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Honduran state responsible for trans woman’s murder – court | Human rights

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In a landmark ruling for transgender rights, the Honduras government has been found responsible for the 2009 murder of the trans woman and activist Vicky Hernández. The ruling, at the inter-American court of human rights, was published on the 12th anniversary of Hernández’s death, and marks the first time the highest regional human rights court has held a state accountable for failing to prevent, investigate and prosecute the death of a trans person.

The court has ordered Honduras, which has the world’s highest rate of murders of trans people, to pay reparations to Hernández’s family and implement a sweeping range of measures designed to protect trans people, including anti-discrimination training for security forces and state collection of data on violence against LGBTQ+ people.

It also ruled that the state must allow people to alter their gender identity on identification documents and public records. This could set an important precedent for Central America, where most countries do not allow people to legally change their gender.

Hernández, a 26-year-old trans woman, activist and sex worker from San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras, was killed by a single gunshot to her head, a crime for which no one was ever charged.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Cattrachas, a Honduran LGTBQ+ advocacy organisation that brought the case, successfully argued that the Honduran state had violated Hernández’s right to life, to a fair trial and judicial protection by failing to properly investigate her death and failing to take into account the evidence that her murder was connected to her identity as a trans woman.

LGBTQ activists march against homophobia in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. a year after the murder of Vicky Hernández.
LGBTQ+ activists march against homophobia in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, a year after the murder of Vicky Hernández. Photograph: Reuters/Alamy

The court’s ruling found “a context of violence against LGBTI people, and in particular against trans women who are sex workers” and a “context of impunity” for acts of violence against trans women. The Honduras government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hernández was killed on the first night of the June 2009 coup d’état, in which the Honduran military ousted President Manuel Zelaya and enforced night-time curfews across the country. The curfews were brought in to contain demonstrations against the coup, but were part of wider crackdown in which journalists, teachers, students and LGBTQ+ people were targeted.

Hernández, who relied on sex work to survive, had been on the streets with two other trans women when they saw a police car coming towards them. Fearing violence, they ran in different directions. The next morning, Hernández was found dead.

The authorities dismissed her murder as a “crime of passion”, said Angelita Baeyens, director of litigation and advocacy at Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, a Washington-based non-profit organisation that assisted Cattrachas in bringing the claim. The police did not interview anyone from the crime scene, never examined the bullet casing found near Hernández and it is not clear whether they performed a postmortem examination on her.

Lawyers working on Hernández’s case argued that state agents actually committed the murder. “She was murdered during a curfew, on the first night of the coup d’etat, when only security forces were on the streets,” said Baeyens.

The court ruling, which ordered Honduras to restart its investigation into Hernández’s death, found “several indications of the participation of state agents”.

For those involved in bringing the case against the Honduran authorities, the significance of Hernández’s murder is that her death ushered in a new era of violence against trans women.

Cattrachas, which has documented violence against LGBTQ+ people in Honduras for two decades, recorded a total of 20 deaths of LGBTQ+ people in the 15 years leading up to the 2009 coup d’etat. In the eight months afterwards, it recorded 31 deaths of LGBTQ+ people, 15 of whom were trans women. These women were all found on streets and all showed signs of having been violently assaulted.

There was “a pattern of social cleansing against trans women”, said Indyra Mendoza, the founder of Cattrachas. Of the two trans women to see Hernández last, one of them, Michelle Torres, was murdered months later; the other, Fergie Alice, was killed just over a year afterwards. “Vicky’s death set a precedent,” said Mendoza. “There’s a ‘before Vicky’s death’ and an ‘after Vicky’s death’.”

Police patrol a gang-ridden area of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.
Police patrol a gang-ridden area of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. The country has the world’s highest rate of murders of trans people. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty

Claudia Spellmant, founder of the Honduran trans collective Colectivo Unidad Color Rossa and a witness in the case, knew Hernández well. Hernández used to visit Spellmant’s San Pedro Sula office regularly, at first for condoms and to attend safety training, but later as an active member of the collective. “She really became a public face and a defender of human rights of trans women,” said Spellmant.

Hernández’s activism may have made her more vulnerable. “Just to be born trans puts your life at risk in Honduras,” said Spellmant, “but to be trans and to be a human rights defender just escalates your risk so much.”

The case is hugely significant for Spellmant, who fled Honduras for New York City in 2013 after increasing harassment from the authorities. She gave testimony at the virtual trial at the inter-American court last November along with an expert witness, Marlene Wayar, an Argentinian social psychologist and trans woman. “This is a case about a trans woman, presented by trans women,” said Spellmant. “That’s historic on many levels.”

Transphobia in Latin America remains pervasive and deadly and trans women in the region have a life expectancy of between 30 and 35 years. “This [ruling] is a roadmap for other states in the region that have similar a context of violence and discrimination against trans women and LGBTI people more generally,” said Baeyens.

While the decision offers the beginnings of justice for Hernández and her family, the next challenge is the battle for enforcement. “The inter-American court has absolutely no teeth,” said Juliana Martínez, an associate professor at American University, Washington DC, who focuses on gender and sexuality in Latin America. “That doesn’t mean that [the decision] is meaningless; it is very powerful,” she said. “But legal decisions have limits and we’ve seen that repeatedly in the region.”

