Venezuela: New Violence Against Transgender People

SUMMARY

On Thursday, January 11, Michelle Paz (legal name: Janny Paz), a transgender woman, was found shot dead in Urbanizacion Santa Cecilia, near Valencia, capital of Carabobo state, in Venezuela.

Respeto a la Personalidad, a Venezuelan transgender organization, considers that police involvement in the murder is highly possible. Police were accused of involvement in the murder of Dayana Nieves, a transgender woman shot in July 2000 in circumstances suggesting an extrajudicial execution.

A uniformed policemen shot at another transgender woman, Paola Sanchez, on January 13. She managed to escape; later, however, later police officers broke into her house without a search warrant and arrested her. No charges were pressed, and she has since been released. But Vicky Martinez and Kevin Capote, two transgender activists who were arrested on January 16, are still being held at La Isabelica, a local prison, in incommunicado detention. No information about charges against them has been forthcoming.

ACTION

IGLHRC and Respeto a la Personalidad ask for URGENT letters to Venezuelan authorities demanding the immediate release of Vicky Martinez and Kevin Capote, and a full and objective investigation of Michelle Paz's murder and the incident involving Paola Sanchez, with due punishment for persons found responsible, and effective protection for transgender people living in Carabobo.

Please write to:

Econ. Henrique Fernando Salas Feo-Römer
Gobernador del Estado de Carabobo
Palacio de Gobierno
Calle Montes de Oca con calle Paez
Valencia, Estado Carabobo,
República Bolivariana de Venezuela
Fax: + 58 241 857 0783
Salutation: Dear Governor / Estimado Sr. Gobernador
Comandante General Jesús Ramírez
Commander of the Police Forces in Carabobo
Comisario General de la PTJ
Avenida Navas Espinolas entre Paseo Cabriales y Martin Tovar
Valencia, Estado de Carabobo,
República Bolivariana de Venezuela
Fax: + 58 241 859 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: + 58-212- 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

And please send copies to:

Maury Oviedo
Respeto a la Personalidad
respeto_a_la_personalidad@hotmail.com
Israel Alvarez de Armas
Oficina del Defensor de los Derechos Humanos - Carabobo
defensor_ddhh@hotmail.com

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Sir:

I/we write to express our concern over attacks against transgender and transsexual people in Valencia, Carabobo.

On July 2000, Dayana Nieves was murdered, allegedly with the involvement of police officers: the crime still remains unpunished. On January 11, 2002, another transgender woman named Michelle Paz was found dead, in Urbanizacion Santa Cecilia. In the week following that incident, on January 13, Paola Sanchez was shot by a uniformed police officer in Avenida Bolivar. A few hours later, policemen broke into Ms. Sanchez' house without a warrant, grabbed her by the hair and arrested her, without charges being pressed. She was ultimately freed: but two other transgender people, Vicky Martinez and Kevin Capote -who were arrested on January 16, and beaten during their arrest- are currently at La Isabelica Prison, in incommunicado detention.

Impunity surrounding crimes against transgender people, as well as their arbitrary arrest, harassment and mistreatment by police, constitutes a human rights violation. The Venezuelan Constitution (Article 19) accords with with international human rights instruments (such as the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Venezuela and integrated by the Constitution into national law) protect "every person … without discrimination whatsoever" against attacks on their life, freedom, and privacy. As governor of Carabobo state, it is your responsibility to enforce those protections. As you well know, Article 29 of the Venezuelan Constitution mandates the State to investigate and punish crimes committed by public officers.

We urge you to:

  • Conduct an immediate, sweeping, and fair investigation into the murders of Dayana Nieves and Michelle Paz, and punish those found guilty, as mandated by law.
  • Conduct an immediate, sweeping, and fair investigation into allegations of police abuse against transgender people --such as the attempt against Paola Sanchez' life and the physical injuries suffered by Kevin Capote during her arrest-- and punish those found guilty, as mandated by law.
  • Bring an immediate halt to arbitrary arrests of transgender people in Carabobo, and order the immediate release of Vicky Martinez and Kevin Capote.
  • Conduct an immediate, sweeping, and fair investigation into allegations of extortion by police officers against transgender people, who claim to be demanded sexual favors and/or money to avoid arrest. Punish those officers found guilty, as mandated by law.

Police must serve citizens, not threaten or abuse them. The Carabobo police should be trained on both human rights and human diversity, in order properly to serve the community. We urge you to invite local organizations such as Respeto a la Personalidad to assist with training Carabobo police on these issues, to and transform the police into an institution furthering rather than impeding the aims of a democratic society.

Sincerely,

BACKGROUND

Michelle Paz (legal name: Janny Paz) was a 21 years old transgender woman, born in Ciudad Ojeda, Zulia, Venezuela, and currently living in Valencia, capital of the state of Carabobo.

In the early hours of Thursday, January 11, her dead body was found in Urbanizacion Santa Cecilia, a northern neighborhood in Valencia. She had been shot four times. Her identification papers were missing.

