Out in the World: Ahead of summit, IACHR releases human rights report for the Americas

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday June 9, 2022
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President Joe Biden spoke at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles June 8. Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press
President Joe Biden spoke at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles June 8. Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Ahead of the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles this week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released its 2021 annual report on human rights in the Americas, examining ongoing challenges and progress.

The interactive report was released June 1 before leaders came together for the ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, June 6-10. The summit's theme was "Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future." President Joe Biden addressed the summit June 8.

IACHR cited gender identity and sexual orientation as one of the areas monitored among the 35 members of the Organization of American States that saw progress. This included laws and policies protecting LGBTQ rights from anti-discrimination, gender recognition, and marriage equality.

IACHR is an autonomous body mandated by the American Convention on Human Rights to promote respect for and defend human rights in the region as well as act as a consultative body for human rights to the OAS.

At the same time, the commission found rollbacks to LGBTQ rights and violence against queer people in some member states that remain a concern.

"The 2021 annual report continues to demonstrate the commitment the IACHR has developed over its 60-year history, day by day, to preserve the memory of victims of human rights violations," said IACHR Executive Secretary Tania Reneaum Panszi in a news release. "Along this path, we also explicitly recognize civil society organizations and defenders who fight to achieve a fairer and more egalitarian region."

The commission reported on LGBTQ rights in 25 countries, overall, and it targeted follow-up recommendations in separate reports for Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico.

There was no mention of LGBTQ rights in Nicaragua's report. There was also no information about LGBTQ Haitians or Trinidad and Tobago's queer community in the respective sections in the report.


Cuba, Guatemala, and Venezuela all had problems with LGBTQ rights to varying degrees.

The commission expressed concern about Cuba limiting the right to assemble, create associations, freedom of expression and opinion, harassment, arbitrary arrest, criminalization charges, and persecution among some of the issues. Cubans affected by the country's new political climate include LGBTQ activists, human rights defenders, social and political leaders, independent journalists, and other vulnerable groups.

The commission pointed to complaints about the censorship of a video by a transgender activist Kiriam Gutiérrez on state television and complaints it received about the summons and interrogation of gay activist Raúl Soublett López for his work as an LGBTQ activist.

The commission cited Guatemala's violence and structural discrimination against the country's LGBTQ community, including introducing legislation in the country's Congress that would legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people, and the lack of structure to prevent and prosecute hate crimes against queer people.

Venezuela outright promoted discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people, according to the report.

The commission criticized Cuba, Guatemala, and Venezuela for their lack of information-gathering about their LGBTQ communities, in particular data about hate crimes, and implementing legal protections.

The report cited violent deaths (including assassinations), attacks, and hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people seen in Ecuador (at least eight), Honduras (at least 17), Mexico (68), and Venezuela (16). In Colombia, 35 transgender women were killed in 2021.

Colombian LGBTQ human rights defender Cristina Cantillo, a transgender woman, was one of the people killed, according to the report. Colombian civil society organizations reported "at least 20 trans women had been murdered in the country" by August 2021.

The commission also expressed awareness of LGBTQ organizations' complaints alleging Colombian "state information systems underreport acts of violence against LGBTI persons, making the phenomenon invisible," stated the report, which used the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals.

The commission also found high incidents of violence against LGBTQ people, mostly transgender women, in Colombia, Honduras, and Paraguay.

Violence remains high for LGBTQ people in Honduras, with "an impunity rate of 90% in cases of lethal violence against LGBTI persons," according to the report. This has led to the migration of LGBTQ people to other countries seeking protection.

Paraguay also experienced at least 80 cases of violence against transgender persons in 2021, among other acts of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, the report stated.

Colombia experienced high rates of violence too. The country's Office of the Ombudsperson reported 72 cases of violence mostly against transgender women between January and May 2021.

Colombia also faced other problems, including police not appropriately investigating cases of violence against LGBTQ people and using gender-based violence tactics against queer people, according to IACHR's special rapporteur for LGBTQ rights.

The commission also became aware of Colombia's detention and prison facilities and harmful actions taken by penitentiary staff and police inside the jails that deprived LGBTQ detainees of their rights, such as overcrowding, violence, lack of food, and "deficient medical care," the report noted.

