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Hate crimes, killings rising, say Honduras activists

By Rafael Romo, CNN
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Murders spark fear of hate crimes
  • Honduras
  • LGBT Issues

(CNN) -- Hate crimes from beatings to murders are rising in Honduras but investigations and prosecutions are rare with few victims receiving help, according to the gay community.

Yndira Mendoza, director of the "Catrachas Network," an umbrella organization of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender groups, says abuse based on sexual orientation in the Central American country is widespread.

"Our fellow transsexuals are murdered on the street with a gunshot to the head. Our fellow gay people are being brutally killed inside their homes. But the last five murders that have happened here in Tegucigalpa have been extreme hate crimes that we have seen in recent times. Victims have been raped, stabbed, shot at, and even strangled," said Mendoza.

At an emergency meeting last week of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, members of this community shared testimonies of horror.

They say hate crimes in the Central American country have greatly increased in recent months.

According to the Catrachas Network, 50 members of their community have been murdered since 2004, including 21 last year and five so far in 2011.

Walter Trochez, a 25-year-old gay activist in Tegucigalpa, is among the most recent victims. He was shot in the chest in December by a drive-by gunman in downtown Tegucigalpa.

According to Amnesty International, he had escaped a kidnapping attempt on December 4 after suffering several hours of beatings and threats by masked men.

Other activists say that members of the LGBT community constantly suffer from discrimination that forces them to live marginalized lives and get involved in the risky sex business.

Claudia Spellman, a transsexual and director of the Pink Color Association, says that many in her community have no other option. She calls sexual work "a social imposition" on the transsexual community.

"There are no employment opportunities for us here in Honduras. We have no access to education, work, or housing because of our appearance and condition," Spellman says.

Transsexual activists say they don't have any protection and sometimes police are part of the problem.

A transsexual who identified herself only as "Perla," told CNN that police officers participate in beatings. "They have beaten us a lot. If we ask them "why are you beating us?" they say that we don't have any rights. And then they beat us, they take away our identification documents, and then they want to take us to jail saying that we don't have papers," say Perla.

But Leonel Sauceda, a spokesman with the Honduran Department of Public Safety, said action was already being taken to correct the situation.

"We would like to make it clear that our criminal investigations division has opened a wide-ranging investigation with the objective of finding those responsible for these acts so that they can be detained and prosecuted," says Sauceda.

The government of President Porfirio Lobo created the Justice and Human Rights Ministry last November. Part of its mission is investigating hate crimes against gays.

Justice and Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda said: "These kinds of acts are regrettable for many reasons and we need to remind ourselves that human rights are universal."

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says it's "deeply concerned" about the murders of members of the transgender community in Honduras.

In a recent report, the commission says serious threats, acts of violence and murders against members of these communities have greatly increased in the last two years.

The commission says it was calling on the Honduran government "to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible and redress promptly and diligently the violations."

Journalist Merlin Delcid in Honduras contributed to this report.