Guatemala: Lesbian Activists Threatened

SUMMARY

Violence against Human Rights Defenders has been a serious problem in Guatemala for years. UN Special Representative Hina Jilani visited the country in 2003 and wrote in her report that “... the most basic rights of human rights defenders have been violated in recent years in Guatemala and these violations are rarely properly investigated. Few of the reported cases of violations against human rights defenders have ended with satisfactory legal solutions.”

Since January 2002, 1,183 Guatemalan women have been murdered. U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Yakin Erturk completed her investigation into violence against women in Guatemala on February 15, 2004. Her study showed that 306 of the 383 murders of women that took place during 2003 remain unsolved. According to the local authorities, “less than 5 percent of all murders are solved in Guatemala, which lacks a specialized homicide squad”. (Marion Lloyd, “Guatemala activists seek justice as women die”, The Boston Globe, June 14, 2004).

It is this context of violence and impunity in which we view with alarm the threats made by telephone, and the subtle intimidation engendered by visitors to a lesbian organization.. Both the telephone calls and the visitor made specific references to the series of murders committed against women- have been denounced by the Guatemalan lesbian group Lesbiradas and the coalition Coordinadora Ciudadana para la Diversidad Sexual (Citizens Coordinated for Sexual Diversity – CCDS).

ACTION

IGLHRC joins Lesbiradas and CCDS in asking for urgent letters to be sent to the Guatemalan authorities demanding an investigation into the threats made to the organizations and protection to stop further violence against them.

Please write TODAY to:

Juan Luis Florido
Fiscal General (Attorney General)
Fiscalía General del Ministerio Público
8a. Avenida 10-67, Zona 1,
Ciudad Guatemala
Guatemala, C. A.
Phone/fax: (502) 221-2718
Lic. Arturo Soto
Ministro de Gobernación.(Minister of Goverment)
6 Av. 4-64 Zona 4
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
Fax: +502 362 0239 y 362 0237
Doctor Sergio Morales
Procurador de los Derechos Humanos. (Ombudsman)
12 Av. 12-72 Zona 1
Ciudad Guatemala,
Guatemala, C. A.
Phone/fax: (502) 238-1734
Embassy/Consulate of Guatemala in your country/town.

And please send copies to the following media:

CERIGUA
2a calle 1-42, Zona 1
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
Fax: + 502 221 2521
E-mail: cerigua@guate.net
La Prensa Libre

13 Calle 9-31, Zona 1
Apdo. Postal 2063
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
Fax + 502-230-1384
E-mail: nacional@prensalibre.com.gt

And to Lesbiradas at
Lesbiradas@intelnet.net.gt

MODEL LETTER

You will find below a model letter in Spanish, followed by its English translation. To make communication more effective with the authorities, we recommend you send the Spanish version.

De nuestra consideración:

Nos dirigimos a ustedes para expresar nuestra preocupación por las amenazas telefónicas y las visitas sospechosas que han tenido lugar en las oficinas de las organizaciones Colectiva de Lesbianas Liberadas Lesbiradas y Coordinadora Ciudadana por la Diversidad Sexual, en la ciudad de Guatemala.

En todos los casos, las activistas han sido objeto de agresiones verbales e insinuaciones de violencia sexual y física por su visibilidad como lesbianas y su defensa de la igualdad de derechos para las comunidades lésbicas, homosexuales, bisexuales y transgénero en Guatemala.

En el contexto de violencia contra las mujeres que se está viviendo en estos momentos en el país, dichas amenazas no pueden ignorarse. El Estado guatemalteco tiene el deber de proteger a la población, contra la violencia en todas sus formas. La protección a las defensoras de los derechos humanos que están trabajando para denunciar los abusos cometidos contra las personas por su preferencia sexual o su identidad de género, y que intentan educar a la sociedad para la convivencia pacífica entre quienes son diferentes, es fundamental para garantizar un orden social justo.

Pero no se trata sólo de una obligación moral. El Estado guatemalteco ha ratificado pactos internacionales de derechos humanos por los que se compromete a proteger derechos fundamentales de quienes habitan en su territorio, como el derecho a la vida, a la integridad física y psíquica de la persona y a la seguridad personal, sin discriminación alguna. Dichos tratados tienen preeminencia por sobre el derecho interno según el Artículo 46 de la Constitución guatemalteca, que también establece que “proteger a la persona y a la familia” (Artículo 1), así como “garantizar a los habitantes de la República la vida, la libertad, la justicia, la seguridad, la paz y el desarrollo integral de la persona” (Artículo 2) son deberes del Estado. En su Artículo 4, la Constitución consagra el principio fundamental de la no discriminación, al afirmar que “En Guatemala todos los seres humanos son libres e iguales en dignidad y derechos”.

