El Salvador
Urgent Interventions

Extortion and death threats against LGBTI defender Karla Stephanie Avelar

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According to the information received, on April 28, 2017, two days after she was nominated as a finalist for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, three men turned up at Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar's home and, assuming she had already be granted the award, demanded 50% of the amount granted. The individuals gave her three days to pay this amount and informed her that she should leave her home if she was not going to give them the money, since her life would be at risk. In this context, Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar was forced to leave her home and seek refuge somewhere else. The death threats only compound the many previous incidents against Ms Karla Avelar, including three attempted murders (see background information), which show the severe discrimination against the LGBTI community in El Salvador. Furthermore, these events took place in a context of alarming violence levels, with at least 17 murders of LGBTI individuals between January and March, as reported by the IACHR[4]. The Observatory strongly condemns the death threats and repeated attacks against the life of Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar and sows its concern regarding the fact that these attacks seem to be linked to her legitimate work for the defence of human rights. Therefore, the Observatory urges the Salvadoran authorities to take action to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of all LGBTI human rights defenders, as well as to take firm action towards the end of any kind of discrimination against this community. Background information: After having suffered serious abuse by members of her family and being banned from her home when she was a child, Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar had to make a living as a sex worker. This is why she had to serve a five-year sentence (1997-2001) during which she was raped and abused, with the involvement and complicity of the prison staff, which led to serious physical and psychological health issues, including HIV, that were aggravated by the lack of treatment. Moreover, Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar has survived three attempted murders. The first attempted murder took place in 1992, when she was a teenager, in the context of a series of murders of transgender women. She survived thanks to her success in disarming the attacker, who, nevertheless, ended up drawing another firearm and shooting her nine times. She was rescued by a security guard who found her injured in the street. The second attempted murder was carried out in 2008 by members of the gang Mara Salvatrucha, who demanded 25 weekly dollars from her and her fellow sex workers to ensure their protection. When Ms Avelar refused, she was shot five times, but once again she survived. Finally, in 2012 she was attacked again with two knives. Actions requested: Please write to the authorities in El Salvador, urging them to: i. Immediately take all the appropriate measures to ensure the safety and the physical integrity of Ms. Karla Stephanie Avelar, as well as of all human rights defenders in El Salvador, and particularly of LGBTI human rights defenders; ii. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the actions against Ms. Karla Stephanie Avelar, in order to identify those responsible and apply them the criminal and/or administrative sanctions provided by the law; iii. Adopt a communication policy that includes the highest levels of the Salvadoran executive, as well as measures to educate and raise awareness among the citizens, in order to promote the legitimisation of the LGBTI community and put an end to its stigmatisation, as well as to legitimise the work carried out by LGBTI rights defenders; iv. Comply with all the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998; v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments signed and ratified by El Salvador.Addresses:Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of El Salvador in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in El Salvador. ***Geneva-Paris, May 10, 2017 Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society. [1] Ms Avelar is also the Vice-President of Rediversa, a coalition of LGTBI organisations in Central America, a member of the Regional Council of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGA-LAC), and a civil society consultant for the UN Women consultative group.[2] COMCAVIS TRANS works on political and public advocacy at a national and international level, promoting and defending the human rights of Trans and LGBTI individuals (including individuals deprived of liberty, suffering from HIV, and migrants), and provides assistance and training services.[3] Moreover, the organisation has lodged two complaints against the State of El Salvador before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), on October 29, 2013 and on March 21, 2017, based on the impunity, the high rate of hate crimes, and the noncompliance with the mandate of the current Procurator for the Protection of Human Rights and of the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic. In 2015 it presented, alongside other Human Rights organisations, a shadow report to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).[4] See Press Release of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), IACHR Condemns Alarming Numbers of LGBT Killings in the Region So Far this Year, available here: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2017/037.asp.
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