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March 16, 2017

From El Salvador to Brazil, Members of the Trans Community Face Brutal Violence

A cellphone video showing the torture of a trans woman, who was later murdered, has caused international outrage and placed the spotlight on the dire plight of trans people in Brazil.

In the harrowing video, 42-year-old Dandara Dos Santos is mercilessly kicked and beaten by several men. At the end of the video, she is forced into a wheelbarrow. Dos Santos was later taken to an alley, where she endured further beatings and was ultimately shot to death. While the murder took place on February 15th, the video went viral earlier this month and led to the arrest of some of the suspects.

Brazilian trans woman Sayonara Nogueira, the coordinator of a website that tracks trans murders, pointed out that “the repercussions only came after the video was released. If not, it would have been another crime that would have been ignored.” Trans people in Brazil face brutal violence, discrimination, and a climate of societal transphobia, and crimes against them often go unpunished.

The Transgender Murder Monitoring project documented a staggering 900 murders of trans people in Brazil from January 2008-September 2016. Much of the region is extremely dangerous for trans people, with a total of 1768 murders in Central and South America during this time period. That number represents 78 percent of the cases the Transgender Murder Monitoring project documented around the world.  

Just days after Dos Santos’ murder, three trans women were murdered in El Salvador. Activists are demanding justice and pressing for a thorough investigation. Human Rights First traveled to El Salvador in June 2016 and published an issue brief that underscores the rampant bias-motivated violence and impunity LGBT people face.

Both Brazil and El Salvador boast important protections for members of the LGBT community. In 2015, El Salvador added enhanced hate crime penalties for murders and threats based on a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity, among other enumerated categories, to the penal code. Brazil legalized same-sex marriage in 2013 and is a leader in multilateral fora—such as the United Nations—on LGBT human rights issues.

Nonetheless, the reality on the ground for LGBT people, and trans people in particular, remains dangerous. As the U.S. government engages with its Latin American neighbors, it should highlight the human rights concerns facing LGBT people—and trans people in particular.

By continuing to invest in LGBT civil society organizations and bolstering training programs for law enforcement and justice sector personnel on combating hate crimes and impunity, the United States can make meaningful contributions to the movement for human rights and equality in the region.