November 13, 2020 at 6:15 am PST | by Michael K. Lavers
Inter-American court hears case of murdered trans Honduran woman
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — The Inter-American Court of Human Rights this week held a hearing in the case of a transgender woman who was murdered in Honduras during a 2009 coup.

Vicky Hernández was killed in the city of San Pedro Sula on June 28, 2009.

Hernández was the former director of Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, a San Pedro Sula-based trans advocacy group, and a sex worker. Her murder took place on the same day then-President Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power.

Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist network based in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, in 2012 filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Hernández’s family. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights joined the case in 2015.

The commission on Dec. 7, 2018, published a ruling in favor of Hernández’s family that, among other things, recommended the Honduran government provide them with access to physical and mental health care and continue the criminal investigation into Hernández’s murder “in a diligent and effective matter within a reasonable time in order to completely clarify the events, identify all those who bear possible responsibility and impose the appropriate penalties for the human rights violations declared in this report.” The ruling also called for legal protections for trans Hondurans.

The commission in 2019 referred the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights after the Honduran government did not respond to the recommendations.

The Organization of American States created the Costa Rica-based court in 1979 in order to enforce provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. Honduras is among the countries that currently recognize it.

Hernández’s murder was ‘extrajudicial execution’

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Program Officer Kacey Mordecai on Wednesday described Hernández’s murder to the Los Angeles Blade as an “extrajudicial execution” and noted Honduran authorities have not thoroughly investigated it. Mordecai also said authorities in the Central American country interviewed Hernández’s mother for the first time two years after her daughter’s death.

“What we’re arguing is she was a victim of an extrajudicial execution,” Mordecai told the Blade.

“There was also a curfew in force that night, so the only people that were on the street were military and police officers,” she added, referring to the coup. “So Vicky was found shot in the head the next morning, completely in public, on the street and 11 years later no one has made any headway in her case.”

Mordecai confirmed reports the Blade received from activists in Honduras who said a Cattrachas staffer was threatened after the first part of the hearing ended on Wednesday.

“Cattrachas, you have already launched your pronouncement,” said the person who threatened the Cattrachas staffer, according to Mordecai. “Are you now going to respect my religion? Are you going to respect my church? Or is it that Jesus was a woman?”

A press release the court issued on Thursday notes the person who threatened the Cattrachas staffer “lobbed insults” that “were related to the activity that she was doing in defense of the rights of transgender people.” The court also unanimously ordered the Honduran government to “immediately adopt all necessary measures” to protect Hernández’s family and Cattrachas staffers.

Honduran government representatives who participated in the hearing confirmed a member of the Honduran National Police contacted Hernández’s mother on Wednesday. The court’s protection order notes they indicated the Honduran National Police representative did not speak to Hernández’s mother “in a threatening manner.”

A Honduran National Police station in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on March 11, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Violence and discrimination based on gender identity remains widespread in Honduras.

A press release that Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights issued on Monday notes at least 117 trans women have been killed in Honduras since the 2009 coup.

Bessy Ferrera, the sister of Rihanna Ferrera, a former Honduran congressional candidate who is the director of Asociación de Derechos Humanos Cozumel, a trans advocacy group, was murdered on July 8, 2019. Ferrera told the Blade in January during an interview in Tegucigalpa that Cattrachas offered to pay for her sister’s funeral because her relatives didn’t “want to bury a faggot in front of all my relatives.”

Ferrera told the Blade that Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV who died in a New Mexico hospital in 2018 while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, left the country, in part, because she wanted access to better antiretroviral drugs. Claudia Spellman, a trans Honduran woman and activist who testified on Wednesday during the Inter-American Court of Human Rights hearing, fled to the U.S. after she received death threats.

Mordecai noted to the Blade the case contains the same demands the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights complaint had.

Cattrachas and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights have demanded Honduran law enforcement officials undergo training “about the threats and risks LGBTQI individuals face.” The complaint also calls for the Honduran government to open a center in San Pedro Sula that will offer health care, HIV testing, legal representation, job training and other services to the city’s LGBTQ community.

“We’re talking about a death that happened in 2009, but in 2020 we’re finding a lot of the same themes,” Mordecai told the Blade.

Mordecai shared Cattrachas’ optimism about the case.

“States have responsibilities they cannot shy away from,” said Mordecai.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. Follow Michael

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