El Salvador: extortion and death threats suffered by Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar

16/05/2017
Urgent Appeal
en es

SLV 001 / 0517 / OBS 049
Extortion / Death threats
El Salvador
May 10, 2017

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in El Salvador.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the extortion and death threats suffered by Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar [1], an LGBTI rights defender, Executive Director of Comunicando y Capacitando a Mujeres Trans con VIH en El Salvador (COMCAVIS TRANS) [2], the organisation she founded in 2008, and a finalist for 2017 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. Among other achievements, she has contributed to the separation of LGBTI prisoners for their safety by the Salvadoran authorities and to their access to a basic HIV treatment provided by the Ministry of Health [3].

According to the information received, on April 28, 2017, two days after she was nominated as a finalist for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, three men turned up at Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar’s home and, assuming she had already be granted the award, demanded 50% of the amount granted. The individuals gave her three days to pay this amount and informed her that she should leave her home if she was not going to give them the money, since her life would be at risk. In this context, Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar was forced to leave her home and seek refuge somewhere else.

The death threats only compound the many previous incidents against Ms Karla Avelar, including three attempted murders (see background information), which show the severe discrimination against the LGBTI community in El Salvador. Furthermore, these events took place in a context of alarming violence levels, with at least 17 murders of LGBTI individuals between January and March, as reported by the IACHR [4] .

The Observatory strongly condemns the death threats and repeated attacks against the life of Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar and sows its concern regarding the fact that these attacks seem to be linked to her legitimate work for the defence of human rights. Therefore, the Observatory urges the Salvadoran authorities to take action to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of all LGBTI human rights defenders, as well as to take firm action towards the end of any kind of discrimination against this community.

Background information:

After having suffered serious abuse by members of her family and being banned from her home when she was a child, Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar had to make a living as a sex worker. This is why she had to serve a five-year sentence (1997-2001) during which she was raped and abused, with the involvement and complicity of the prison staff, which led to serious physical and psychological health issues, including HIV, that were aggravated by the lack of treatment.

Moreover, Ms Karla Stephanie Avelar has survived three attempted murders. The first attempted murder took place in 1992, when she was a teenager, in the context of a series of murders of transgender women. She survived thanks to her success in disarming the attacker, who, nevertheless, ended up drawing another firearm and shooting her nine times. She was rescued by a security guard who found her injured in the street. The second attempted murder was carried out in 2008 by members of the gang Mara Salvatrucha, who demanded 25 weekly dollars from her and her fellow sex workers to ensure their protection. When Ms Avelar refused, she was shot five times, but once again she survived. Finally, in 2012 she was attacked again with two knives.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in El Salvador, urging them to:

i. Immediately take all the appropriate measures to ensure the safety and the physical integrity of Ms. Karla Stephanie Avelar, as well as of all human rights defenders in El Salvador, and particularly of LGBTI human rights defenders;

ii. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the actions against Ms. Karla Stephanie Avelar, in order to identify those responsible and apply them the criminal and/or administrative sanctions provided by the law;

iii. Adopt a communication policy that includes the highest levels of the Salvadoran executive, as well as measures to educate and raise awareness among the citizens, in order to promote the legitimisation of the LGBTI community and put an end to its stigmatisation, as well as to legitimise the work carried out by LGBTI rights defenders;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments signed and ratified by El Salvador.

Addresses:

- Prof. Mr. Salvador Sánchez Cerén, President of the Republic. Fax: +503 22 43 99 47- E-mail: contacto@presidencia.gob.svManual word wrap
- Mr. Ramón Arístides Valencia Arana, Minister of Interior and Territorial Development. E-mail: oirmigob@gobernacion.gob.svManual word wrap
- Mr. Douglas Meléndez, Public Prosecutor. Fax: +503 2523-7000Manual word wrap
- Ms. Raquel Caballero de Guevara, Human Rights Ombudsman. E-mail: despachoprocurador@pddh.gob.sv, roxanasolano@pddh.gob.svManual word wrap
- Mr. Joaquín Maza Martelli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of El Salvador to the United Nations in Geneva. E-mail: mission.el-salvador@ties.itu.intManual word wrap
- Embassy of El Salvador in Brussels. E-mail: embajadabruselas@rree.gob.sv

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of El Salvador in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in El Salvador.

***

Geneva-Paris, May 10, 2017

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:Manual word wrap
- E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.orgManual word wrap
- Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29Manual word wrap
- Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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