El Salvador
Latin America & Caribbean

Human rights defender's story: Karla Avelar from El Salvador

Karla Avelar, a finalist for the Martin Ennals Award in 2017 and a former ISHR trainee, is a dedicated advocate for LGBTI rights in El Salvador. As a trans woman and activist for over two decades, she has continued her fight despite facing intensified persecution, threats, and extortion.

Karla Avelar, a Salvadoran transgender woman, has been an activist for over 21 years. Her activism intensified after her nomination for the Martin Ennals Award in 2017, which brought both recognition and increased risk. This nomination was a double-edged sword; it motivated Avelar to continue her vital work, knowing her efforts were recognised as correct and necessary. However, it also underscored the failure of the State to protect its human rights defenders, forcing international bodies to step in to acknowledge and legitimise their efforts.

Throughout her career, Avelar has faced threats due to her visible transgender identity, her HIV status, and her role as a human rights defender, particularly after receiving international attention. The threats have involved not only State security forces but also gangs, which wield significant power over the territory in El Salvador.

In 2017, Avelar highlighted the crucial role of international human rights organisations, particularly their partnership with the United Nations, in effectively addressing human rights violations worldwide. She emphasised the power of international mechanisms to influence governmental actions and ensure that all individuals’ rights are respected, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or race. Avelar advocated for the strengthening of Indigenous organisations through the use of national, regional, and international human rights mechanisms as a way to achieve environmental justice in Ecuador.