A judge in El Salvador has sentenced three police officers to 20 years in prison for the brutal January 2019 killing of a transgender sex worker named Camila Díaz Córdova.
The verdict is the first homicide conviction for the killing of a transgender person in the country's history, reports Human Rights Watch.
Díaz Córdova was killed on January 31, 2019, when three officers responded to a public disorder complaint. According to reports, the three officers brutally assaulted Díaz Córdova before throwing her out of their moving vehicle. She eventually died from her injuries a few days later at a San Salvador hospital.
The officers were convicted based on clear-cut evidence, including their vehicle’s GPS tracking, which showed they were at the same location where Díaz Córdova’s body was found, and an autopsy report that documented physical trauma by the hands of the officers.
“This landmark ruling is much needed in a country where LGBT Salvadorans and their families rarely see justice for violent crimes,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The outcome of Camila’s case sends a powerful message to Salvadoran society that anti-LGBT violence will not be tolerated.”
He continued, “LGBT people have a right to live in a country that respects and protects their basic right to life. The justice system should ensure that those responsible for anti-LGBT violence are held accountable, including by pursuing hate crimes charges where appropriate.”
Homicides that are motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity can have penalties of up to 70 years in prison, after the Salvadorian Legislative Assembly modified the country's penal code in 2015, which defined these crimes as aggravated homicides.
Prosecutors in El Salvador have attempted to classify three specific killings of LGBTQ+ people as hate crimes, but all of these cases were dismissed on the grounds that there “was insufficient evidence,” HRW reports.
Díaz Córdova's case was one of them. Though her case wasn’t classified as a hate crime, it is the first trans murder case to result in a conviction.
The two others were just as brutal and seemingly merciless, including the November 2019 killing of Victoria Pineda, a trans woman who was found naked in Ahuachapán covered in logs and a car tire. Her face was disfigured due to brunt trauma to the head. A local trans activist described the killing as a crucifixion
The third case was a trans woman named Tita Andrade, who was discovered with over 90 percent of her body burned in March 2020 in La Unión.
In Central America, these kinds of symbolic killings are often due to the perception that LGBTQ+ people are committing “moral crimes," HRW notes.
Before she was killed, Díaz Córdova had attempted several times to escape El Salvador to seek asylum. She made it to the United States in August 2017, but ended up being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for three months before getting deported back to El Salvador. Friends of Díaz Córdova said that ICE “tricked her into signing a removal order.”
She was killed a year after being deported back to El Salvador.
Díaz Córdova was one of two trans people killed in a single week, the other being a woman named Lolita, who died after a group of assailants attacked her with a machete.
El Salvador continues to see high levels of LGBTQ+ hate crimes. At least seven trans women and two gay men were killed between October 2019 and April 2020 alone. In each of these cases, evidence suggested their killers were motivated to commit the crimes solely because the victim was queer.