Americas' top human rights body hears first LGBT torture case

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An eight-year legal battle by a gay Peruvian man who accused police of raping him went before the Americas’ leading human rights organization on Thursday in a landmark case to determine whether the alleged crime was torture.

Lawyers for Luis Alberto Rojas said he was arbitrarily detained by police in northern Peru in 2008. While in custody, police forced him to strip, hit him and raped him with a truncheon.

After his release, Rojas filed a criminal complaint against the police for sexual violence, abuse of authority and torture but his case was dismissed by state prosecutors, his lawyers said.

But three human rights groups, including UK-based anti-torture group REDRESS, took Rojas’ case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2009 - with opening arguments finally heard on Thursday.

Lawyer Carla Ferstman said it is the first time the commission was being asked to rule on a complaint of torture against a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

“Our view is that in this type of context where an individual is targeted because of his sexual orientation, the abuse by police amounts to torture,” Ferstman, who heads REDRESS, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Peruvian police were not immediately available for comment.

Ferstman said when the complaint was first filed no one took it seriously.

“LGBTI individuals are not only subjected to this type of ill-treatment in custody. Also, often they are not believed, they are not considered to be credible, they are laughed at,” Ferstman said.

Speaking at the hearing, Ivan Bazan, a state prosecutor representing the Peruvian government, said Rojas was lawfully detained by the police and that a proper and timely investigation was carried out.

“The state took steps to clarify the facts ... in the end it was understood that the facts didn’t qualify for the crime to be comprehended as torture,” Bazan said, adding that the case was closed.

The complaint calls for the Peruvian government to give financial compensation to Rojas and prosecute those responsible.

It also seeks guarantees to change Peru’s laws to better protect the rights of LGBT people and tackle the discrimination they can face by police.

A 2015 study by the Peruvian government found that 90 percent of LGBT residents in and around the capital Lima had been victims of some type of violence, of which nearly 19 percent was at the hands of state security agents.

The IACHR, part of the 35-member Organisation of American States (OAS), could issue non-binding recommendations to the Peruvian government, Ferstman said.

She added the IACHR could also recommend that the case goes before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to rule on, a process that could take years.