Guatemala: Demand an End to Harassment of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender People

SUMMARY

Four Guatemalan LGBT groups -- Organización de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA (OASIS), Colectiva de Lesbianas y Mujeres Bisexuales Liberadas (LESBIRADAS), Grupo Rompiendo Fronteras and Colectivo de Amigos Travestis (CATS) -- have condemned acts of harassment committed by the National Civilian Police (Policía Nacional Civil). In the last year, authorities in Guatemala have turned their appointed task to protect the people into a campaign of social cleansing which takes sexual diversity as its preferred target.

Send faxes to the Guatemalan authorities demanding an end to harassment of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, and to the impunity that surrounds and furthers it.

Please write to:

Attorney General of Guatemala
Sr. Adolfo González
baxeb@mplex.gob.gt
Fax: (502) 221-2789
Director of the National Civilian Police (PNC)
Sr. Enio Rivera
http://www.pnc.lex.gob.gt
Fax: (502) 251-9382
Minister of Government of Guatemala
Sr. Byron Barrientos
mingober@intelnet.net.gt
Fax: (502) 362-0239

Please send copies to:

OASIS
oasisilgalac@intelnet.net.gt

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Sir:

Organizations working to protect and advance the human rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people in Guatemala -- such as Organización de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA (OASIS), Colectiva de Lesbianas y Mujeres Bisexuales Liberadas (LESBIRADAS), Grupo Rompiendo Fronteras and Colectivo de Amigos Travestis (CATS) -- report several incidents of harassment by police officers, including: arbitrary arrests; unnecessary use of force; verbal, physical and sexual abuse; and intimidatory behavior and retaliatory threats against activists and victims who have denounced the abuses. According to activists' reports, Police Station 11, and particularly officer Obdulio Rivera Marroquin, seem to be involved in many of these incidents.

We write to you asking for a full and fair investigation into those incidents, and due punishment for those officers found guilty of violations of human rights.

As State authorities it is your duty to protect the lives and personal security of all those liiving within the borders of Guatemala, with no discrimination whatsoever, and to provide them with "effective remedy by competent national tribunals" when their rights have been violated. These are not idle claims, but obligations. They are mandated upon you by international and regional human rights treaties which Guatemala has ratified, and which Article 46 of the Guatemalan Constitution recognizes as the nation's supreme law. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which bears the force of customary international law.

Moreover, the Guatemalan Constitution protects the "integrity and security of person" (Article 3), the "inviolability of the domicile" (Article 23), and the right to be searched only by officers of one's own sex and "without offense to dignity, intimacy or modesty" (Article 25). It forbids arbitrary arrests and mandates that public officers who violate such provisions be punished according to the law (Article 6).

The government of Guatemala is further obligated to protect those who defend the rights of others. Threats against activists, and intimidatory acts aimed at organizations working for the human rights of vulnerable populations, must be investigated. The United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 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 12.3).

Failing to determine responsibility for human rights violations leaves them secured by ignorance, shrouded in silence and shadow. Failing to punish those culpable leaves the way open for continued brutality and abuse. The State has the duty to create and shelter a public sphere in which actions can be known, consequences can be measured, obligations can be met, trust can be established, and respect can be shared and enjoyed. Impunity replaces the clarity and stability of social relationships with corrosive, universal suspicion and fear.

A violent past has already damaged the social fabric of Guatemala. All must participate as equals in the task of rebuilding it. As State authorities, it is your duty to ensure that discrimination does not deprive the State of the contributions of individuals and communities, and that all people within its borders will find an environment of growth, not hatred--a place in which they can develop their full potential as human beings.

Sincerely,

BACKGROUND

On March 22, 2001, in Guatemala City, officers in police patrol car 11-003, from PNC (Policía Nacional Civil) station 11 -- under the command of Obdulio Rivera Marroquín --verbally and physically assaulted Israel Orrego. Orrego is coordinator of the Rosalinda project, an educational campaign for sex workers (transvestites, female and male). Next day, March 23, 2001, a female volunteer working for the same project was also assaulted; the assault included a search of her underclothes and genital area.

On March 24, 2001, the Guatemalan LGBT organization OASIS (Organización de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA ) gave a farewell party for a staff member. Five police patrol cars (11-003, 11-035, 11-089,11-090 and 11-048) parked in front of the organization's headquarters. Those who attended the party had their cars searched by police officers and were submitted to questioning as they entered or left the premises. OASIS views this as intimidation, intended to damage the organization's work, which focusses on improving sexual minorities' quality of life and on public advocacy in their interest.

Gay men and transvestites have publicly denounced recent patterns of abuse on the part of police, including the incidents mentioned above; many of those violations are currently under investigation by the Attorney General's Office and the government's Human Rights Office. However, demands for remedy or redress only bring further retaliation from police. Individual transvestites have been subjected to particularly severe harassment. For example, on April 18, 2001, transvestites standing in the area between Avenues 4 and 5, Streets 12 and 14, zone 1 in Guatemala City, were severely beaten by uniformed police officers and told: "Now go and submit more complaints."

On April 21, 2001, several transvestites and gay men were arrested with the use of violent force at around 11 PM. and driven to Police Station 11 in Guatemala City. Their money and personal possessions were taken and, when the victims were released from detention, were not returned.

On April 22, 2001, police officers broke into a Guatemala City hotel where some transvestites stayed. The transvestites were physically abused before police took them to Pavoncito, a detention center.

OASIS also reports other incidents which support the perception that a "social cleansing" campaign has been undertaken. A lesbian has recently received death threats by telephone and mail; cars driven by lesbian activists have been involved in suspicious crashes. Some activists report that their homes are under surveillance by police.

LEGAL FRAMEWORK

The right to liberty and security of person is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - UDHR (Article 3), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - ICCPR (Article 9) and the American Convention on Human Rights -ACHR (Article 7)

The right to effective remedy by competent national tribunals is also protected by the UDHR (Article 8) and the ACHR (Article 25).

The right to freedom from arbitrary arrest is protected by the UDHR (Article 9), ICCPR (Article 9), and ACHR (Article 7)

The right to freedom from arbitrary interference with one's home is protected by UDHR (Article 12), ICCPR (Article 17), and ACHR (Article11).

The right to humane treatment -- that is, to respect for one's physical, mental and moral integrity and to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment -- is protected by the UDHR (Article 5), ICCPR (Article 7) and ACHR (Article 5).

Discrimination based on status is barred by the UDHR (Articles 1 and 2), ICCPR (Article 2 and 26), and ACHR (Article 2). These provisions do not expressly mention "sexual orientation": however, the United Nations Human Rights Committee held in the 1994 case Toonen v Australia that the ICCPR's anti-discrimination provisions should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status.