Belissa Andia Perez is the founder of the Claveles Rojos Collective and a member of the Runa Institute for Development and Gender Studies. She was the promoter of the ILGA Trans Secretariat and its representative from 2006 to 2010. She currently serves as Program Specialist for transgender people in the program of the 10th Round of the Global Fund; and she is an ardent feminist activist. Interview by Patricia Curzi
In 2008 the Runa Institute presented a report on the situation of trans people in Peru. What are the concerns highlighted in the Rune 2008 report about NGOs, which still have to be monitored in this 14th session of the UPR?
In 2008 we reported mainly about the issue of violence against transgender people committed by the national police and by the municipal police (Serenazgo*) of Lima, which are acts of abuse of power. We also reported about the impunity enjoyed by these flagrant cases that systematically violate the rights of this community. Often this violence is linked to the issue of prostitution by transgender women: it was a matter of urgent priority for the community, since it was reaching levels bordering on torture, molestation and kidnapping – so we concentrated on this issue.
Our attempts to dialogue with local government never resulted in direct talks on this subject; they never accepted responsibility; they were just receiving our written complaints and answering them months later, indicating that they were unaware of the reported incidents. On the contrary, they claimed to know some cases where the municipal police had been assaulted by gangs of transvestites. However, things changed when a new Lima mayor- a woman – was elected and remains in office up to the present day. We can say that there was a truce. Initially, there was the political will to avoid the usual violent interventions, which clearly violated the rights of transgender women prostituting themselves.
However, we have decided to include this issue again in our 2012 report, since it has not been decisively addressed through intensified work on the social and cultural roots of the problem. Now the violence has expanded across a wide transversal spectrum, violating other rights, such as the right to life, the right to personal security, the right not to be arbitrarily detained, the right not to be subjected either to torture or to cruel and degrading treatment. We have also reported on other concurrent violated rights, such as the right to the enjoyment of universal human rights, the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to legal personality, to a fair trial, to work, to adequate housing, to social security and other social protection measures, the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health… Our rationale is that without these rights it is not possible to ensure living conditions respecting the dignity of the transgender community.
* Local municipal police
Although your organization produced its own report, you were also in touch with the Peruvian LGBT organization Promsex. How have you collaborated?
The idea behind presenting our own report is to discuss our specific problems since, when they are presented together with other problems, discrimination based on gender identity becomes somehow invisible, or it gets confused with the issue of sexual orientation. Either invisibility or confusion could waste our efforts as transgender activists, which are aimed to better identifying the nature of the discrimination. Summing up: let’s avoid the pitfall of equating the discrimination related to sexual orientation with the discrimination deriving from gender identity.
However, we found a convergence with Promsex, working on the issue of sexual rights, which also affects us. Thus, we found in this area common issues which we wanted to commend to the attention of several embassies in Lima, as well as to the missions in Geneva. Throughout this lobbying effort, ILGA’s help has been essential, giving me the opportunity to participate in the 14th UPR session for Peru (held in Geneva), where ILGA assisted me with all the technical guidance deriving from their vast experience in international settings.
In 2008 you were not present in Geneva. What was the added value of being in Geneva during the UPR interactive dialogue?
When we sent the 2008 report, we thought that the mere fact of sending it could attract the attention of the Peruvian government: for us, it was a way of chiding the government about unsolved situations related to the transgender community, where the state has an obligation to bring solutions. But I realize that the isolated delivery of the report has not been enough; we need to take advantage of the UN mechanism in all its dimensions. Starting well in advance, we need to establish a work plan together with the LGBT movement, also involving human rights groups, plus allied countries. In order to be able to convince, we need time; we need to cultivate relationships within this social system. I’m glad that Slovenia, Canada and The Netherlands made recommendations to Peru regarding LGBT issues in this 14th session. Now it remains to be seen if the Peruvian government will implement these recommendations, as it pledged to do.
Initially we had lobbying activities in Peru (we contacted the embassies of The Netherlands and Spain), and then in Geneva, contacting the missions of Belgium, Slovenia, Argentina, Mexico, and the European Union representation. Our presence in Geneva enables us to contact missions maintaining advanced positions about our issues and to highlight some recommendations that these missions could present in order to protect the human rights of LGBT people. I have also had the pleasant opportunity – made possible by ILGA – to meet Rhoda Awino, a Kenyan activist of Minority Women in Action, who was in Geneva to follow the UPR of some African countries. Together we could share things we had learned, experiences; and we could advise each other on how to lobby for our respective countries here in Geneva.
How has your relationship with your government developed, after the presentation by NGOs of the first UPR report?
The relationship with our government has always been distant, since it is unwilling to address the issue of human rights of the LGBT movement; our relationship does not go beyond civil diplomatic cordiality. The issue of LGBT rights is not within the priorities of this government. In the first national human rights plan (2006-10) there was a reference about preventing violent or degrading treatment on grounds of "sexual nature/orientation", underlining that this would be addressed within the framework set by the Constitution and the law. The same document was also setting a ceiling, since it indicated that this protection would not be extended to the recognition of the right to same-sex marriage, to legalization of same-sex unions or to adoption of children, all excluded by the existing legal framework.
Presently, the new human rights plan (2012-2016) is being developed; we hope that its drafts will include the gender identity issue. However, the work-in-progress documents that I have reviewed include this issue under the chapter on sexual orientation: the State keeps seeing us as a case of homosexuality. Even thinking optimistically, this means that public policies that could be developed in the future will rest on a conceptually mistaken basis.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to LGBT organizations that were never involved in the UPR process?
The issue of LGBT rights must be deployed in every space we have available to us. We should consider the UPR as an excellent opportunity to work and to have impact on policies. Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are sensitive to criticism and observations coming from international policymakers, regardless of whether or not they are binding. Thus, even if sometimes we are not able to advance much in our internal domestic space, rest assured that in the external space of our countries we can achieve more.
Just to conclude – while in Geneva I did not miss the opportunity to taste their various types of chocolates. They match so well the cold autumn season; of course, some boxes found their place in my suitcase when I returned home. We also found a discreet place cooking Peruvian food; so we could taste two emblematic dishes of the Peruvian cuisine: the ceviche and the ‘causa’ (prepared with yellow potatoes). And then when the moment arrives to say goodbye to Patricia and Rhoda after several intensely-shared days – such goodbyes break your heart and moisten your eyes.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), started by the UN in 2006, is a new tool about the current situation of human rights. Its first round for all countries ended in 2011; the second cycle started in June 2012, where it is planned to review forty-two countries every year, so that within four and a half years all UN Member States will be reviewed. The reviews develop in five stages: reporting, interactive dialogue with Member States, acceptance of recommendations, formal acceptance of the report with all its recommendations, and finally implementation and monitoring. The corresponding procedures involve the States, national and international NGOs, national human rights institutions and other stakeholders. In 2012 the UPR 14th session reviewed Peru together with thirteen other countries. The NGOs’ reports had been sent, as it is compulsory, seven months before the review session.
Other interviews with LGBT activists about their experience in the UPR system are available at http://ilga.org/ilga/en/article/nsKSZ961xx
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Translation from Spanish: Fernando Sánchez Amillategui, English proofreading Tom Hoemig