El Salvador: Killings Target Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Communities. Other Activists Remain Under Threat

SUMMARY

William Hernandez, executive director of "Entre Amigos," the Salvadorean Integral Development Association for Sexual Minorities, has received anonymous death threats directed at him and his family. These threats take place in a context of violence and intimidation directed at civil society in El Salvador, and particularly targeting manifestations of sexual difference. IGLHRC asks for letters to the government, demanding a thorough investigation both of a recent wave of murders and of these latest threats.

IGLHRC asks for the support of the international community in writing letters to the following authorities, urging them to:

  • Investigate these crimes, in which the rights of all human beings to life, physical integrity, and dignity are involved by implication;
  • Maintain the protection that the National Civilian Police is providing to the premises of "Entre Amigos" until the murders are solved and the activists can be safe, and adding to it any other protective measure that the activists feel necessary.

Please send your letters to:

Dr. Francisco Bertrand Galindo
Ministro de Seguridad Publica
Ministerio de Seguridad Publica
6a. Calle Oriente y 8a. Avenida Sur, No.42
San Salvador, El Salvador
Fax.: (503) 271-2022
Tel.: (503) 271-2300
Lic. Mauricio Sandoval
Director General de la PNC
Policia Nacional Civil (PNC)
6a. Calle Oriente No.42, entre 8a. y 10a. Avenida Sur
Costado Sur Edificio del Ministerio de Seguridad Publica
San Salvador, El Salvador
Fax.: (503) 271-4422
Tel.: (503) 221-6222
Fiscalia General de la Republica
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
Sr. Juan Duch
Presidente Asamblea Legislativa
Edificio Asamblea Legislativa, Centro de Gobierno
San Salvador, El Salvador
E-mail: asamblea@ejje.com
Fax.: (503) 281-9812
Lic. Eduardo Penate Polanco
Procurador de Derechos Humanos
Procuraduria 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
Comision de Derechos Humanos de El Salvador (CDHES)
Pasaje 1, No. 119, Colonia Medica
San Salvador, El Salvador.
E-mail: joacoh@es.com.sv
Fax: (503) 225-0086 or 225-9906

BACKGROUND

Gay men, lesbians, and transgender people have been subjected to a campaign of terror, violence, and murder in El Salvador. In the most recent instance, 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 11 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."

Nestor Adonai Marenco is the seventh known person murdered, apparently because of his/her sexual orientation and/or gender identity, this year. In 1998, twelve similar killings were reported. 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.

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. William Hern·ndez received a death threat on March 7, 1999, the day of El Salvador's presidential election. On June 29, unknown individuals shot and injured a gay man as he was leaving the "Entre Amigos" offices in the company of Mr. Hern·ndez.

Governmental indifference to these offenses is not the only problem. It is compounded by state agents' active participation in violence. Three days before the last incident named above, a person who later identified himself as a member of the special Presidential Battalion used his weapon to threaten a transgender person who was participating in Lesbian and Gay Pride Day celebrations in the Constitution Plaza in San Salvador. In another incident, on August 15, 1999, according to activists, members of the National Civil Police of the ConcepciÛn Quezaltepeque post--in the District of San JosÈ, Chalatenango--subjected six homosexual individuals to blows, insults, and death threats.

In this context of violence, IGLHRC continues to be profoundly concerned about the safety of William Hern·ndez. An anonymous person with a male voice made death threats over the telephone during three calls received by "Entre Amigos" on November 5, 1999, between morning and late evening. In one call, the person said that he wanted to speak to the executive director, William Hern·ndez, and that he already knew how to reach the "Entre Amigos" office in order to kill him. The caller also left an accurate physical description of the executive director. In a later call that day, the same individual warned, "Tell that son of a bitch not to leave tonight." The threats were aimed not only at Hern·ndez but at his two daughters and his father--whose whereabouts the anonymous caller seemed to know in ominous detail.

"Entre Amigos" activists believe the threats came in response to a newspaper story about the murder of "Doris," published November 3, 1999. The story had contained an interview with Mr. Hern·ndez, in which he stated that the area in which "Doris" was killed was a drug dealer's zone.

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 by others--to defend them from violence, and to safeguard their right to live. The record of the Salvadorean police and criminal justice system indicates a disturbing reluctance to fulfill either responsibility when gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender persons are involved or at risk.

The government of El Salvador is further obligated to protect those who defend the rights of others. Vulnerable activists such as William Hern·ndez must be safeguarded by the State. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms: "Everyone is entitled, individually and in association with others, to be effectively protected under national law in reacting against or opposing, through peaceful means, activities and acts, including those by omission, attributable to States which result in violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as acts of violence perpetrated by groups or individuals that affect the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms." (Article 12.2)