Jun 17, 2021 - World

Case of murdered Honduran trans woman could set legal precedent in region

A photo of Vicky Hernandez wearing a dress and posing, against a pink background
A family photo of Vicky Hernández, courtesy of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Cattrachas. Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

An international court is examining whether the Honduran government was complicit in the killing of Vicky Hernández, a 26-year-old trans woman fatally shot on the night of the country's 2009 coup d'état.

Why it matters: Legal advocates say the case could set a legal precedent across Latin America, which has the world's highest concentration of trans murders, according to activists.

  • It's also the first case to ask the Inter-American Court of Human Rights' whether a government has failed to protect a transgender person.

Background: In June 2009, Hernández's body was found around 7am local time on a San Pedro Sula street. An examination at the scene by first responders judged her time of death to be the middle of the previous night, when a curfew was in place that allowed only military and law enforcement outdoors.

She had been shot in the head, Kacey Mordecai, a senior staff attorney with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, which brought the case before the court, told Axios.

  • Two other trans women reported that on the night of Hernández death, a police patrol car, or "military patrol," drove up to them and Hernández, who was a sex worker. The three women scattered as they were approached, per testimony given in November by Claudia Spellmant, who had spoken to the two women at Vicky's funeral.
  • Attorneys with RFK Human Rights say they have not seen evidence from authorities that a final autopsy report was ever completed.
  • Honduran human rights group Cattrachas alleges that Hernández was the victim of an extrajudicial killing, citing the circumstances and timing of her death.

The other side: “There is no evidence at all, and nor can it be rationally inferred, that those responsible for Vicky Hernández’s death were members of the public safety forces, simply because a patrol car trying to avoid lamentable tragedies happened to be nearby,” Sonia Escobar Rodríguez, the government's lawyer for the case, wrote in an argument summary shared with the New York Times.

The big picture: The case and the government's response highlight the broader dangers and inequities for transgender people in Honduras, Mordecai said.

  • "Our case is about Vicky's death. It was the moment that cost her her life. But to me, what it represents, it's really about her life in Honduras and how she wasn't able to live as Vicky Hernández."

What they're saying: "They told me to fight and fight, so that Vicky's death does not go unpunished," Rosa Hernández, Vicky's mother, told the Los Angeles Blade from her home in San Pedro Sula.

  • The Inter-American court required the state to protect Vicky's relatives after her mother received three phone calls from someone claiming to be a Honduras police representative. The state acknowledged the calls took place and said they weren't meant to be intimidating.

The bottom line: Even if the court requires Honduras to pay damages to Hernández' family, systemic changes — like training police and legally recognizing trans people's names and genders — are still needed to fight anti-trans discrimination in the country.

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