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Gender & Sexual Solidarity: News & Updates

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The night of March 16 in Tegucigalpa, members and sympathizers of the National Party caused riots outside the Supreme Court of Justice and set fire to the Viva Berta Feminist Camp. The camp was set up under the coordination of comrades from the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras, COPINH, and OFRANEH, together with various organizations and communities in struggle. We denounce this attack whose only intention is to attack the actions of justice for women and peoples and we stand in solidarity with the comrades of COPINH, OFRANEH, as well as with the various organizations and communities that make up this space of struggle. 

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On March 8, while hundreds were commemorating International Women’s Day, Guatemala’s conservative-controlled Congress approved the “Protection of Life and Family” law in a 101-8 vote. There are 160 seats in Congress. Hundreds of people during the weekend converged on the Guatemalan Congress to show their indignation at a new law they say threatens the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community. But backlash against the law, as well as Giammattei’s veto threat, pushed the president of Guatemala’s Congress, Shirley Rivera, to say lawmakers would check whether it is constitutional. The legislation will come up for further debate on Tuesday, while more protests have been called for that same day, as advocates say their fight is far from over – even if this particular version of the law is ultimately halted.

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Guatemala’s congress has increased prison sentences for women who have abortions, bucking a recent trend in Latin America toward expanding access to the procedures. Guatemalan women convicted of terminating their pregnancies can now face sentences up to 10 years that before were a maximum of three. The congress imposed even heavier penalties for doctors and others who assist women in ending pregnancies. Abortions are legal only when the life of the mother is at risk. The Guatemala legislation also explicitly prohibited same-sex marriage – which was already in effect illegal – and banned schools from teaching anything that could “deviate a child’s identity according to their birth gender”.

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The refoundation of Honduras took two more important steps this month. After the successful electoral win of the opposition in November, the initially divided opposition in Congress came together this month and the US officially requested the extradition of JOH for his drug trafficking ties which led to his arrest. Of course, this does not mean that the old power structures are gone, they are still in place, especially in the Judiciary. But change seems possible. This also included the announcement to demilitarize the prisons as well as the state security forces in general. There were other things to celebrate in February, especially the liberation of the Guapinol defenders after over 900 days illegally imprisoned. But the way to a Honduras respecting human rights is still long and steep. Three members of the LGBTQ+ community were murdered in the first week of February; the Minosa mining company seems to be free to ignore court rulings and go on with the exhumation of a Maya Chortí cemetery in Azacualpa; and the indigenous Lenca Tierras del Padre community faced eviction threats. Welcome to another month in Honduras.

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Please see a summary of the letters we sent to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to: (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, (3) bring human rights criminals to justice. IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) volunteers write six letters in response to urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

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Colombia’s constitutional court voted Monday to decriminalize abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, a transformative shift for the majority-Catholic country and the latest sign of a turning tide in Latin America. The ruling makes Colombia the third large country in the region to decriminalize the procedure in slightly more than a year, after Mexico and Argentina, a development that appeared unlikely just a few years ago. Abortion rights activists said it could fuel further gains for abortion rights in the region. Since 2006, the procedure has been permitted in Colombia in cases of rape, nonviable pregnancy and when the life or health of the mother was in danger. At the time, those rules positioned the country as a regional leader in abortion rights. But between 2006 and 2020, the court heard, nearly 3,000 people were prosecuted for having an abortion. More than 90 groups filed a lawsuit in September 2020, arguing that the criminalization of abortion exacerbates the stigma around the procedure and creates barriers to access, even for patients who qualify under the exemptions.

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El Salvador has released another woman imprisoned for aggravated homicide who after suffering an obstetric emergency was accused of aborting her pregnancy in a country where abortion under any circumstances is banned. The woman, who activists helping her identified only as Elsy, had served more than a decade of a 30-year sentence. She was the fifth woman released before completion of her sentence since late December of last year. In the past 20 years, El Salvador has prosecuted 181 women who suffered obstetric emergencies. A local rights organization has succeeded in freeing 61 of them since 2009.

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For nearly 30 years, the town of El Carmen de Bolivar and the surrounding region of Montes de María were infamous for violence perpetrated against LGBTQ+ individuals, targeted at one time or another over the country’s long civil war by rightwing paramilitaries, leftwing guerrillas, government soldiers and the police. In 1999, Helicopters were dropping pamphlets with a warning to the LGBTQ+ society to leave town. Now, Many of those who left are returning as their home has become much safer. “It gives me a lot of joy to see how we have been able to achieve so much in a place that people thought was impossible," Tito, leader of a folk dance group, says.

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