salvadoreño de Desarrollo de la Mujer (Salvadorean Institute for the Development of Women´s Director)
(Fax: (503) 222-9313
E-mail: isdemu@isdemu.gob.sv

And please send a copy to Flor de Piedra at
flordepiedra2000@yahoo.com

Background

Since April 8, 2005 three sex workers have been killed near Independencia Avenue, in San Salvador, The first woman was mutilated and then suffocated. The second woman was followed by unidentified men after she left her place of work, and shot when she got into a bus to go home.

Flor de Piedra – a sex-workers organization that is part of the national coalition working towards an Interamerican Sexual and Reproductive Rights Convention - states that “In the streets where sex work is carried on, all forms of violence are common and most murders of sex workers are never solved. The features of sex work in El Salvador feed into this violence, as it is not acknowledged as work, is carried on in extremely unsafe conditions, in areas considered “high risk zones”, in rooms lacking sanitary conditions and where women are not protected against murderers. Two of the murders we are denouncing now took place in the rooms where the murdered women carried out their work”.

According to gay organization Asociacíon Entre Amigos, the following murders were committed against gay men during 2004:

  • On May 31, John, the owner of a small shop, was murdered in Sacacoyo, La Libertad.
  • On June 15, Julio Cesar Vasquez (25), a street vendor who sold clothing and make up, was stabbed to death in Coatepeque, Santa Ana.
  • On August 9, Miguel Angel Perez Bonilla (25) was stabbed in Zacatecoluca, La Paz.
  • On October 7, Jose Luis Arteaga (47), a cashier at a beer-bar, was shot while at work in Santa Ana.

When the government of El Salvador appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee (the group of experts who monitor governments’ compliance with their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) in 2003, Amnesty International, IGLHRC and trans activist Jan Doerfel presented information to the Committee about human rights violations against gay and trans people in the country in 2002. In some cases, the violations had been perpetrated by State officials (primarily the National Civilian Police). In other cases, the State was culpable for omission or inaction – in situation in which authorities had failed to investigate or respond. Committee members from the US, Canada and the UK raised questions to Salvadorean authorities about a range of issues, including 28 killings of gay and trans individuals that took place in El Salvador in the years of 2001-2003, only 2 of which were properly investigated and solved. The Committee also queried the government about allegations of police abuse against a gay man, Francisco Cerna Manzanares, and a transvestite Lisbeth Rivas Sanchez.

International law

  • Right to life (and to liberty and security of person) is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its Article 3; by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Articles 6 and 9, by the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights (IAHRC) in its Articles 4 and 7 and by the Interamerican Convention to Prevent, Punish and Erradicate Violence Against Women (ICPPEVAW) in its Article 4.a
  • Right to equality before the law and to be free from discrimination are protected by the UDHR in its Articles 2 and 7, by the ICCPR in its Articles 2 and 26, by the IACHR in its Articles 1 and 24 and by the ICPPEVAW in Article 6.a
  • Right to equality before the courts and tribunals is protected by ICCPR in its Article 14.
  • Right to effective remedy is protected by the UDHR in its Article 8.
  • Right to judicial protection is protected by the ICHR in its Article 25.

Regional law

Article 7 b. of the Interamerican Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women obligates signataries to apply due diligence to prevent, investigate and impose penalties for violence against women.

Domestic obligations

El Salvador ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1979, the Interamerican Human Rights Convention in 1978 and the Interamerican Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women in 1995. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered customary law for all Member States of the United Nations, including El Salvador.

Respect, protect and fulfil and the standard of “due diligence”
The tripartite notion of “respect, protect and fulfill” is one way to capture the overarching framework of governments’ human rights obligations. Abuse by agents of the state -- the police, prosecutors, etc, as noted in the action alert above, constitute a failure of the government of El Salvador to respect human rights. When sex workers, along with gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons – are murdered with impunity, and when intolerance and homophobia within the justice system (as well as outside it) impedes proper investigation of the crime and results in impunity for the perpetrators, the government of El Salvador has failed to protect and fulfill the rights of Salvadoreans.

First, states are required to respect rights. That is, government officials, or those acting with the authorization of the state, must not commit human rights abuses, such as arbitrary arrest and detention; physical, verbal and sexual abuse; or torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; along with unwarranted restrictions on freedom of movement, association, and expression. They must respect the human rights of all members of society, including those from socially denigrated and marginalized groups, like sex workers, or LGBT persons.

States are required to take effective steps to end human rights abuses. Under this obligation, states must not only ensure that their agents do not violate rights, but they must also work meticulously to prevent and punish such acts by private actors. In other words, in addition to the obligation to respect rights, governments also have the duty to protect and fulfill human rights. In order to adequately protect rights, the government and those acting on its behalf must take steps to prevent other individuals or groups (including private enterprises and corporations) from violating human rights.

The duty to fulfill rights requires that the government ensure that an infrastructure exists that enables people to exercise and enjoy their rights to the fullest possible extent. If a state fails to take all steps within its power and capacity to prevent human rights violations, it can itself be held responsible for the violation. This is known as the standard of due diligence. While it does not absolve the actual perpetrators from being prosecuted and punished for the crimes they have committed, it holds that complicity, acquiescence and omission by the state constitute another form of responsibility. The due diligence standard requires that states prevent, investigate and punish acts that impair any of the rights recognized under international human rights law. In addition, it must provide access to remedy, attempt to restore the right violated and provide reparation or compensation for damages incurred.