An alarming increase in murders of trans women in El Salvador this year has forced the United Nations to call for an investigation into crimes against sexual minorities in the Central American country.
Seven women have been murdered so far in 2017 according to official numbers from the UN. But local LGBT organizations said 17 women have been murdered.
Last year 25 women were killed in the conservative Catholic country.
Trans advocates said LGBTI people are afraid of gang violence and many are forced to leave El Salvador.
Karla Avelar is one of the most prominent activists in the country and works with COMCAVIS, an organization supporting trans women. In the past two years she has had to leave her home six in fear of violence and has survived two murder attempts on her life.
Avelar said gang members try to extort money from people, but does not believe the police will protect her.
‘Criminals operate within the same institutions of government. So how can you entrust your life to them? How can you entrust your security to these institutions?’ she told Reuters.
‘I won’t wait for them to kill me.’
Hate crimes cause refugee crisis
The exodus of trans people from El Salvador and other Central American countries has been labelled a ‘refugee crisis’ by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
‘Many transgender people have been forced to migrate to other countries to safeguard their own lives,’ Avelar told Huffington Post.
The Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on the government to better protect LGBTI people and to stop the ‘hate crimes’.
‘We urge the government of El Salvador to take urgent measures to ensure the protection of Ms Avelar and other (LGBT) activists and individuals who are under threat,’ said OHCHR spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.
El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Last year there were 81.7 reported homicides per 100,000 residents.