En cumplimiento de tales obligaciones, solicitamos a ustedes que, con premura que amerita el caso:

  • El Ministerio Público investigue diligentemente las agresiones y actos intimidatorios de los cuales han sido víctimas Lesbiradas y la CCDS, con el objetivo de identificar y perseguir penalmente a los responsables materiales e intelectuales;
  • El Ministerio de la Gobernación tome las medidas necesarias para asegurar la vida y le integridad física y psicológica de las personas mencionadas, solicitando que las fuerzas de seguridad pública se pongan en contacto con Lesbiradas y la CCDS a fin de coordinar la implementación de dichas medidas;
  • La Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos, haga una investigación inmediata, completa e imparcial sobre las amenazas de las cuales han sido víctimas Lesbiradas y la CCDS y que se hagan públicos los resultados de la investigación.

Saludamos a usted cordialmente,


English translation

Dear Sirs,

We write to you to express our concern for the phone threats and suspicious visits that had taken place at the offices of two non-governmental organizations - Colectiva de Lesbianas Liberadas Lesbiradas and Coordinadora Ciudadana por la Diversidad Sexual (CCDS)- in Guatemala City.

In all cases, activists have been verbally harassed and threatened with sexual and physical violence because of their visibility as lesbians and their work towards equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in Guatemala.

In the context of the epidemic of violence against women that the country is facing right now, those threats cannot go unanswered or unnoticed. The government of Guatemala has the duty to protect the population against all forms of violence. Protecting human rights defenders, who are working to denounce human rights abuses perpetrated against individuals because of their sexual preference or gender identity, and educating society to peacefully coexist with diversity, is a key element towards building a just social order.

But it is not only a moral obligation. The Guatemalan State has ratified international human rights treaties that mandate it to protect the fundamental human rights of those living in its territory, such as the right to life, physical and psychological integrity, and personal security, without discrimination whatsoever. According to Article 46 of the national Constitution, such treaties have precedence over local legislation. The Guatemalan Constitution also affirms that “protecting the individual and the family” (Article 1) as well as “guaranteeing life, freedom justice, security, peace and the full development of one’s personality to all those who inhabit the territory of the Republic” are obligations of the Guatemalan State (Article 2). In its Article 4, the Constitution consecrates the fundamental principle of non-discrimination, by stating, “In Guatemala, all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights”.

To fulfill those obligations, we request that, with the urgency that the situation deserves,

  • The Attorney General Office properly investigates the aggressions and intimidatory acts committed against Lesbiradas and CCDS, with the purpose of identifying and legally prosecuting those materially and intellectually responsible for such acts,
  • The Ministry of Government take the necessary steps to guarantee the lives, physical and psychological integrity of the activists who have been threatened, requesting that the security forces contact both organizations to implement those measures.
  • The Ombudsman Office conducts an immediate, full and impartial investigation into the threats received by both organizations, and makes the results of its efforts public.

Sincerely,

(Name, organization, address)

BACKGROUND

Context: Violence Against Women and Human Rights Defenders, and Impunity

Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, visited Guatemala in June 2002. In her Report (E/CH.4/2003/104/Add.2), submitted during the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, she says,

94. The Special Representative observes that the most basic rights of human rights defenders have been violated in recent years in Guatemala and that these violations are rarely properly investigated. Few of the reported cases of violations against human rights defenders have ended with satisfactory legal solutions.

97. The Special Representative considers it important to recall that State responsibility for human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law is not limited to direct actions or omissions by public officials, but extends to actions of private individuals and non-State elements, especially when committed at the instigation, or with the consent or acquiescence, of the authorities. It is the obligation of the State to protect its citizens from human rights violations, to prevent such violations, to pass relevant internal legislation to punish those responsible as well as to refrain from passing legislation that is contrary to international law, and to award compensation to the victims.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Yakin Erturk completed her investigation into violence against women in Guatemala on February 15, 2004. Her study showed that 306 of the 383 murders of women that took place during 2003 remain unsolved. Ms. Erturk said that “The official response to the brutal murders of women who had been kidnapped and later found dead with signs of rape and torture illustrated that violence against women – whether domestic violence, rape or sexual harassment -– was not seen as a serious crime. Women in both countries also shared problems related to the long years of armed conflict and to more recent problems of violence and exploitation linked to domestic and transnational criminal networks. Most crimes remained uninvestigated, resulting in impunity, reinforcing patterns of gender discrimination and constituting a source of perpetual terror in the everyday lives of women”

(Press Release HR/CN/1074 / “Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Warns of Threats To Gains on Women’s Human Rights”, Geneva, April 5, 2004)

Threats against Lesbiradas and CCDS

CCDS defines itself as “a collective force whose goal is to transform the situation of discrimination endured by sexual diversity in Guatemala through visibility, promotion and defense of the human rights of those who are sexually diverse”. The lesbian group Lesbiradas is a member of CCDS.

On June 26, 2004, CCDS organized the 5th Pride Gay Parade in Guatemala City that marched through the streets of the city’s Historical Section. Organizers estimated attendance in about 1.000 people. Marchers demanded equality in terms of rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender, transvestites and transsexuals. And also condemned the violent murders of 18 transvestites between January and June 2004.

