By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA (AlertNet) - Hundreds of transgender people are killed every year in Latin America, and many live in constant fear of being attacked, often at the hands of state security forces, said a report by rights groups.
The report, compiled by the Latin American and Caribbean Transgender Network (REDLACTRANS) and the UK-based International HIV/ AIDS Alliance, includes interviews conducted last year with 55 transgender women human rights defenders in eight Latin American countries and 22 police and judicial officials from Honduras and Guatemala.
It concluded that transgender people and activists across Latin America are at “extreme risk of being subjected to human rights violations, a risk that is exponentially increased in the context of sex work.”
The pervasive discrimination transgender people face in Latin America and the Caribbean means crimes and rights violations against them go largely unpunished, the report said.
Between 2008 and 2011, 826 transgender people were killed in Latin America, with Brazil home to more than half of those murders, according to the report.
In Colombia, 60 transgender women were murdered between 2005 and 2012 without a single person having been brought to justice. In the same period, 35 transgender people were murdered in Guatemala, with only one person brought to justice, the report said.
State security forces are allegedly often to blame for attacks against transgender people.
“Around 80 percent of the transgender activists interviewed reported having been subjected to violence or threats to their physical integrity allegedly emanating from state actors,” the report said.
Arbitrary arrest by state security forces across the region was also a common rights violation transgender people faced, the report said.
In Guatemala and Honduras, for example, about 60 percent of transgender human rights defenders interviewed had been subjected to arbitrary detention at some point, the report said.
“Arbitrary detentions are habitually used as an excuse to subject sex workers to extortion, asking them for money or sexual favours in exchange for their freedom,” one transgender leader from Chile was quoted as saying in the report. The report does not include names because of security reasons.
The report found that society starts to exclude transgender women when they are kicked out of their homes by their parents at a young age. They are then shunned by schools and healthcare providers.
“This lack of education and access to job opportunities pushes the vast majority of transgender women in Latin America into sex work, even as teenagers,” the report said.
One transgender activist from San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second city, was quoted in the report as saying:
“It’s as if the night is another country… it’s different at night, you’re exposed when you are out doing sex work in the street, it’s as if you don’t exist, anything can happen. If we didn’t have to go out on the street at night, if we had education and job opportunities, it would be another story.”
NO ACCESS TO HIV TREATMENT
As many transgender women rely on sex work to make a living, they are at greater risk of contracting the HIV virus. Transgender women have the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Latin America, averaging at 35 percent, compared with the general adult population, which stands at about one percent, the report said.
However, widespread discrimination prevents them from getting effective HIV prevention and treatment.
"Transgender people represent a significant proportion of new HIV infections in Latin America and the Caribbean, due in part to the social exclusion that they face and the context of violence and discrimination that surrounds them,” Anamaria Bejar, head of the Latin America and Caribbean team at the International HIV/ AIDS Alliance, said in a statement.
Marginalising transgender people often dissuades them from seeking health services, which undermine HIV prevention efforts.
With the exception of Argentina, the gender identity of transgender people is not recognised by law in Latin American countries, which means they tend to become invisible and public healthcare institutions do not cater for their specific needs.
“It is virtually impossible to provide an effective HIV response focused on this at-risk group unless governments respect, protect and fulfil their obligations towards their transgender communities and, in doing so, put an end to senseless killings and dehumanising brutality," Bejar said.