Honduras is moving a step closer to the UNAIDS vision of ‘zero discrimination’. Its Congress has recently adopted a reform of the Penal Code that will ensure legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"This has been a historic step for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual and Intersex (LGBTI) populations that have suffered from widespread violence and impunity in Honduras,” said Donny Reyes, Coordinator at Arcoiris, a civil society organization advocating for greater LGBTI rights. “Finally our right to freedom and to live in peace has been formally recognized,” he added.
Between 2009 and 2012, more than 90 homophobia-related killings were reported in the country, according to the Human Rights Observatory of Lesbian Cattrachas Network. These incidents, which are among the highest in the region, are attributed to the high levels of homophobia and transphobia that exists in Honduran society.
The high number of violent deaths and human rights violations against LGTBI people prompted Ana Pineda, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights to promote the reform of the Penal Code.
The amended code establishes as an offence with aggravating circumstances the “discrimination with hatred or contempt on the basis of sex, gender, religion, national origin, belonging to indigenous and Afrodescendant groups, sexual orientation or gender identity”. This offence may be punishable by up to 3–5 years imprisonment and a monetary fine. The penalty increases if it is a violent crime.
Dialogue between the government, civil society and UNAIDS led to the creation of special units within the General Attorney’s Office to strengthen the investigation of allegations of violence on the basis of sexual diversity. Each unit comprises a qualified legal advisor, an analyst and three investigators. The Units are currently investigating 17 cases of killings on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
“Strengthening investigation, establishing a legal framework which sanctions discrimination and making sure that judges will apply the new provisions are both crucial steps to prevent and reduce violence against members of the LGTBI community,” said Ms Pineda.
Reducing vulnerability to HIV
The amended Penal Code is expected to improve access to HIV-related services, education and employment for LGTBI people. The discrimination, exclusion and violence against LGTBI people have exacerbated their vulnerability to HIV infection by discouraging them from accessing health services out of fear.
In Honduras the HIV epidemic seriously affects men who have sex with men (MSM), where the prevalence of HIV has reached 9.9% compared to the 0.6% among the general population.
A recent report in The Lancet highlights that transgender people have at least 50 times the odds of men and women in the general population of becoming infected with HIV - due to biological as well as structural risks for HIV infection such as social exclusion, economic marginalization, and unmet health-care needs.
"This ruling will provide LGTBI people with greater access to HIV related services" said Nicole Massoud, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Honduras and Nicaragua. “UNAIDS congratulates the State of Honduras for its commitment to promote and defend human rights. The challenge now is to ensure that all professionals are informed and trained on these new provisions to help ensure we reach zero stigma and discrimination.”