Neila – not her real name – has been forced to flee El Salvador after being stabbed 58 times in four knife attacks. The 26-year-old, who is now living in Mexico, has been left with visible scars on her neck and arms.
“This is all because my gender identity differs from what is traditional,” Neila told the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
Neila is just one of many the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) persons who are fleeing violence in El Salvador – and neighbouring the countries of Honduras and Guatemala – because of frequent attacks and harassment.
Attacks on the up
“In the past three years, we have seen a major increase in the number of people from the LGBTI community who are fleeing gender-based persecution in the Northern Triangle of Central America,” said Mark Manly, a UNHCR Representative in Mexico.
“Gays, lesbians, and particularly transgender women have become targets for the criminal networks that control many neighbourhoods. Others have suffered serious abuse and discrimination within their families or their communities,” he added.
During the last few years, there has been a spate of violent attacks against members of the LGBTI community in El Salvador.
In May, a transgender human rights activist, Francela Mendez, was murdered in her home. Francela was a dedicated activist who worked to promote transgender rights in El Salvador. She was a member of the Alejandría Collective – (Colectivo Alejandría), an organisation working to raise awareness of issues affecting LGBTI in the country. Francela’s friend Consuela Flores Martínez, who was with her at the time, was also murdered in the attack.
International women’s rights organization AWID reported that the El Salvadorian police, rather than investigate the murders in relation to Francela’s prominent human rights’ work, instead tried to connect the deaths to drug trafficking.
Francela’s murder has been condemned by the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights, the Regional Office for Central America of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Amnesty International.
In June, just a month after Francela was killed, Jasmine Barrera, another transgender activist and member of the Alejandría Collective, was murdered.
In the same month, a transgender man and leader of the Association of Transsexual Men of the Salvador, Alex Peña, who was on his way the country’s annual Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride parade, was arrested and brutally attacked by police officers following an argument with a bus driver.
Alex has also been a member of the San Salvador metropolitan police – Cuerpo de Agentes Metropolitanos de San Salvador (CAM) – for six years, and the mayor of San Salvador took to Twitter to denounce the vicious assault.
“I demand the immediate release of our agent of CAM @PNC_SV authorities, beaten and arrested because of their sexual orientation.” He tweeted.
Will a new law help?
Following these brutal attacks, a new law was passed in September, allowing for higher penalties to be imposed for hate crimes.
Although an important step, Amnesty USA, has, however, warned that El Salvador must do all it can to ensure that this new law is in fact implemented.
A study conducted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) states that during a fifteen month period, between 2013 and 2014, at least 594 lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans persons were killed in the Americas.
Another report conducted by the Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT) research project, found that between October 2014 and September 2015 a total of 271 trans persons had been reported murdered in the Americas.