Argentina: Second Update On Vanesa Ledesma's Murder, Further Letters Needed

IGLHRC (The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission) and ATUC (United Transvestites Association of Cordoba) ask for letters to be sent to the relevant authorities, commending them for the recent positive developments in the investigation following Vanesa Ledesma's suspicious death under police custody.

At the same time, these authorities need to explain the motives behind the home search of Vanesa Piedrabuena's residence, including the legal justification for such an action. They should expeditiously and unequivocally send a message to the police forces and the public at large guaranteeing Vanesa Piedrabuena's safety and distancing themselves from any attempt at harassment and intimidation against her.

NOTES ON BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

Note: For a detailed update on this case, see the background information that follows at the end of this update, as well as our previous alerts on this case:

HIV+ Transvestite In Police Custody, Dead Under Suspicious Circumstances
Update On Vanesa Ledesma's Murder, Further Letters Needed

Addresses for Letters:

(Cordoba's ombudsman)
Defensor del Pueblo de la Provincia de Córdoba
Dr. José María Zamanillo
Fax (54 351) 434 20 60 or 434 20 61
Email: defpueblo@infovia.com.ar
(Cordoba's Attorney General)
Fiscal General de la Provincia de Córdoba
Dr. Miguel Angel Ortiz Pellegrini
Caseros 551, Córdoba, Argentina
Fax (54 351) 421 58 41
(Cordoba Governor)
Gobernador de la Provincia de Córdoba
Dr. José Manuel de la Sota
Attn: Secretaria General, Dra. Olga Riutort
Boulevard Chacabuco 1300, Córdoba, Argentina
Fax (54 351) 434 30 13
Email: olga.riutort@cba.gov.ar

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear Sir:

I/we write to commend your administration for the efforts made towards solving the murder of Ms. Vanesa Ledesma (legal name Miguel Angel Ledesma), an activist and member of ATUC (Asociación Travestis Unidas de Córdoba).

On February 11, at 1 am, Ms. Ledesma, was arrested in Mikons Bar, Cordoba, during a fight with other patrons and charged with damage to the bar premises. No further news could be obtained about Ms. Ledesma from the time of her arrest until five days later, when on February 16th 2000, official police reports described her death and attributed it to a "cardiac arrest." An autopsy, performed from February 16 2000 at 8:30pm until February 17th 2000 at 1 am, shows strong evidence of physical punishment and torture. Pictures of her corpse, taken by friends, illustrate the severe physical abuse allegedly endured by Ms. Ledesma while in police custody.

Her colleagues at ATUC, supported by national and international organizations, have tirelessly advocated for a revision of the case, in order to ensure that those responsible for Ms. Ledesma are brought to justice.

On July 3, 2000, Public Prosecutor Luis Raul Ferrando pressed charges of "vexation committed while on duty" and "vexation to inmates under your custody" (Article 174 b., [2] and [3], Procedural Penal Code of Cordoba) against Inspector Pedro López, Corporals Carlos Guanca and Julio Quintero, policeman Carlos Ruiz (all members of Cordoba's police force, suspected of being responsible for Ms. Ledesma's murder). Charges of "vexation to inmates under your custody" were also pressed against Inspector Claudia Cornejo; Corporals Américo Juárez, Gustavo Pérez and Gustavo Casas, as well as against a non-identified officer known only by his nickname "Tetris."

By taking these actions, the state of Cordoba is fulfilling its duty -as stated by national and international law- to protect all its citizens, without discrimination whatsoever, from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. I/we would like to encourage you to persevere on your efforts towards justice.

I/we are still concerned nevertheless for the safety of Ms. Vanesa Piedrabuena, the leading ATUC activist who has been working on this case. Her house has been searched by the police on July 13, with no valid reason given, and the officers conducting the search focused explicitly on the negatives of the pictures showing Ms. Ledesma's tortured body. Ms. Piedrabuena fears for her safety, to the point that she has stopped going to work at night. As the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment states (Article 13), it is also the obligation of States to "ensure that ... witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of her complaint or any evidence given."

We respectfully ask for and explanation of the motives behind the home search of Ms. Piedrabuena's residence, including the legal justification for such an action. We also request that you expeditiously and unequivocally send a message to the police forces and the public at large guaranteeing Vanesa Piedrabuena's safety and distancing yourself from any attempt at harassment and intimidation against her.

Yours sincerely,

UPDATED BACKGROUND:

There have been three important developments around this case:

a) Meeting with the Governor

On June 21, 2000, the Cordoba Governor José Manuel de la Sota, together with his Ministry of Government Oscar González, Secretary of Security Aldo Abril, and the Secretary of Human Rights Guillermo Johnson met for an hour and a half with two activists from Comunidad Homosexual Argentina, César Cigliutti and Flavio Rapisardi.

Provincial authorities had earlier decided to close this case, stating that Vanesa Ledesma "died of natural causes, unrelated to any criminal deeds committed by third parties." Activists exhibited evidence of the severe mistreatment underwent by Vanesa at Police Station #18 and demanded that the case be reopened for investigation. More than 300 letters have been already received by the authorities, as part of the international campaign launched in Argentina by CHA (Homosexual Community Argentina) and the transvestite organizations ALITT (Association Fighting for Transvestite and Transsexual Identity) and ATUC (United Transvestites Association of Cordoba), and supported by IGLHRC (International Gay ands Lesbian Human Rights Commission) and Amnesty International.

The Governor made several promises during the meeting:

  1. To reconsider the case in the light of the new information provided by the activists;
  2. To create a special commission under the Human Rights Secretary to receive discrimination complaints by gays, lesbians, transvestites, transsexuals and bisexuals in the province;
  3. To replace detentions in police stations with detentions in a special office in the Courts when dealing with minor offences.

b) Charges Pressed Against Suspects

On July 3, 2000, Public Prosecutor Luis Raul Ferrando pressed charges of "vexation committed while on duty" and "vexation to inmates under your custody" (Article 174 b., [2] and [3], Procedural Penal Code of Cordoba) against Inspector Pedro López, Corporals Carlos Guanca and Julio Quintero, policeman Carlos Ruiz (all members of Cordoba's police force, suspected of being responsible for Vanesa Ledesma's murder). Charges of "vexation to inmates under your custody" were also pressed against Inspector Claudia Cornejo; Corporals Américo Juárez, Gustavo Pérez and Gustavo Casas, as well as against a non-identified officer known only by his nickname "Tetris."

Courts will be on winter recess until August. After that date, the Prosecutor will start interrogating the suspects. Tribunal sources estimate that is very likely that the case will be relabeled as "vexation followed by murder."

c) Leading Activist Undergoes House Search and Intimidation

On Thursday, July 13, police officers searched the house of Vanesa Piedrabuena, the leading local activist working on this case (not to be confused with Vanesa Ledesma). Police had an official warrant where no reasons meriting the search were mentioned. Vanesa Piedrabuena has no pending causes nor has she been accused of any crime before the courts. During the house search, the officers' attention focused on the negatives of pictures showing Vanesa. Ledesma's tortured body: they manipulated them for a long time, making comments in a low voice among themselves.

Several transvestites that were close to Vanesa Ledesma had left town, in fear of what might happen to them. Vanesa Piedrabuena herself has stopped going to work at night, because she fears that she might end up dead in an alley, with the police claiming that a client had murdered her. Her fears have increased after her house search.