Although Latin American countries have passed legislation over the past decade to protect LGTBQ+ rights, enforcement is often irregular. Court rulings such as this one, said Martínez, can be “weaponised by gender-restrictive movements or politicians”. In Costa Rica, a conservative evangelical pastor, Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz, rose to prominence in the country’s 2018 national elections campaigning against an inter-American court of human rights decision that same-sex couples must have equal marriage rights.

Martínez said: “Any legal victory is temporal and it’s fragile if it doesn’t go hand in hand with a cultural shift.” In the 12 years since the coup, Cattrachas has recorded 117 killings of trans women. “The Honduran state is a very hostile country,” said Mendoza, “it’s not only violent and deadly, but also religious fundamentalism here has a lot of power.” However, she believes the ruling will bring international pressure on Honduras to act.

For now, Mendoza plans to celebrate the significance of a tiny LGBTQ+ organisation bringing a historic case on such a significant stage. “Vicky’s case is a form of collective justice for every trans woman in Latin America,” said Mendoza, “because we know that Vicky’s life is a reflection of what it is like to be trans in Latin America.”

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By 2050, a quarter of the world’s people will be African – this will shape our future | Edward Paice

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In 2022 the world’s population will pass 8 billion. It has increased by a third in just two decades. By 2050, there will be about 9.5 billion of us on the planet, according to respected demographers. This makes recent comments by Elon Musk baffling. According to him, “the low birthrate and the rapidly declining birthrate” is “one of the biggest risks to civilisation”.

Fertility rates in Europe, North America and east Asia are generally below 2.1 births per woman, the level at which populations remain stable at constant mortality rates. The trajectory in some countries is particularly arresting. The birthrate in Italy is the lowest it has ever been in the country’s history. South Korea’s fertility rate has been stuck below one birth per woman for decades despite an estimated $120bn (£90bn) being spent on initiatives aimed at raising it. Japan started the century with 128 million citizens but is on course to have only 106 million by 2050. China’s population will peak at 1.45 billion in 2030, but if it proves unable to raise its fertility rate, the world’s most populous country could end the century with fewer than 600 million inhabitants. This is the “big risk” alluded to by Musk. The trouble is, his statement seems to imply that “civilisation” does not include Africa.

The populations of more than half of Africa’s 54 nations will double – or more – by 2050, the product of sustained high fertility and improving mortality rates. The continent will then be home to at least 25% of the world’s population, compared with less than 10% in 1950. Expansion on this scale is unprecedented: whereas the population of Asia will have multiplied by a factor of four in this timeframe, Africa’s will have risen tenfold. “Chronic youthfulness”, as demographer Richard Cincotta has termed it, is the result: 40% of all Africans are children under the age of 14 and in most African countries the median age is below 20.

African mothers will have about 450 million children in the 2020s. This is projected to rise to more than 550 million in the 2040s, about 40% of all children born worldwide in that decade. Overall, low or rapidly declining birthrates remain the exception rather than the rule in most of Africa. Globally, the number of births are at their highest level ever – 140 million a year – and are unlikely to fall by much in the course of the next two to three decades.

graphic

That is some bow wave underpinning future population growth, for good or ill (or both). With continuing high fertility in east, west and central Africa, the continent will contribute 1.3 billion of the 2 billion increase in the global population between 2019 and 2050. By then, the populations of east and west Africa will each exceed that of Europe. Thereafter, Africa’s varied demography will be one of the principal determinants of whether the global population will peak in the second half of the 21st century or continue growing, a vexed and contested issue with added significance in the age of the climate crisis.

Elon Musk’s population implosion narrative is not original. It echoes that of Dr HB McKlveen, warning of the “depopulation of civilised nations” in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1895; and that of many western economists in the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes among them. More than 50 years after the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s bestselling The Population Bomb, explosion narratives also burst forth at regular intervals. To date, human adaptability and resilience have overcome demographic crises (such as the Black Death in the 14th century), and periodic alarmism. This is not intended to sound complacent or Panglossian, merely to caution that alarmist narratives are invariably touted for ideological or some other specific reasons. Beyond two or three decades, demographic futurology is fraught with pitfalls, although not nearly as hazardous as medium- and long-term economic or weather forecasting.

The omission of African demography from Musk’s pronouncement is symptomatic of colossal shortcomings in the understanding of Africa and its constituent countries in the west. African delegations are bit-part players at global gatherings like Cop26, despite the ramifications of the climate crisis for the continent (and its potential for countering deleterious effects). Western governments have been slow to cooperate with African counterparts in the battle to contain Covid-19, and have done woefully little by way of assistance. Africa remains fundamentally marginalised, including in stereotypical depictions in most western media and the imaginations of most western citizens. This lamentable state of affairs cannot – will not – endure.

