Venezuela: Harassment of Transvestites

Transgender activists in the state of Carabobo, Venezuela, face continuing harassment for defending their rights. Since Dayana (Jose Luis Nieves), a prominent figure in the transgender community, was murdered in July 2000 (see "Possible Extrajudicial Execution, Fear for Safety," an Amnesty International action alert forwarded by IGLHRC in August 2000) this harassment has increased.

The Commander of Police in Carabobo has said that "homosexuals and prostitutes are to be ruled by a police code. They cannot move freely in the streets." According to reports from the transgender organization Respeto a la Personalided (Respect for the Personality), the Commander -protected by the Governor- has also begun taking direct revenge on activists who have publicized police abuse to the international community. Activist Estrella de los Angeles (José Ramón Colmenares) was recently held incommunicado by police for six days, until a judge ordered her release.

IGLHRC asks for letters to authorities in Venezuela, demanding an immediate end to persecution of transgender people and their families.

Please write to:

Sr. Henrique Fernando Salas Römer
Gobernador del Estado de Carabobo
Palacio de Gobierno
Calle Montes de Oca con calle Paez
Valencia
Estado Carabobo,
República Bolivariana de Venezuela
Fax: + 584 157 0783
Salutation: Dear Governor / Estimado Sr. Gobernador
Comandante General Jesús Ramírez
Commander of the Police Forces in Carabobo
Comandancia General de la Policia
Avenida Navas Espinolas entre Paseo Cabriales y Martin Tovar
Valencia
Estado de Carabobo,
República Bolivariana de Venezuela
Fax: + 584 159 5940 (If voice answers, say: "Por favor, tono de fax")
Salutation: Dear Commander General / Estimado Comandante General
Minister of the Interior and Justice
Sr. Luis Miquelena
Ministro del Interior y Justicia
Ministerio del Interior y Justicia
Avenida Urdaneta, esquina de Platanal
Parroquia Candelaria, municipio Libertador
Caracas,
República Bolivariana de Venezuela
Fax: + 582 861 1967
Salutation: Dear Minister / Estimado Sr. Ministro
Ombudsman's Office of Venezuela
Dr.Germán Mundaraín
Plaza Morelos
Avenida México s/n
Caracas
República Bolivariana de Venezuela
Fax: 58(212) 575.44.67 or 575.38.62
E-mail: defensoria@platino.gov.ve
Salutation: Dear Doctor /Estimado Doctor

Please send copies to:

Respeto a la Personalidad
E-mail: respeto_a_la_personalidad@yahoo.es

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Sir:

We write to express our grave concern about the situation of the transgender community in the state of Carabobo, marked by arbitrary arrest and abuse at the hands of police officers. The gravity of this situation has been recently confirmed by Judge Silvia Alarcón in her verdict on the Estrella de los Angeles (José Ramón Colmenares) case.

The police and civilian authorities in Carabobo seem embarked on a futile war against people whose only crime is to have a gender identity and/or sexual orientation differing from the most powerful segment of the population. Such an internal war can only discredit the Carabobo government in the eyes of the world community---as has already been shown in the response to the apparent extrajudicial murder of Dayana (Jose Luis Nieves) in July 2000.

Moreover, it expends the energies of the State on violent opposition to its own citizens---rather than on promoting and ensuring tolerance and solidarity.

We understand that "public order" has been invoked as a reason to humiliate and arrest homosexual and transgender people. In Latin America, the concept of "public order" has been associated with military rule: with depriving people of their civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights, and suppressing every single manifestation of difference, political, racial, or sexual. When the authorities in Carabobo fall back upon this concept, they rank themselves with regimes which oppose every major achievement of peace and social justice.

True "public order" is incompatible with repressive force. It finds its guarantees not in the humiliation of difference and the exaltation of conformity, but in justice, equality and respect accorded to everyone in society. Authorities in Carabobo, if they wish to protect such an order, must ensure that justice is done, equality achieved, and respect granted, with no discrimination whatsoever.

