Venezuela: Trans Activist Had To Leave The Country Due To Police Harassment And Is Asking For Protection

Summary

On July 29, 2000, Yhajaira witnessed how a policeman killed her friend Dayana in the city of Valencia, Carabobo state, Venezuela. Since then, she has been under permanent harassment by the police. Some of the incidents include a shooting after which she was paralyzed and spent three years in a wheelchair and had to be sent to Cuba for rehabilitation and the demolition of the precarious house in which she was living. Yhajaira escaped first to Barquisimeto and then to Caracas, but was followed by her persecutors and attacked there too. At present, Yhajaira is in Buenos Aires, trying to mobilize the Venezuelan and international public opinion to put pressure on her government so she would be granted the protection needed to go back.

Action

IGLHRC and Yhajaira Marcano Bravo are asking for URGENT letters demanding a re-opening of the Dayana’s murder investigation; a fair and throughout investigation of the many incidents of violence against trans people in Carabobo state; and protection for Yhajaira once she gets back to Venezuela, as well as for her colleagues that live in Caracas and Valencia. You will find a sample letter below.

Please write today to:

Presidente de la República Boliviariana de Venezuela (President)
Hugo Chávez
Phone: 58-212-806 3111 / 58-212-806 3737
Address: Final Avenida Urdaneta, Esq. de Bolero, Palacio de Miraflores, Caracas – Venezuela
Email: http://www.gobiernoenlinea.ve/misc-view/ver_mensajes.pag

Ministro de Interior y Justicia (Minister of Internal Affairs and Justice)
Ing. Jesse Chacón Escamillo
Phone: 58-212-506.10.14 / 58-212-506.10.15 /
Fax: 58-212-506.15.57 /
Address: Av. Urdaneta, Edif. Sede MIJ, Piso 1, Carmelitas, Caracas
Email: emosquera@mij.gob.ve

Defensor del Pueblo de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela.(Ombudsman)
Germán Mundaraín,
Phone: (0212) 507.70.01 / 507.70.16
Fax: 575.14.67
Email: denuncias@defensoria.gob.ve
Address: Av. México, Plaza Morelos (frente al Ateneo de Caracas), Edificio Defensoría del Pueblo, Caracas, Venezuela.

Gobernador del estado de Carabobo (Governor of Carabobo State)
Luis Felipe Acosta Carles
Phones: 58-0241-857.13.26 / 58-0241-8742951 /
Fax: 58-0241-857.25.01 /
Address: Av. Montes de Oca entre Páez y Colombia frente a la Plaza Sucre, Edif. Capitolio, Valencia, Edo. Carabobo
Email: ai02@telcel.net.ve

Defensoría Delegada de Carabobo (Ombdusman Office, Carabobo State)
Address: Urb. Lomas del Este, Torre Mercantil, piso 3, oficinas 3A. y 3B, Valencia.
Phone: (0241) 857.6436 / 8587816
Fax: (0241) 857.6436
Email: dcarabobo@defensoria.gob.ve

Please send copies of your letters to the Venezuelan embassy in your country as well as to us (mferreyra@iglhrc.org)

Sample letter

Mr. President,

We are writing to express our concern for the harassment that Venezuelan trans activist Yhajaira Marcano Bravo is suffering, as a result of her complaints against the police of Carabobo state. Since witnessing the murder of her friend Dayana at the hands of a local police officer known as ‘El Gocho’, on July 29, 2000, Yhajaira has been brutally attacked, persecuted and threatened not only in Valencia, Carabobo, but also in Barquisimeto and Caracas, where she fled trying to save her life. Her friend Acuarela, who also witnessed Dayana’s murder, was killed by a Lara state police officer in Barquisimeto (September 2000).

At present, Yhajaira is in Argentina, where she came thanks to the help of international organizations who knew of her trials, like the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the Urgent Action Fund and the World Organization Against Torture. But what Yhajaira wants is to be able to go back to her country, because she believes in the Bolivarian project and wants to contribute to the best of her capacity so she and other trans Venezuelans can be recognized as citizens with full enjoyment of their rights.