Before the Parade took place, CCDS organized a series of activities to promote Sexual Diversity, including a visibility campaign, a gay movie festival (June 4-18) and a cultural event (June 24). The campaign was widely covered by local media, through newspapers, radio and TV.

On July 4, 2004, Vanesa Anzora – a transvestite activist who took part in the parade- was found strangled in a hotel located in Guatemala City. With her death, the number of transvestites murdered in Guatemala during 2004 reached 19.

On July 7, 2004, at about noontime, Claudia Acevedo received the first phone threat at the office that Lesbiradas and CCDS share in Guatemala City. An anonymous voice asked “What are you all doing in there?” (¿Qué hacen allí?). And the insults started: “Huecas cerdas, lo que quieren es una buena chimada” - “hueca” is a pejorative term used to name lesbians, “cerdas” is a strong insult and “chimada” means “fuck”.

Evi Mendez, Lesbiradas’ Office Manager, took the second phone call. Claudia Acevedo took the third one and both Ms. Mendez and Abraham Boror, a member of CCDS, took the last one. In all those three phone calls, the same voice said “Ahorita vamos y nos las cogemos” (Now we go and fuck you all). There were also references made to the work that Lesbiradas and CCDS are doing.

About 5 minutes after the last phone call ended, a man appeared at the office saying that he was from the School of Architecture, from San Carlos de Guatemala University and that he wanted to donate materials from the University to both groups (computers, printers, furniture, etc.). He claimed to have been referred by the Director of another NGO. He asked specifically for Claudia Acevedo. Activists were suspicious and kept interrogating him. According to those who were at the office, the man was sweating, looked nervous and his language was very vulgar. He kept looking around the office, in an apparent attempt to memorize how spaces were distributed.

At one point, the man said “The work you are doing is good, but be careful with being so public, because given the way things are right now, with all those maniacs out there and with what is happening to women ... It is not that I am threatening you, it’s just an advice”(Esta bueno el trabajo que hacen, pero tengan cuidado de no ser tan públicas, porque como están las cosas, y habiendo tanto maniático suelto y con eso de las mujeres. ¡No es que les este amenazando, solo es un consejo!).

Activists became very nervous and made efforts to end the conversation. Finally, the man agreed to come back later to bring the donations. Activists promised to get in touch with him later and he replied that he already had their phone – something that made them even more suspicious, as they had never provided that information to him. The man left. The name and phone number he gave the activists ended up being false.

Previous attacks against LGBT activists

On 13 May 2003, Mr Jorge López, President of the Organisation for the Support of an Integral Sexuality against AIDS (Orgaización de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA - OASIS) was kidnapped by two men and locked up in a track. On Friday 23 May, Mr López and other members of OASIS were persued by five men driving a car who disappeared shortly afterwards.

Harassment against OASIS is probably linked to the organisation´s protest actions against police abuse of men, women and transvestite sex workers as well as against young and male homosexuals.

Furthermore, these events add to the list of violent attacks in Guatemala such as the murder (November 2002 - March 2003) of nineteen young protesters against the modification of the penal code and who were supported by the organisation CALDH and the Institute of Comparative Studies and Penal Sciences. These dramatic circumstances were preceded by the continued harassment of and spying on members of other organisations, such as H.I.J.O.S. and Lesbiradas, and the employees of the CASA ALIANZA during the last few years.

On one hand, it appears that the reason for all these attacks are the actions of OASIS, as well as other human rights organisations in denouncing publicly the irregularities committed by the Guatemalan police department. On the other hand, the common mark of these attacks is that they are directed against those organisations that work for the protection of the rights of vulnerable communities such as youth, abandoned children, homosexual male and young, lesbians, women, transvestites and men sex workers.

(For more details, see our forwarded Action Alert “ILGA Demands A Stop to Aggressions in Guatemala Against Human Rights Activists”, July 9, 2003. And for an even earlier account of a series of intimidatory acts against LGBT activists, see our May 3, 2001 Action Alert).

INTERNATIONAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK

Right to life, liberty and security of person is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 3), by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 9) and by the Interamerican Human Rights Convention (Article 7.1).

The UN Declaration Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (G.A. res.53/144, U.N. Doc. U.N. Doc. A/RES/53/144 - 1999) 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). And it adds that, "In this connection, everyone is entitled, individually and in association with others, to be protected effectively under national law in reacting against or opposing, through peaceful means, activities and acts … attributable to States that 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).

Guatemala ratified the ICCPR in 1992 and the IAHRC in 1978.The UDHR is considered customary law for all Member States of the United Nations, including Guatemala.

ABOUT IGLHRC

The mission of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is to secure the full enjoyment of the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation or expression, gender identity or expression, and/or HIV status. A US-based non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), IGLHRC effects this mission through advocacy, documentation, coalition building, public education, and technical assistance.

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