August 17, 2020 at 1:08 pm EDT | by Ernesto Valle
Transgender Salvadoran woman who fled to Guatemala murdered
A monument to migrants in Salcajá, Guatemala, on March 9, 2019. Jazmín, a transgender woman who sought refuge in Guatemala, was murdered on Aug. 1, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: The Washington Blade published a Spanish version of this story on Saturday.

A 29-year-old transgender woman from El Salvador who fled to Guatemala was murdered on Aug. 1.

The woman, who the Blade will call Jazmín in order to protect her family’s security, had sought refugee status because of violence and persecution from gangs that she suffered because of her gender identity. The Guatemalan Migration Institute had not responded to Jazmín’s request before her death.

She was found with several wounds on her body and her face was disfigured.

Bianca Rodríguez, director of COMCAVIS Trans, a trans advocacy group in El Salvador, in a video posted to social media highlighted the urgent need to protect LGBTQ people in Central America’s Northern Triangle that includes Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

“LGBTI people in the region are often targeted for harassment and violence by gangs,” said Rodríguez. “Many of them are eventually forced to cross an international border in search of protection.”

“I call upon governments to do what they can to protect LGBTI people, especially those who feel they have no other choice but to flee their countries to safeguard their right to life,” she concluded in her press release.

Several Guatemalan human rights organizations expressed their outrage over Jazmín’s murder.

“This murder underscores how national justice mechanisms in Central America are not responding to the need to preserve the life of trans people in the region,” said Organización Trans Reina de la Noche, a Guatemalan trans advocacy group, in a press release.

The Guatemalan Migration Institute in a press release said it is saddened by Jazmín’s death and condemns it.

The press release confirmed Jazmín applied for refugee status in Guatemala. The Guatemalan Migration Institute also said it will cooperate with authorities who are investigating her murder.

“We are saddened by Jazmín’s death, given the situation in which the government of Guatemala had yet recognized the status of her request after two years,” Carlos Valdés of Lambda Guatemala, a Guatemalan LGBTQ advocacy group, told the Blade. “We hope and demand that the appropriate authorities complete their investigation and those responsible (for Jazmín’s death) don’t go unpunished as they did in similar deaths of other LGBTI community members.”

“The Guatemalan state has the constitutional mandate to protect people’s lives, and unfortunately it is doing the opposite,” added Valdés, who cited Initiative 5272, a measure conservative groups promoted in 2017 that he said sought to limit LGBTQ people’s rights.

Lambda Guatemala statistics indicate there were 20 reported hate crimes against LGBTQ Guatemalans in 2019. The group said there have been 11 anti-LGBTQ attacks so far in 2020.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in a statement to the Blade condemned Jazmín’s murder.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones of Jazmín, who sought to rebuild her life in Guatemala after she felt forced to flee El Salvador due to violence and persecution,” said Giovanni Bassu, UNHCR’s regional representative for Central America and Cuba. “We reiterate the need to thoroughly investigate the case and take measures to prevent future crimes against LGBTI people. In addition, we also call upon governments to guarantee that LGBTI people who are forced to flee have unrestricted access to asylum procedures.

Bassu said UNHCR has sought to develop a comprehensive approach towards members of the LGBTQ community who have been forcibly displaced from their countries of origin and destination.

“We have worked with partners in all of the countries of northern Central America to development direct interventions in communities and to bolster leadership among LGBTI people, and also identify ways that allow for the coordination of protective actions,” he told the Blade. “The strengthening of leadership includes training components that focus on issues related to forced displacement and the exercise of human rights in order to build community protection mechanisms that allow for the identification of needs and a coordinated response to at-risk cases.”

The lack of rights and violence against the LGBTQ community and especially against trans women has increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This entire situation demonstrates the risks and the need for protection are constant and are going to increase for the LGBTI community,” said Bassu. “It is urgent that States create mechanisms that ensure protection and access to justice.”

Ernesto Valle is a journalist and activist in San Salvador, El Salvador, who covers LGBT issues.

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