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November 18, 2016

LGBT Program in El Salvador Seeks to Advance the Human Rights of Community Members

Through the Program to Support the LGBT Community in El Salvador, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is working to increase the country’s justice sector capacity to protect the Salvadoran lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from violence and discrimination, and boost civil society’s capacity to protect LGBT rights. Supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the program employs a multi-disciplinary approach that brings together criminal justice and public health institutions, as well as civil society organizations (CSOs) to advance the human rights of Salvadorans. 

In October, ABA ROLI conducted a practical training exercise on performing an autopsy for a victim of a hate crime.

In addition to working with advocacy groups, ABA ROLI conducts trainings for justice sector and health care workers to educate them about the LGBT community and improve their ability to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. Collaborating with justice sector institutions in El Salvador is challenging because many justice sector operators are not sensitive to the issues that LGBT community members face when victimized or accused of committing a crime. Law enforcement often only conducts adequate investigations of hate crimes when a CSO or the Procuraduria para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, (the Ombudsman for the Defense of Human Rights) pressures them to do so. When the accused is a member of the LGBT community, the judicial system functions under a principal of “guilty until proven innocent”. Additionally, the lack of training for police officers, prosecutors, experts and medical personnel from public health service in investigating hate crimes negatively affects the possibility of establishing the necessary elements for a successful prosecution. As a result, a large percentage of cases involving LGBT individuals remain unsolved and go unpunished.

To support the justice sector in overcoming these challenges, ABA ROLI is conducting 10 training courses on specialized investigation of hate crimes. The trainings focus on hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, identity or gender expression, with an emphasis on criminal investigation, collection of forensic evidence and presenting evidence at trial. The LGBT CSOs with which ABA ROLI collaborates, are optimistic about the results of these courses. The courses have been developed in consultation, and with support of, the heads of the relevant government institutions, to ensure the availability of justice sector operators to take part in the courses. 

These training courses focus on promoting sensitivity among justice sector operators toward the particular concerns of the LGBT community, thus increasing their motivation to combat violence against the LGBT community. During the conception of these courses, specialized topics were developed, such as gender-based violence; discrimination and violence based on homophobic behaviors; development of national and international hate crime legislation; initial approaches of the victim/witness of violence/homophobic discrimination; protection and processing hate crime scenes; and scientific expertise related to the determination of criminal responsibility, among others.  

The program has conducted three such trainings thus far, and has trained a total of 91 people (33 prosecutors, 30 criminalists from the Technical and Scientific Police Division and 28 criminalists from the Legal Medicine Institute). The participants have been very receptive to the courses and shared positive comments through an exit survey including: “The training was very relevant and pertinent”; “It was very interesting because we learned about legal reforms on these issues and learned to deal with these cases”; “We, as justice sector operators, need this type of training to be given more frequently”; and “These topics are very important and also innovative in our work areas.”

By promoting awareness about hate crimes and improving the knowledge and skills of the Salvadoran justice sector to combat violence against the LGBT community in El Salvador, ABA ROLI hopes to improve the human rights situation that members of that community currently face. Ensuring that justice sector operators have the skills and knowledge they need to investigate and prosecute hate crimes will help ensure perpetrators of hate crimes do not go unpunished and that the LGBT population is protected. The program will continue to conduct these trainings, as well as work with LGBT CSOs to improve the advocacy of LGBT rights, and disseminate information about the rights of the LGBT population in El Salvador.

To learn more about our work in El Salvador, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected]