Monday, November 14, 2011

Honduras announces LGBT hate crimes investigation unit after pressure from the United States

This week the Central American government of Honduras announced the launch of a special police unit dedicated to investigate crimes committed against members of the country's LGBT population ("Special unit will investigate crimes against 'gays'", La Tribuna, November 13, 2011).

The announcement follows years of local, regional and international criticism of the Honduran government's handling of a number of horrific crimes committed against the LGBT population in the past few years and, in particular, transgender women.

Of key interest in this announcement is not only that it's probably the first Latin American country to launch such an unit but also the direct and highly visible hand the United States government had in pressuring Honduras to investigate these crimes.

First came a statement from the office of U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens released on January 17th which read, in part, as follows:
The protection of Honduran law extends to all its citizens regardless of sexual orientation and the Lobo Administration has repeatedly expressed its commitment to defend the rights of all Honduran citizens.

It is in this regard that we call upon Honduran law enforcement authorities to vigorously investigate these crimes, bring to justice the perpetrators, and take all necessary steps to protect LGBT persons, who are among the most vulnerable to violence and abuse in Honduras.
Then came statements in late January from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama himself in which they alluded to the Honduran murders and offered assistance in the form of experts who could train local police officers on how to investigate the crimes ("United States to assist in the investigation of transgender murders in Honduras", Blabbeando, January 28, 2011).

In comments published yesterday by La Tribuna, Oscar Aguilar, the Spokesperson for the newly launched Sexual Diversity Unit of the National Investigation Chairmanship (DINIC), said that the unit would work closely with local LGBT-rights advocates and organizations.

"We know that many of these crimes are left unresolved due to a failure in determining the real causes why they were committed and that is the reason why the Sexual Diversity Unit was launched: To try to resolve them," he told La Tribuna.

In the interview Arce admits that officers have yet to be trained specifically on dealing with the LGBT community but highlights the unit's specific focus on investigating LGBT crimes.   The Unit opened it's first office in Tegucigalpa on Monday and are concentrating on local crimes but Arce says that he hopes to expand their reach and open other offices in other regions of the country down the line.

I am a little weary about Arce's admission that the Unit's officers have yet to receive specific training on how to investigate LGBT-related crimes despite the public offers for assistance from the United States.  It raises suspicion that the announcement might be more of a public relations effort to push back against international criticism rather than a full-faith effort to combat homophobic crime in Honduras.

It is still a remarkable example of how the United States can use pressure on Latin American governments to demand protections for their LGBT populations in a diplomatic but effective way. 

Photo: DINIC Spokesperson Oscar Aguilar via La Tribuna.


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