No family member of Michelle Paz claimed her body, as is often the case with transgender and gay people. She was buried by the Ombudsman and local activists.

The local transgender organization Respeto a la Personalidad and the local Ombudsman, Mr. Israel Alvarez de Armas, have documented a pattern of police abuse against transgender people in Carabobo, including documented cases of harassment, arbitrary arrest, and physical abuse including possible murders. See these previous action alerts for background:

  • They Will Not Stop At Murder: State Abuse Against Transgender People Continues April 4, 2001 http://www.iglhrc.org/world/southamerica/Venezuela2001Apr.html
  • Possible Extrajudicial Execution, Fear For Safety August 24, 2000 http://www.iglhrc.org/world/southamerica/Venezuela2000Aug.html
  • Activists have also claimed that transgender women are forced to have sex with policemen under threat of arrest.

    On July 29, 2000, Dayana Nieves, an 18 year-old transgender women, was shot and killed by two men, one of whom activists believe was a Carabobo police officer. Respeto a la Personalidad submitted a complaint concerning this murder to the Interamerican Human Rights Commission, and drew international attention to the crime. In reaction, local police arrested or harassed transgender activists. Estrella de los Angeles, Pocahontas Aquino, Nicole Mora and La Guajira Medina spent several days in police lockup, where they were subjected to verbal and psychological abuse, denied food and exposed to the cold at night--until other activists managed to get judicial orders for their liberation.

    In the latest case, Michelle Paz was last seen between 3 and 4 a.m. on January 11, while doing sex work on Avenida Bolivar, one of the main streets of Valencia. She told a friend that she had already collected the U$S 80 that she needed to pay some debts.

    She was shot three times in the back and one in the face. In Santa Cecilia, where her body was found, neighbors did not hear any shots. It appears likely that she had been killed elsewhere and then carried to Santa Cecilia, where few if any passersby circulate at night. Her earrings, watch, cellular phone and cash had not been stolen.

    Michelle's case has been registered as Expediente G-062148 (January 11, 2002) with Comisaria Las Acacias , Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales and Criminalísticas- -the former Judicial Technical Police Force--and as Causa 76.148, Fiscalia Quinta, with the Attorney General's Office.

    According to local activists, police officers did not seal off the area where the body was found, nor properly protect the victim's personal belongings, as mandated by Article 15, Decreto de Investigaciones Cientificas, Penales and Criminalisticas (the ordinance establishing procedures to be followed by police officers). As a result, Michelle's clothes disappeared, and evidence they might have revealed is now lost.

    On Sunday, January 13, a uniformed police officer shot twice at Paola Sanchez, a trans woman, in Avenida Bolivar. Fortunately, Paola managed to escape unhurt. Paola lives in the same house in which her friend Dayana Nieves was murdered in July 2000. A few hours after the attack, police officers entered her house without a warrant, grabbed Paola by the hair and took her to La Isabelica, a local prison. She was released a few hours later, with no charges pressed against her.

    On January 16, 2001, Vicky Martinez and Kevin Capote, two trans activists, were arrested and severely beaten by Carabobo police. Both were taken also to La Isabelica where they remain in incommunicado detention.

    Activists in Carabobo and in Caracas are planning to denounce Henrique Salas Romer--the governor of Carabobo, who has refused to take action to stop harassment against the transgender community-- before the National Assembly. Article 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution allows civic organizations to petition the Assembly to revoke the mandate of elected officers who fail to fulfil their duty.

    IN LAW

    The 1999 Venezuelan Constitution guarantees the enjoyment and exercise of all human rights to "every person … without discrimination whatsoever" (Article 19). It also affirms the "right to free development of one's personality, without other limitations than those derived from the rights of others and social as well as public order," a protection cited by local transgender organizations.

    Article 21 states that "all persons are equal before the law" and forbids discrimination based on race,sex, belief, or social condition. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights (IACHR) contain clear protections against discrimination.

    The right to life is protected by the UDHR (Article 3), the ICCPR (Article 6), the IACHR (Article 4) and the Venezuelan Constitution (Article 43)

    The right to freedom from torture or cruel and inhuman treatment ("ninguna persona puede ser sometida a penas, torturas o tratos crueles, inhumanos o degradantes") is protected by the UDHR (Article 5), the ICCPR (Article 7), the IACHR (Article 5) and the Venezuelan Constitution (Article 46.1)

    The right to equality before the law is protected by the UDHR (Article 7), the ICCPR (Article 14) and the IAHR (Article 24)

    The right to effective remedy for acts violating fundamental rights is protected by the UDHR (Article 8) and the IACHR (Article 25). The ICCPR affirms the right to "compensation for victims of unlawful arrest or detention" (Article 9.5).

    The right to freedom from arbitrary interference with one's home is protected by the UDHR (Article 12), ICCPR (Article 17), IACHR (Article 11), and the Venezuelan Constitution (Article 47)

    The right to freedom from arbitrary arrest is protected by the ICCPR (Article 9), the IAHRC (Article 7.3) and the Venezuelan Constitution (Article 44.1)