Focus on Trans* rights in El Salvador

NEWS RELEASES – While LGBTQ* rights around the world seem to be increasingly recognized by legislative and political institutions, the media and the public at large, El Salvador appears to be, on the other hand, moving backwards. As we are approaching the International Day for social justice (20 February), the International Center for Peace and Human Rights (CIPADH) reflects upon trans* rights in El Salvador, and the many human rights violations of which trans* men and women are victim.  


State of affaires

El Salvador, a small Central American country famous for its tumultuous past of brutal civil wars and coups, remains politically and economically unstable, explaining the persistent civil unrest and subsequent rampant poverty, violence and inequality. [1] Indeed, El Salvador currently has one of the highest murder rates in the world. [2] However, this brutality does not target the country’s citizens in an indiscriminate way: minority groups are particularly affected, especially trans* men and women. [3]

Karla Avelar, a trans* activist and founder of COMCAVIS TRANS, an organization defending the rights of gender variant people in El Salvador, wrote for Amnesty International in 2015 to share her personal experience with discrimination as a transgender woman. In her piece, she explains that trans* individuals in El Salvador “endure threats, harassment, attacks and murders from the police and criminal gangs”, and defines this violence as hate crimes. [4] Avelar, for instance, was raped by over a hundred men during her first day in prison, with the complicity of guards. [5] Over the last 25 years, she estimates around 600 cases of unsolved murders of LGBT people in the country. [6]

Violations of universal human rights

This alarming evidence constitutes without a doubt grave violations of universal human rights. To start with, the very basis on which these rights and freedoms lie - the notion of non-discrimination mentioned in Article 2 of the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights -, is disregarded by every crime driven by transphobia. [7] Furthermore, freedom from torture and rights to life, health and security are consistently infringed upon, as many trans* Salvadorians endure physical, moral and sexual abuse, the latter often resulting in HIV contamination. [8] These crimes often go unresolved and are poorly investigated by local authorities, thus depriving survivors of their right to equal protection of the law. [9] Additionally, they face discrimination in education, employment and political participation, as illustrated by Avelar’s receiving of death threats for her activist work. [10] What’s more, trans* citizens of El Salvador were only awarded the right to vote in 2014. [11]

Despite the absence of immediate improvement within the Central American country’s political landscape, the United Nations’ recent recognition of the gravity of the situation - through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani’s call on the Salvadorian government to “take urgent measures to ensure the protection of Ms. Avelar and other (LGBT) activists and individuals who are under threat”, and promise to investigate the alleged hate crimes [12] – gives hope for a wider appreciation and augmented support of the work of local activists like Karla Avelar, and an improvement of trans* people’s treatment in El Salvador.

By Manon Fabre – Research Assistant at CIPADH



[1] Pérez, O. J. (2003). Democratic legitimacy and public insecurity: Crime and democracy in El Salvador and Guatemala. Political Science Quarterly, 118(4), 627-644.

[2] UNODC. (2017). Global Studies of homicide.

[3] Amnesty International. (2015). Life as a transgender woman in El Salvador: “I am always afraid”.

[4] IBID

[5] The Huffington Post. (2017). Karla Avelar’s Life Of Constant Threats.

[6] IBID

[7] United Nations. Universal Declaration for Human Rights.

[8] Avert. Transgender people, HIV and AIDS.

[9] United Nations. Universal Declaration for Human Rights.

[10] The Huffington Post. (2017). Karla Avelar’s Life Of Constant Threats.

[11] Al Jazeera. (2015). LGBT in El Salvador: Beatings, intolerance, death.

[12] NBC News. (2017). U.N. Calls for Probe Into Violence Against Transgender Women in El Salvador.