Bogotá, june 25, 2020 – The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) addresses the honorable IACHR to express its deep concerned regarding recent incidents of violence and discrimination against LGBT people across Colombia. These incidents raise an alarm about rising human rights violations against LGBT Colombians during the COVID-19 pandemic. LGBT Colombians are suffering not only disproportionate negative impacts of the deadly disease, but also high levels of violence because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Sharp increase in violence and killings
In Colombia’s Caribbean coastal region, 15 homicides against LGBT people have already been recorded in 2020, the highest rate ever recorded by Caribe Afirmativo, a local LGBT rights organization and partner of Race & Equality. Ariadna Barrios Ojeda, a trans woman living in the city of Santa Marta (Magdalena department), was discovered dead in her home on June 13th with multiple stab wounds. The next day, Brandy Carolina, a trans woman in Barranquilla (Atlántico department), was also found dead with stab wounds. The neighborhood where Brandy lived had already seen the murder of Paloma, a trans woman, and Lidia Gamero, a lesbian woman, on April 16th and March 26th of this year, respectively., 
LGBT Colombians have also suffered many attempted murders, such as an attack on March 24th in which two sex workers in Bogotá were stabbed in an attempt to mutilate their breasts and buttocks and chased by their attackers through the streets. The two women were denied assistance by the police and were later unable to obtain any public health services or police protection. On April 18th, also in Bogotá, a trans woman named Daian Nikol Villalobos was attacked with a sharp weapon as she shopped for groceries. This attack took place while Bogotá was under an order of pico y género, a quarantine measure that allowed women and men to leave the house on alternating days.
Increased police abuse
Many LGBT Colombians also suffer violence at the hands of the police. On June 22nd, police officers chased and tasered a trans woman living on the street in Tunja (Boyacá department). On June 20th, members of the National Police attacked a group of trans sex workers in Bogotá, insulting them verbally and brandishing their guns. These episodes evidence the historic discrimination and violence perpetrated by the National Police, who have also been extorting sex workers, physically and psychologically abusing those who refused to pay during the pandemic. On May 2nd, with pico y género still underway, National Police officers were also denounced for evicting a Black trans sex worker from her home; the National Police did not offer any justification for the act.
Institutional violence and an insufficient state response
Although many Colombian governmental institutions have denounced anti-LGBT violence and announced initiatives to support the LGBT population, the national response to COVID-19 has revealed ongoing exclusion of LGBT Colombians. On May 29th, the Trans Community Network reported that Alejandra, a trans sex worker who had called for an ambulance due to symptoms of COVID-19, was refused ambulance service when the crew learned that she was HIV-positive and died shortly thereafter. To this date, no investigation or review of the incident has been announced.
The neglect of LGBT Colombians is also clear in the case of Estefany, known as “Chispita,” a trans woman who lived on the street in Cartagena and was HIV-positive. A disturbing video was recorded on June 13th showing Estefany lying on the ground and calling for help as she suffered a health crisis. After four hours without help and despite several calls from neighbors to the authorities, Estefany was finally brought to a hospital, but died shortly after arriving.
Colombia has also neglected people’s needs and human rights within jails and prisons. On June 8th, Daniel Osorno Márquez, a 22-year-old gay man known as “Pupileto,” was found dead in an isolated cell in Bosque detention center in Barranquilla. In announcing his death, authorities stated that Daniel had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Daniel’s family and lawyer announced that they had never been informed of this diagnosis. Daniel had repeatedly reported violence, sexual abuse, and discrimination during his incarceration.
These cases illustrate the urgent need for effective measures by the Colombian government to protect the LGBT community. Race & Equality calls on the State of Colombia to:
- Provide additional support for civil society’s and local authorities’ human rights monitoring activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Take the necessary actions to accelerate the investigations of violent crimes against LGBT people, particularly trans women, and accelerate the legal processing of these cases to combat impunity.
- Ensure that public health policies, particularly emergency medicine policies, do not stigmatize, criminalize or discriminate against LGBT people, especially trans people, LGBT sex workers and people with HIV.
- Strengthen measures to educate and train members of the National Police and INPEC (the national penitentiary system) on human rights, particularly LGBT rights, and ensure that all human rights complaints against these bodies are thoroughly investigated.
- Involve affected communities, including the LGBT population, in the design and implementation of COVID-19 response measures in order to collect necessary information, ensure buy-in, avoid unintentional harms and guarantee effectiveness.
- Implement public policies and COVID-19 response measures that respect diversity, acknowledge LGBT people’s self-identification and incorporate intersectional analysis. We particularly urge local authorities to explore alternatives to policies such as pico y género that separate people by gender in order to avoid the risks generated for LGBT people’s rights.
Race and Equality urgently calls on the IACHR to strengthen its monitoring mechanisms on the general situation of human rights of the LGBT population in Colombia in the context of the pandemic and asks it to reiterate to the State its obligation to respect human rights, even in emergency situations, recalling that States have an obligation guarantee the rights to life, integrity and identity of its population, especially those in the highest state of vulnerability which is intensified in emergency contexts such as the one we are experiencing.