Pressure mounts for El Salvador to investigate wave of LGBT+ killings

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Following a wave of murders, LGBT+ rights activists in El Salvador on Thursday backed a United Nations appeal for authorities to step up action to protect gay and trans people.

At least four LGBT+ people have been killed in the impoverished and violence-plagued Central American country in the last month, gay and trans rights groups said, with the latest victim, Oscar Canenguez, a gay man, found dead on Sunday.

In a statement, the U.N. called on Salvadorean authorities “to investigate these crimes so that they might punish the perpetrators ... and take urgent measures to prevent further acts of violence ... against the LGBTI community.”

The Salvadorean prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. After the murder of a trans woman in October, President Nayib Bukele said that authorities were working to end anti-LGBT+ stigma.

LGBT+ people face persistent discrimination and abuse in El Salvador, where local gang violence and entrenched social prejudices can be a deadly mix. Gay marriage is illegal and trans people cannot change their gender on official documents.

The country’s influential Catholic Church and most evangelical groups publicly condemn gay marriage and sex.

According to COMCAVIS Trans, a local advocacy group, some 600 LGBT+ people have been murdered in El Salvador since 1993.

Campaigners said inaction on LGBT+ rights by the government of Bukele, who took office in June, was partly to blame for the rising violence.

“The new authorities don’t have justice (or) the prosecution of these cases as a priority,” said Roberto Zapata, secretary general of local advocacy group AMATE El Salvador.

“This new government is completely silent,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Zapata noted with concern that the directorate of sexual diversity, which dealt with LGBT+ discrimination, had been absorbed into the ministry of culture in June.

The government had yet to convene a roundtable between the justice ministry and local LGBT+ groups, Zapata said - a key forum during the previous administration for discussing issues like the violence facing the community.

“There has been a change, but unfortunately it’s been for the worse,” Zapata said.

Only 12 out of 109 LGBT+ murders recorded between December 2014 and March 2017 went to trial, government data shows, and there has never been as successful conviction, according to Human Rights Watch.

Three out of four of the latest murders were of trans women, with one victim found in a river and another discovered naked and buried in debris.

Reporting by Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit