The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that Peru is responsible for the kidnapping, rape, and torture of a gay man by police in the northern town of Casa Grande in 2008.
The case of Azul Rojas Marin, who identified as a gay man at the time of the assault and now identifies as a transgender woman, is the first such decision by the autonomous judicial institution involving LGBTQ abuses. Peru has been ordered to pay restitution to Marin and her late mother, who died in 2017.
"I am very grateful to all the people who have made this possible," Marin said in a statement following the ruling. "I have no words to describe how I feel. I thank God for everything. After all I've been through, a court finally believes my word."
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is the judicial arm of the Organization of American States and hears cases involving allegations of human rights abuses in Latin America. It has the authority to order criminal investigations and victim compensation by offending member governments.
The attack occurred in February 2008 in Casa Grande, a small agricultural town in northern Peru located on the Trans-America Highway. Marin, then living as a gay man, was detained by police late one evening and taken to their station. Over the next six hours, the court decision states, she was "forcibly stripped naked, beaten on several occasions, [subjected to] derogatory comments about her sexual orientation by state agents, and was a victim of rape" with a baton. She was released at 6 the following morning.
Marin reported the assault to national authorities later that day. Peruvian investigators at the time ruled the incident did not constitute torture under the nation's law, and they closed the investigation without charges for the assault, rape, and kidnapping. With the assistance of local rights groups Redress and Promsex, and Peru's National Coordinator for Human Rights, Marin turned to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for justice.
"It is a sentence that should represent a before and after for the LGTBI community in Peru and in the region, since it establishes parameters for the proper investigation of crimes committed because of people's sexual orientation, identity or gender expression, be [it] real or perceived," said Gabriela Oporto Patroni, coordinator of strategic litigation at Promsex, in a statement and article on its website. "For our country, it seems important to me to highlight the Court's recognition of the context of discrimination, something that the Peruvian State always denied during the process."
"This ruling is very significant because it establishes in a very clear way the obligations of the States to protect LGBTI people against acts of violence by prejudice motivated by sexual orientation and gender expression, it provides key parameters to identify if torture has been committed by discriminatory reasons, as well as important standards for the authorities to effectively investigate these cases," said Chris Esdaile, legal counsel for Redress, in the same statement.
Peru is known for its diversity of food and ecosystems, and as the home of the ancient Incan empire and the Incas' secluded mountain citadel Machu Picchu. Acceptance of LGBTQ people has increased in recent years, especially in the cosmopolitan capital of Lima. However, attitudes have changed little, if at all, in smaller, more isolated communities.
While the landmark decision will advance the rights of LGBTQ people in the region, it is still a bittersweet victory for Marin. Her mother, Juana Rosa Tanta Marin, suffered greatly due to the assault and its aftermath, and died in 2017. While the court ordered the Peruvian government to compensate her late mother, the ruling is of little consolation to Marin.
"I would only have liked to be able to share this joy with my mother, who always accompanied me in my efforts to ... find justice," she said, according to the Promsex report.