The report also described Colombia's restrictions against civil society organizations' access to prisons "in the context of the pandemic."

Colombia's Office of the Ombudsperson indicated to the commission that in 2021 there were 113 acts of gender-based violence reported. Of those cases, 112 were allegedly perpetrated by police officers, 13 of which were against LGBTQ people.

The commission applauded the Constitutional Court of Colombia's decision reminding prison authorities of their obligations to protect LGBTQ inmates from threats to queer and transgender inmates' "life or dignity."


The report also highlighted the progress made toward LGBTQ rights in the Americas.

The commission acknowledged the United States' new direction under the Biden administration, starting with an executive order on January 20, 2021, the day Biden took office, directing government agencies to act to prevent and combat discrimination against LGBTQ people and to update regulations and policies. It also noted the House of Representatives' passage of the Equality Act. If passed by the Senate, which is unlikely, the act would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual characteristics, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Chile and Mexico saw a great deal of progress on marriage equality in 2021, according to the report. Chile legalized same-sex marriage and Mexico saw seven more states — Baja California, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Sinaloa, Sonora, Yucatán and Zacatecas — legally recognize same-sex marriage.

In addition to recognizing marriage equality, the commission recognized Mexico for taking great strides in legally recognizing gender identity (Baja California Sur, Puebla, the state of México, and Morelos, and gender identity of trans children in Oaxaca) and banning conversion therapy on minors (Baja California Sur, Colima, Tlaxcala, Yucatán, and Zacatecas).

Mexico City even presented an initiative guaranteeing the incorporation of transgender workers into the city's public sector.

Some countries like Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Peru created policies protecting LGBTQ people.

Colombia's Office of the Attorney General of the Nation continued to prioritize hate crime cases against LGBTQ people, especially in cities — Cali, Medellín, Bogotá, Barranquilla, and others — with the "highest concentration of cases."

Colombia also implemented LGBTQ cultural sensitivity training for prosecutorial staff at the country's prosecutor's office "to guarantee criminal investigations are carried out from a perspective of diversity." The Third Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice also recognized transgender individuals' preferred genders in the country's penal code.

The report also highlighted the Constitutional Chamber order to the General Directorate of Migration and Aliens to issue passports that recognized Colombian transgender people.

Honduras created Local Torture Prevention Boards to protect women and LGBTQ persons deprived of liberty. These are coordinated by the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, according to the report.

The Dominican Republic's Human Rights Department of the Public Prosecution Service developed guidelines and policies for prosecutors to follow regarding LGBTQ cases.

The Dominican Republic also drafted its first non-discrimination criminal code. If passed, it would criminalize discrimination against sexual orientation. The commission noted that the bill did not include gender identity.

The commission applauded Ecuador for creating an undersecretariat for diversity position. The secretariat's goal is to "eradicate all forms of violence and discrimination and help develop comprehensive policies on behalf of LGBTI persons" in the South American country.

Canada also banned conversion therapy for minors, which the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. The country took proactive steps to prevent hate crimes from happening to LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities attending public gatherings, allowing them to celebrate their culture or faith safely.

The commission acknowledged El Salvador's study about LGBTQ elders' lives. The study was conducted around the same time El Salvadorian lawmakers were crafting the Special Law for Protection of the Rights of Older Adult Persons that replaced the Law for Comprehensive Care for Older Adult Persons. However, the commission expressed concern about the study's conclusions that indicated various situations "where there is a lack of protection for the human rights of older LGBT persons," including, but not limited to, legal protections and discrimination, accessing health care services, and education.

Peru's National Office of Electoral Processes paved the way to ensure transgender Peruvian voters can cast their ballots, the report stated.

Uruguay wants transgender and nonbinary people to be officially counted in its census. The country's Ministry of Social Development created self-identification forms for nonbinary and gender-fluid people for the 2023 census. The information gathered will form the country's public policy, according to the report.

Overall, the commission recommended the countries adopt or modify existing laws criminalizing LGBTQ people, prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people, institute legal recognition of same-sex relationships and gender identity and other protections, and allocate sufficient resources to organizations working with LGBTQ clients. It recommended scrapping any proposed anti-LGBTQ bills.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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