Inter-American Court decision in the case of Vicky Hernández and others vs. Honduras: an unprecedented ruling for the region’s trans community

Washington ,D.C., July 1, 2021.– On June 28, 2021, as the LGBTI+ community celebrated its struggle for human rights worldwide, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights released its decision in the case Vicky Hernández and others vs. Honduras. The decision is only the Court’s fifth ruling on LGBTI+ rights and its second on the rights of trans people. The Court decided, for the first time, that the rights of trans and travesti women are protected under the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem do Para). The Court also ordered the State of Honduras to implement a law on gender identity within two years, an unprecedented reparations order for the region.

Vicky Hernández was a trans woman, sex workers, and human rights defender who was killed in 2009 during Honduras’ coup d’état. On June 28, 2009, a state of emergency was ordered amidst the unrest of the coup. According to witnesses, that day, police attempted to arrest Hernández and other women who were outside pursuing sex work. The women fled, and the next day Hernández was found dead. Her death came amidst many arbitrary detentions and homicides that accompanied fierce protests in the context of the coup.

Among the Court’s findings is that Honduras suffers from “a context of continuous violence against LGBTI people dating back at least to 1994” that worsened, particularly for trans women pursuing sex work, during the 2009 coup. The Court pointed out that the Organization of American States (OAS) has expressed concern about violence and discrimination against LGBTI+ people in the region since 2008, emphasizing that this population lacks social visibility and protection across the Americas.

The Court emphasized that even before Hernández’s death, she suffered multiple violent attacks at the hands of the police. Citing Claudia Spellmant Sosa, director of the Color Rosa Collective, it wrote that Hernández had approached the Collective multiple times to report arbitrary detentions and physical attacks. The Court held the State responsible for these abuses, for the context of unaccountable police control over public spaces during the coup, for the situation of generalized abuses against LGBTI+ people in Honduras, and for violence and discrimination by the police against trans women.

The State of Honduras accepted some responsibility, acknowledging failures in the investigation of Hernández’s death that violate its obligations under Article 8.1 (judicial guarantees) and Article 25 (legal protection) of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. The Court made several additional points regarding the State’s responsibility, including the unmet need to account for Hernández’s gender identity, her work as an activist, and the possible role of state agents in her death during its investigation. The Court reiterated its findings in Gutiérrez Hernández and others vs. Guatemala and Azul Rojas Marín and other vs. Perú, which discuss gender stereotypes and their impact on the actions of public officials.

Finally, the Court’s decision lays out standards on trans people’s and people of diverse gender identities’ right to a name, stating that “States must respect, and guarantee to every person the possibility of registering, changing, rectifying, or adapting, their name and other essential components of their identity such as image and reference to sex or gender, without interference from public authorities or third parties.” This decision opens the doors for more States to guarantee meaningful rights to gender identity.

Race and Equality welcomes and celebrates this ruling as a historic victory. It not only names a State as responsible in the murder of a female trans sex worker and rights defender, it also includes reparations orders that, if implemented, will mark an important advance in the recognition and protection of LGBTI+ rights in Honduras and in the rest of the region.

Race and Equality applauds the Court’s decision, especially its reparations order requiring the implementation of a gender identity law and the collection of disaggregated data on violence against LGBTI+ persons including variables of “ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, health status, age, and class or immigration or economic status.” We hope that the ruling will become a reference as civil society demands justice in cases of violence against LGBTI+ people throughout the region. We are confident that this ruling will be a tool for civil society to identify patterns of violence and discrimination against the LGBTI+ population and seek justice and reform. For states, it has great potential to advance policies and laws that advance the rights of LGBTI+ people.

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