Clinic News

New Report Details Abuse and Discrimination Against LGBT Community in El Salvador (07/05/12)

A cover of the LGBT Report on Sexual Diversity in El Salvador

BERKELEY, CA. – July 5, 2012 – A police officer in El Salvador raped a young woman. When the victim, a transgender woman named Karla, went to report the crime, the police told her that such an incident was “impossible,” and no investigation was conducted.

Karla’s story of abuse and marginalization is not unique among El Salvador’s LGBT community, and it provides a window into the social and legal standing of LGBT individuals in the Central American nation.

Karla’s voice is one among many LGBT individuals interviewed for a new report, “Sexual Diversity in El Salvador: A Report on the Human Rights Situation of the LGBT Community.” The report, by the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, provides an in-depth look at the abuse and discrimination perpetrated against LGBT individuals and the precarious legal protections they are currently afforded. IHRLC Clinical Instructor Allison Davenport directed the research project, which was conducted over the course of a year, including an IHRLC fact-finding mission to El Salvador in February 2011.

Salvadoran society is still emerging from the effects of a bloody civil war that ended in 1992 and left more than 75,000 dead. It’s also struggling with epidemic levels of crime and rampant impunity. The LGBT community faces not only these challenges, but also a strong social stigma and increased vulnerability to violence and discrimination. “While El Salvador is still a country in transition,” noted Davenport, “the recognition and protection of LGBT rights is critical to strengthening the overall social and democratic fabric of the country.” The report identifies attacks by law enforcement as well as private individuals, lack of equal access to health care, and barriers to education and employment as areas of urgent concern.

As Karla’s story highlights, a lack of investigation and accountability for abuses reinforces the LGBT community’s vulnerability. During 2009 alone, the report recounts, 23 LGBT individuals were murdered, their bodies often bearing signs of torture. To date, no one has been prosecuted for any of these crimes. Among the report’s recommendations is a call for the police and the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office to open an investigation of these and other acts of violence against LGBT individuals.

The government has made some advances to recognize and respect LGBT rights. Presidential Decree 56, issued in 2010, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by government employees. “While Decree 56 is a major step forward, unfortunately its impact has been limited because it hasn’t been widely disseminated among public employees and they haven’t been trained to ensure its implementation. Significant gaps in the law and in enforcement remain,” said Davenport. The report recommends measures to stem widespread discrimination, violence, and harassment; strengthen and aggressively implement legal protections; and increase accountability for abuses.

The report describes unequal treatment by public health care providers and law enforcement, but also reveals widespread and unchecked discrimination against LGBT individuals in the private sector. LGBT individuals reported to IHRLC researchers that they were harassed at work, where they were called names, given undesirable tasks, and in some cases fired. “Without clear legal protections, most abuses in the private sector go unaccounted for and therefore continue unabated,” said Davenport. The report recommends passage of anti-discrimination legislation and a Constitutional amendment to ensure that LGBT Salvadorans enjoy the same legal protections as other groups in the country.

The report emphasizes the particularly acute forms of discrimination that transgender individuals face. Educational institutions were found to either reject outright transgender applicants due to their gender identity, or require them to alter their appearance and conform to the information contained in their national identity document (“DUI”). “This type of discrimination against the transgender community is rampant and results in their systemic marginalization,” commented Davenport. “The solution,” she added, “lies in legislation recognizing the right to identity that provides a mechanism by which Salvadorans can legally change their name and gender, allowing them to freely pursue education and employment opportunities.”

In keeping with IHRLC’s mandate, “Sexual Diversity in El Salvador: A Report on the Human Rights Situation of the LGBT Community” provides advocates, government officials, and affected communities with a comprehensive analysis of the current situation and the applicability of relevant domestic, regional and international laws.

To download a copy of the report, click here for a pdf in English or in Spanish.

For more information, please contact: Allison Davenport, Clinical Instructor, International Human Rights Law Clinic, 510-642-4139,