Sheer weight of numbers must bring about a reimagining of African countries and their populations. This alone will impact geopolitics, global trade, technological development, the future of the world’s dominant religions, patterns of migration – almost every aspect of life. More widespread familiarity with the continent’s diverse demographic characteristics and trajectories is a good entry point to this reimagining. Oh, and it might also help to be ever-cognisant of the fact that the landmasses of China, the US, Europe, India and Japan can all fit inside this continent that will loom ever-larger in the lives of its neighbours and the world.

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MEPs keen to speed up green-transition fund for poor

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The EU should start paying out its €72bn fund for helping poor households shift to green energy in 2024, instead of 2025 as previously planned, according to a European Parliament proposal seen by Reuters. “The green transition should be feasible for everyone,” Dutch centre-right MEP Esther de Lange said. “The fund should not be used to buy Teslas …. but rather small- and medium-sizes cars for everyday families,” she added.

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Hope and pride: Zimbabweans put the country on the map in world of wine | Global development

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Like many young Zimbabweans before and since, Tinashe Nyamudoka left the economic chaos of his country to find work and a better life for himself in neighbouring South Africa.

When he left in 2008, Nyamudoka had never tasted wine. Now, he ranks among southern Africa’s top sommeliers and has his own wine label with international sales.

“We have a lot going against us as Zimbabweans, and you might think there is nothing good coming out of the country,” says the 36-year-old. “So, for me to be recognised as the [top] sommeliers in the world, being African and Zimbabwean, instils a sense of hope and pride.”

Nyamudoka began his career as a waiter in a Cape Town restaurant, where he learned about the different varieties and tastes of the wines his customers drank. He moved on to become a hotel wine waiter, working alongside some of the city’s leading sommeliers.

After studying his trade, he won the best wine steward award in a competition for luxury hotels in the Western Cape in 2013.

Tinashe Nyamudoka sniffs a glass of wine
Tinashe Nyamudoka first learned about wine tasting while working as a waiter in Cape Town. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

His talents received international attention when, in 2017, he and three other Zimbabwean sommeliers were selected to take part in the World Blind Tasting Championship in France. The team was the first from Zimbabwe to take part in the contest, in which competitors have to use just their palate to identify the variety of grape, country of origin, appellation, vintage and producer of the wines.

The Zimbabweans did not win – coming 23rd out of 24 teams – but their story became the subject of a documentary released last year, Blind Ambition, which Nyamudoka says brought him “a sense of pride”. The team returned to the competition the next year and this time came 14th – beating the UK and the US teams.

His wine label, Kumusha – “home” or “roots” in Zimbabwe’s Shona language – has benefited from his celebrity, producing 200,000 bottles a year, up from 1,200 when it was launched four years ago. “People started embracing it,” he says.

“I conceptualised it [the label] around 2014,” he adds. “Xenophobia was hitting home [in South Africa] and we were all missing kumusha.”

The eight Kumusha wines – three reds, four whites and a rosé – are all produced in South Africa. They are sold in the US, the Netherlands, Kenya and Zimbabwe – “my exciting market”, he says. This month, he is starting to export his wines to the UK.

“I started this brand from scratch with no aid or financial handouts. It has been pure grit, passion and dedication,” he says. “I want people to understand that you can make it without prejudice.”

But Nyamudoka says he has encountered racism on his way to the top of a white-dominated industry.

“There are instances where you get to a tasting, and it is all white [people], you kind of feel out of place. At work, you cannot get the position you want because you are black. It comes in different forms. It is not obvious, it is much more subtle,” he says.

A bottle of Kumusha red wine
Kumusha’s cabernet sauvignon and cinsault, from the Slanghoek region of the Western Cape. It will be launched in the UK this month. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

“When I was in my last days on the floor [in a restaurant], people would recognise your talent, but they would not give you your flowers [recognition] because you are not like them. It is like you must work twice as hard to prove yourself. It is always going to be there, I suppose.”

Nyamudoka, who sits on the board of the recently established Sommeliers Association of Zimbabwe, hopes that his achievements will encourage other Zimbabweans to enter the wine industry.

“There’s been an emergence of black sommeliers in the world as the industry becomes more diverse. We see the hospitality offering in Zimbabwe improving and there will be a need for sommeliers.”

A fellow sommelier, Takura Makadzange, agrees. Also from Harare, Makdazange, 38, trained in Australia, working his way up from hotel porter to restaurant owner. Now, he is back in Zimbabwe.

“I came back home because there are plenty of opportunities. There is plenty of space in hospitality. Recently there has been more of an explosion in the food and drink sector in Zimbabwe, especially speciality wines that are being made now.

“The industry has grown, the fish industry has grown and we can have access to wildlife and game meat. Promoting the local food and beverage industry is a no-brainer. We have something that no one else does. National pride is important but also we have beautiful products,” he says.

Makadzange qualified for last month’s Ubuntu Sommelier Trophy in South Africa, but had to withdraw when he caught Covid-19.

“There are instances where a less-qualified white person is trusted with looking after the wine list over any person of colour, but you have to keep moving,” he says.

“It is very unusual for a Zimbabwean to do well in this field. We want to continue that trajectory.

“I think it’s time we have more women sommeliers from Zimbabwe so, hopefully, I will train someone to get to the standard of competing.”

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