Invoking the protections granted in international covenants signed by Venezuela (including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Andean Human Rights Chart) and also in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela, we kindly request your immediate intervention of behalf of Yhajaira by

  • Re-opening the case of Dayana’s murder in Valencia, Carabobo
  • Ordering a fair and throughout investigation of all incidents of violence against trans people in the Carabobo and Lara state, as well as in Caracas, that Yhajaira and her colleagues have brought to the attention of local Courts and Ombudsman offices.
  • That Yhajaira and her colleagues in Caracas and Carabobo be granted protection against further attacks.

Looking forwards to your prompt reply,

(Name, address, organization)

Background

According to Yhajaira’s testimony, trans people in Valencia, Carabobo state have been historically targets of police harassment – such as happens everywhere in Latin America. Arbitrary arrests followed by abuse (forced cutting of hair and nails, forced sexual intercourse with policemen in exchange for release, verbal and physical mistreatment) were daily occurrences for trans people there. But the situation deteriorated gravely after July 29, 2000. On that day, a local policeman known as “El Gocho” was running after trans person Dayana and, when she reached the entrance of the hotel where she lived, he fired a shot that killed her. Two friends of Dayana – Yhajaira Marcano Bravo and Acuarela- witnessed the scene and even though El Gocho also fired at them, they both managed to escape.

In the morning of July 30, Acuarela saw how El Gocho moved Dayana’s body out of the hotel.

Yhajaira and Acuarela went to the local Prosecutor Office to denounce the murder and the cover-up. Harassment against trans people in the town escalated:

  • On August 9, Pocahontas and La Guajira – two young trans women who had also been close to Dayana- were arrested without a Court order by Carabobo police officers, forced to take their clothes off in the street and brutally beaten. Once taken to the police station, they spent several days incommunicado and without medical care. Finally, they were released but Pocahontas was arrested again also immediately afterwards.
  • On November 8, Estrella de los Angeles – a member of the Venezuelan organization Respeto a la Personalidad that was carrying out a campaign demanding that Dayana’s murderer was punished’- was arrested and spent six days incommunicado. Judge Cecilia Alarcón had to intervene in person to get Estrella released.

In spite of everything that the activists did, El Gocho was never arrested, not even questioned or investigated.

Yhajaira and Acuarela fled to the city of Barquisimeto, in Lara state, but unfortunately that was not enough to grant their safety. In mid-September 2000, Acuarela was murdered by the Lara state police, in the highway to Chivacoa, according to some of her colleagues who witnessed the murder. The same police officers fired several shots at Yhajaira in the highway that goes from Barquisimeto to Kivor, but she managed to escape and denounced the aggression to the Lara Prosecutor Office. Nobody has been arrested or even investigated in relation to these events.
On January 2001, Yhajaira arrived in Caracas, looking for safety. But few days later, on the 6th, officer Campos from the Metropolitan Police confronted her in Libertador Avenue and told her that she was wanted for having exposed El Gocho before the Prosecutor Office. Campos fired several shots at her, but again Yhajaira managed to escape. However, she had to be taken to Hospital Antonio Maria Vargas because the shots had impacted on her back and legs. She was paralyzed and remained confined to a wheelchair until 2004 where, with the help of the Venezuelan government, she travelled to Cuba where she underwent surgery and treatment until recovering her ability to walk.
In those three years, harassment against other trans activists who were related to Dayana continued:

  • On January 13, 2001, a uniformed police officer fired two shots at Paola Sanchez, a trans woman who used to be Dayana’s roommate. Fortunately, none of the shots reached Paola. Few hours after the attack, Carabobo police officers broke into the place where Paola was living, without a Court order, grabbed her by the hair and took her to La Isabelica, a local prison. She was released a few hours later, without having been accused of any crime.
  • On January 16, 2001, Vicky Martinez and Kevin Capote, two trans activists who were also part of Dayana’s group, were arrested and severely beaten by Carabobo police. Both were also taken to La Isabelica and kept incommunicado for a few days.
  • On January 11, 2002, Michelle Paz, a 21 years old trans woman also from the same group, was found dead in Urbanizacion Santa Cecilia, near Valencia. Someone had shot at her, several times. She was carrying her earrings, watch, cell phone and purse, with all her money inside. Maury Oviedo – president of Respeto a la Personalidad- declared that police involvement in this murder was very likely and, supported by national and international organizations, launched a campaign to denounce this murder that included a formal presentation to the Interamerican Human Rights Commission.
  • On February 2002, the Police Intelligence Department in Carabobo issued an alert to all police forces in the country, demanding the immediate arrest of Maury Oviedo who was to be handled to Police Intelligence officers. A reward was offered. Maury and other activists fled town and went into hiding.
  • On March 26, 2002, the body of Angie Milano (28), who had been one of the most vocal members of Repeto a la Personalidad, was found in Valencia, in advanced state of decomposition. This crime has never been solved.

