Argentina: UN Rep Meets with Transgender Activists

Receives Documentation on Persecution and Encourages Them To Keep Up Their Work

For Immediate Release: June 29, 2001

BUENOS AIRES - In a historic first, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Dr. Abid Hussain, met June 26 with transgender activists in Argentina, to hear their stories of persecution.

The Buenos Aires gathering follows a series of meetings with UN officials in Geneva sponsored by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) this past April. As a result of these meetings, six United Nations Experts issued a joint statement, urging lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists worldwide to contact them about human rights violations (for background see http://www.iglhrc.org/world/us_canada/UnitedStates2001June.html). The UN Experts are high-level officials appointed by the UN to investigate patterns of human rights abuse. They report annually to the UN on their findings, and have wide power to address governments about suspected abuses.

The gathering in Argentina was attended by representatives of three national transgender-rights organizations, as well as by IGLHRC representatives. A full list of participants is attached below.

"This is a historical event for us. Let us see how our own government reacts when they learn that we were received by Dr. Hussain - because on most occasions our government will not even talk to us.," said transgender activist Belén Correa.

Dr. Hussain was presented with extensive documentation about cases of persecution against transgender people in Argentina. Participants at the meeting highlighted the difficulties faced by transgender minors, who are locked up in institutions and forced to dress and live according to society's prejudice and not in the gender with which they identify.

"Persecution against transgender people should be considered by the Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression," stated Alejandra Sardá, "since at its root cause this persecution aims at penalizing and silencing, even by means of cold-blooded murder, the transgender person's right to self-expression." Sardá presented the Rapporteur a brief about the Argentinean laws that criminalize "wearing clothes of the opposite sex." These laws, with penalties of 15 to 40 days in prison, exist in every province in Argentina, with the exception of the Federal Capital.

Dr. Hussain was given additional documentation and was asked to intervene in a number of urgent cases, including that of Diana Sacayan, a transgender activist who was arrested February 14 in the City of Don Bosco, Buenos Aires Province, and who remains to date in indefinite detention, without benefit of even a preliminary hearing on her case. While in prison, Sacayan has been denied food for days in a row; has been forced to share the space with male inmates; and subjected to verbal and psychological abuse by guards, mostly centered around her gender identity (see http://www.iglhrc.org/world/southamerica/Argentina2001Jun.html).

"These documentation would have been impossible to gather without the exceptional and courageous work of Argentinean transgender activists who day after day put their bodies on the line, facing police abuse and a judicial system set on ignoring the abusers while criminalizing its targets," added Sardá.

Dr. Hussain concurred and committed himself to include some of these cases in his next UN report. Dr. Hussain told the participants: "I have listened to many painful stories during my visit [to Argentina], but your situation is the hardest. You all have my sympathy and also my admiration because you are courageous, you are strong, you are united among yourselves and you are fighting back." Dr. Hussain encouraged the activists to keep up their human rights activism. He added: "It is a pity that there are so many cultural and societal prejudices against you. Eradicating cultural prejudices is the hardest task there is. You will have to pass through fire to survive, but I have no doubt that you will."

Transgender activist Lohana Berkins stated that "we are very ahead of the time when we lived in hiding, thinking ourselves half-human, incapable to interact with society. Now we go everywhere, we talk to everybody, and we have no doubt that we are humans and entitled to all human rights. And we do this without losing what makes us unique: our sense of humor, our flamboyancy, our trans perspective."

Present at the June 26 meeting in Buenos Aires were: Dr. Abid Hussain (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression), Lohana Berkins (Fight for Transvestite and Transsexual Identity Association, ALITT), Valeria Bravo (Transvestite and Transsexual Organization of the Argentine Republic, OTTRA), Belén Correa (Association of Argentinean Transvestites, ATA), Silvia Delfino (Queer Studies Area at Buenos Aires University), and Alejandra Sardá and Luciana Kerner (both representing IGLHRC).