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Post submitted by Ernesto Zelayandia, HRC Global Fellow.

The LGBT movement of El Salvador lost one of its most prominent transgender activists, Francela Méndez Rodríguez, earlier this month. Francela was visiting her friend, Consuela Flores Martínez, when she tragically became the latest victim in a series of crimes against transgender women in El Salvador. Rodríguez and Martínez, who was also murdered in the attack, were found dead on May 31 in Sonsonate, a small town west of San Salvador.

Francela was a human rights activist who worked daily with Colectivo Alejandría, an organization that advocates for the rights of gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in El Salvador. In 2013, Colectivo Alejandría joined other transgender advocacy organizations from El Salvador to testify before the Inter-American Commission about violence faced by the Salvadoran transgender community. At that time, HRC and coalition partners honored their advocacy and bravery with a reception in Washington, D.C.

A coalition of LGBT organizations came together to advocate for the prompt and diligent investigation of Francela’s death. They held a protest in front of the Attorney General Prosecutor’s general office earlier this week to call attention to the violence that transgender people face in El Salvador.

Often cases involving violence against transgender persons and other members of the LGBT community go without investigation in El Salvador, offering little hope of justice for the community and their allies. Institutions such as the police and prosecutor’s offices suffer from bias and prejudice against the LGBT community. In the instances when these crimes are actually investigated, institutional discrimination hampers the process and often result in these crimes being classified as drug-related or crimes of passion rather than bias motivated violence.

The Ombudsman of El Salvador, the American Ambassador to El Salvador, the Inter American Commission of Human Rights, and dozens of other international human rights organizations are asking the government of El Salvador to conduct a proper investigation of these kinds of crimes.

As a result of these recent crimes, the necessity of special protections for minority groups and the inclusion of hate crimes in the criminal code of El Salvador has caught the attention of the media and decision makers. The political party, FMLN, has initiated the process of a law reform that would increase the punishment for murder that is motivated by hate towards religious, racial or sexual minorities.   

Sadly violence against transgender women is also a national crisis in the United States, where at least 13 transgender women were murdered last year, and eight transgender women of color have already been murdered in just the first half of 2015.

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