In early 2005, after Yhajaira returned from Cuba and settled in Caracas, she continued denouncing the abuses committed by local police against trans people – physical, verbal and sexual violence, extortions, restrictions to their mobility and thefts. Several officers were separated from the force due to her complaints, including those known as “Cabo Rojas” and “El Escopetero”. Yhajaira denounced those two to Public Prosecutor Beatriz Navarro because they broke her right arm and stole 250.000 Bolivares (approx. 100 US$) from her. A few months later, in May, officer Pedro Barbosa, from the Caracas Metropolitan Police confronted Yhajaira, breaking her other arm and several of her teeth. She complaint to the Ombudsman and the Public Prosecutor Offices. This time there was no answer from the authorities and nothing happened to officer Barbosa.

In October 2005, Yhajaira travelled to Argentina to take part in the Training Institute for Trans and Intersex Activists organized by IGLHRC. According to her, that trip caused uproar among the policemen who thought she would come back with more skills and contacts to act against them. On October 11, 2005, she was threatened by Metropolitan Police officers in Plaza Miranda (an square near the City Council, where Yhajaira and many other trans people engage in sex work). She was told that they knew she had travelled abroad for training purposes and “advised” to avoid creating more trouble for the police if she did not want to be shot at again.

On December 21, 2005, Yhajaira was at her friend and neighbour Mariela’s house in Barrio Centro San Agustin – a shantytown where houses are very precarious and it is very easy to break into them. Police broke into Mariela’s place, without a Court order, claimed to be searching for drugs –which they did not find- and, before leaving, stole everything they could take. Yhajaira and Mariela complaint before the Ombudsman and the Public Prosecutor Offices.

On December 28, 2005, a group of Metropolitan Police officers demolished Yhajaira’s house – a precarious assembly of wood and metal- using their sticks and kicking against the walls. Yhajaira was pushed out, severely beaten and threatened with death if she did not stop “messing up” with them.

On January 14, 2006, a birthday party for Mariela was held in San Agustin. Metropolitan Police officers broke into the party looking for Yhajaira. El Cabo Rojas and El Escopetero – who had been separated from the force due to Yhajaira’s complaints-, came along the officers. Yhajaira managed to escape.

On January 21, 2006, Yhajaira was climbing the stairs that go across San Agustin hill and through which people access the neighbourhood, when several Metropolitan Police officers intercepted her. She was severely beaten in the arms and the face. Her neighbours run to her help and threw bottles at the officers that flew.

El Cabo Rojas has contacted some friends of Yhajaira, saying that she owns money to the police and she could get into even more trouble if the debt is not cancelled. Activist Argelia Bravo fell into the trap and paid 50.0000 Bolivares (24 US$)

Considering the serious situation that Yhajaira was facing, IGLHRC asked the help of the Urgent Action Fund and the World Organization Against Torture. Thanks to their generous support we have managed to take Yhajaira to Buenos Aires, where she is staying now, so we can continue denouncing the persecution against her without her life being at risk.

On February 3, 2006, Yhajaira was at home preparing her trip to Buenos Aires, when once again police officers broke the door, entered and grabbed her to the street, where they shout that she would be killed, such as they had warned her, and fired 3 shots at her. The attackers run away. Neighbours called an ambulance that came with a police escort. These other officers beat Yhajaira on the way to the hospital, in “solidarity” with their colleagues. Once inside the hospital, one of the police escorts kept threatening her until a doctor intervened and forced the policeman to leave. Yhajaira was hospitalized for almost to weeks, until she was recovered from her injuries and managed to travel to Buenos Aires.

For more details on the incidents that took place in previous years, please check: Amnesty International (AI Index 53/09/00 UA 247/00), or ask to mferreyra@iglhrc.org IGLHRC’s previous action alerts related with this case:

  • IGLHRC Action Alert “Possible Extrajudicial Execution, Fear for Safety”
    August 24th, 2000
  • IGLHRC Action Alert: “Transgender activists in the state of Carabobo, Venezuela, face continuing harassment for defending their rights.”
    April 4th, 2001
  • IGLHRC Action Alert: " TRANSGENDER ACTIVIST IN HIDING AFTER THREAT FROM POLICE " February 13rd, 2002

International law

Right to life is protected by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR, Article 3), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, Article 6) and the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights (ICHR, Article 4).