Furthermore, Venezuelan authorities at all levels are bound by international human rights covenants. The right to be free from arbitrary arrest is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 9), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 9) and the Interamerican Human Rights Convention (Article 7). Protections against discrimination are basic to international human rights the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), for instance, specifies that "All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law" (Article 26). In 1994, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations (in the case of Toonen v Australia) stated that discrimination against based on sexual orientation was prohibited by the ICCPR.

We urge you to cease making inflammatory statements against homosexual and transgender people. We urge you to engage in direct dialogue with transgender and homosexual communities, through public meetings or other fora. We urge you to condemn and act to end police harassment against those communities. We urge you to institute sensitivity training for police officers to discourage discrimination against any community or group. We urge you as well to institute punishments for discrimination, harassment, or other forms of police misconduct. Only a vocal commitment to justice, equality, and respect, backed by tangible and immediate action, will end the abuse that brings dishonor to Carabobo.

Sincerely,

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

According to Amnesty International's Alert (AI Index 53/09/00 UA 247/00), "On 29 July 2000, José Luis Nieves, a transgendered person known as Dayana, was killed in the city of Valencia, Carabobo State, in circumstances that suggest she was the victim of an extrajudicial execution. . . . Two men came to Dayana's room at the guest house in Valencia where she lived and fatally shot her. At the time of her murder, she was still suffering from pellet wounds sustained during an earlier shooting by a state police officer."

Local activists sent information about Dayana's murder to Amnesty International and to IGLHRC. The campaign launched by both organizations drew hundreds of letters, faxes and e- mails to the Carabobo authorities demanding full investigation of the murder but also an end to harassment against transgender communities. Such harassment, according to the transgender advocacy organization Respeto a la Personalidad, is widespread in Valencia, particularly at the hands of police. Police forcibly cut the hair and nails of transgender people. Police sometimes detain them and compel them to perform sexual acts in return for release. If they refuse or resist, police will dump them semi-naked in the outskirts of the city in order to humiliate them. Those practices were carried on before Dayana's murder. They still persist.

Both before and since Dayana's death, specific instances of such harassment, by police and the criminal justice system have come to the attention of IGLHRC and Amnesty International. On August 9, 2000, Pocahontas (legal name Ronny Yosmar Aquino) and La Guajira (legal name Alexis Medina), two of Dayana's young transgender friends, were reportedlydetained by Carabobo police without a judicial warrant.They were forced to undress in the street and severely beaten. They were then held in incommunicado detention without access to a lawyer, to medical attention, or to their families. Only days later were they freed.

Amnesty International has similarly reported that, in early July 2000, two other transgender people in Valencia "were detained by police in Valencia for eight days without a judicial order. During their detention, they were held in extremely poor conditions. They had to sleep on the floor and to buy food as the meals they were given contained worms."

Yet the publicity given such harassment only led to its intensification. Ricardo Hernandez Lanz, (then) Commander of the Carabobo police, was quoted (in the newspaper Diario Sucesos, Valencia, Carabobo, October 7, 2000) that "homosexuals and prostitutes in Carabobo must be ruled by a police code. They cannot move freely in the streets because several families have denounced them for stealing purses, distributing drugs and enticing minors into prostitution. Tell me if there is anybody who can stop me from doing my work. Nobody."

According to Respeto a la Personalidad, police raids have become more frequent in Valencia's streets. Young men whom police find too effeminate are forced from buses or taxis, taken to police stations, and undressed: those wearing male undergarments are released, while those in female underwear have spent up to three days in detention.

In one case, transgender activist Estrella de los Angeles was arrested on November 8, 2000, and was held incommunicado for 6 days until Judge Cecilia Alarcón declared the arrest unconstitutional and ordered her immediate release (on November 14, 2000). Activists from Respeto a la Personalidad have denounced these arrests to local and international human rights organizations. Mr. Israel de Armas, father of Estrella de los Angeles, will join Respeto a la Personalidad in a legal action against the Governor and the Police Commander and the Governor of Carabobo.