Although El Salvador constitutionally recognizes the right to non-discrimination by creating legal provisions that safeguard the right to be respected regardless of gender identity or expression and by incorporating hate crimes as an aggravating factor in homicide cases in the criminal procedure code, violence related to gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation continues to be prevalent.
Criminal justice sector institutions and justice sector operators have failed to provide concrete answers and results in cases where victims are part of the community. This is partly due to the lack of capacity within the justice sector on how to adequately investigate cases, especially hate crime cases, as well as the lack of awareness and interest in addressing issues that impact the LGBTI community.
To address some of these issues and promote human rights, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has implemented the Program to Promote the Rights of El Salvador’s LGBT Community, supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, since 2015. As part of the program, ABA ROLI has trained 142 justice sector operators on investigation techniques for criminal cases committed against the LGBTI community. These trainings promote awareness among justice sector operators regarding the community’s particular concerns, and empowers operators to combat violence against the LGBTI community through the investigation and adjudication of hate crimes.
According to Ana Celia Hernandez, a gender expert and trainer for the program, ABA ROLI is having a positive impact on criminal justice institutions — evidenced by the change in attitude of prosecutors, judges, investigators and experts who participated in these courses. Justice sector operators have not only become more aware of the issues and how to respond to these crimes, they also recognize the fundamental human rights of LGBTI community members.
In addition to the trainings, the program also works with civil society organizations to help them defend their rights and pressure justice sector institutions to ensure cases of violence against the community are investigated and prosecuted.
Though work still needs to be done to ensure access to justice and equal treatment of the LGBTI community, ABA ROLI has helped jump-start improvements in recent months with the launch of a new Public Prosecutor’s Office process that assigns dedicated specialized prosecutors to cases involving LGBTI victims. Some of these prosecutors, who participated in ABA ROLI trainings, have already started in their new roles and have been assigned to the investigation of three recent murders of transgender women in February 2017. This is the first time the Public Prosecutor’s Office is taking timely initial steps to assign a specialized prosecutor to a case involving an LGBTI victim, making violence against people because of their identity, gender expression and sexual orientation more visible, as well as the need for an improved right to justice and non-discrimination.
To learn more about our work in El Salvador, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org.