Right to be free from discrimination and to equality before the law is protected by the UDHR (Articles 2 and 7), ICCPR (Articles 2 and 26) and ICHR (Articles 1 and 24).

The United Nations Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v Australia (1994) that existing protections against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status. Numerous other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations have subsequently condemned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The right to be free from torture, inhumane or cruel treatment or punishment, is protected by the UDHR (Article 5), ICCPR (Article 7) and ICHR (Article 5.2), as well as by the Convention Against Torture (CAT), that specifically protects the right to submit complaints and mandates state officers to process those claims promptly and fairly, in cases of torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment (Article 13).

Rights of Human Rights Defenders: The UN 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).

Right to effective remedy is protected by the UDHR (Article 8) and CAT (Article 14).

The “right of complainant and witnesses to be protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of (his) complaint or any evidence given” is protected by CAT (Article 13)

The right to judicial protection, involving the “right to simple and prompt recourse ... to a competent court or tribunal” is protected by IAHRC (Article 25)

In 2002, Venezuela ratified the Andean Chart to Promote and Protect Human Rights (Carta Andina de Promoción y Protección de los Derechos Humanos). Article 10 of this Chart reaffirms the decision of Andean states to combat all forms of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and any other form of intolerance or exclusion against individuals or collectives based on race, color, sex, age, language, religion, political beliefs, nationality, sexual orientation, migratory status and any other, as well as their commitment to promote national legislation that will criminalize racial discrimination. Section F of the Chart is devoted specifically to the rights of people whose sexual orientation differs from that of the majority. Article 52 recognizes that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or choice, are entitled to the same human rights. In Article 52, the signatories commit themselves to combat all forms of discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation or choice, paying special attention to preventing and punishing violence and discrimination against those whose sexual orientation or choice differs from that of the majority. The signatories also commit to provide legal resources for effective remedy in cases of damage caused by such offense

Venezuela ratified ICCPR on May 10, 1978; CAT on July 29, 1991 and IAHRC on August 9, 1977. The UDHR is considered part of customary international law, and binding on all member States of the United Nations, like Venezuela.

National law

Article 19 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (1999) acknowledges the applicability of international human rights treaties ratified by the country, while Article 23 affirms their prevalence over domestic law.

Article 20 states that “Everyone has the right to freely develop his/her personality, without further limitations than those that sprang from the rights of others as well as from public and social order”. This right has already been successfully used in Colombia to protect the rights of trans and Iintersex individuals, as well as gays and lesbians, to non-discrimination and equality before the law.

Article 212 mandates the State to “guarantee juridical and administrative conditions to make equality before the law real and effective; to adopt positive measures in favour of individuals or groups that might be discriminated against, marginalized or vulnerable; to specially protect those who found themselves in circumstances of evident weakness and to punish abuses or ill-treatment perpetrated on them”.

Any act committed by public officers that “violates or undermines” the rights protected by the Constitution implies “penal, civil and administrative responsibly, according to the case” (Article 25). In Article 29, the States commits itself to “investigate and legally punish all crimes against human rights perpetrated by its authorities”. Such crimes “will be investigated and judged by ordinary courts”. In Article 46.4, it commits itself to punish, according to the law, “any public officer who, in the course of his work, infringes ill-treatment, physical or mental suffering to any person, instigates or condones such treatment”.

Article 55 consecrates the right to “protection on the part of the State through citizen security bodies regulated by law, in situations that amount to threats, vulnerability or risk for an individual’s physical integrity, his/her property, the enjoyment of his/her rights and the fulfilling of her/his duties”. The same article states, “State security bodies will respect the dignity and human rights of all individuals. The use of weapons or toxic substances by judiciary and security personnel will be restricted by the principles of necessity, convenience, opportunity and proportionality, according to the law”.

Article 26 protects the “access by all individuals to the judicial system in order to exercise and protect their rights and interests and to promptly obtain a decision regarding their claims”.

Rights to life (Article 43), personal liberty (Article 44) and to be free from cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment, torture or treatment (Article 46) are also explicitly protected by the Venezuelan Constitution.