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Benin: Attack on three trans women must prompt authorities to protect LGBTI people

Three transgender women assaulted after being lured to a bar in capital Cotonou

Videos of attack posted on social media and support groups targeted with threats

‘This assault must prompt the authorities to take stronger measures to protect transgender and intersex people’ - Fabien Offner

The authorities in Benin must take immediate action to protect transgender people and the groups that defend them after three trans women were forced to undress and were then beaten and robbed by a group of men at a bar in the capital of Cotonou, Amnesty International said today.

The attack, which took place on the night of 30 April, was filmed by the assailants who then posted the video on social media. After being assaulted, the victims - Kani, Fati and Jennifer - sought refuge at a local transgender association but continued to receive threats.

Fabien Offner, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher, said:

"This assault on three transgender women must prompt the authorities to take stronger measures to protect transgender and intersex people - as well as all the human rights defenders that speak out for them.

“They must also ensure victims of such violations have access to the help they need to ensure they live in a safe environment. The perpetrators of this assault must also be identified and prosecuted.”

Victims of a trap

The three transgender women told Amnesty they were victims of a trap set by a “friend”, who had invited them out under the pretence of attending a “birthday party” in a bar they visited regularly. Following their arrival, it became clear the party was not going to take place. Their “friend” was moving in and out of the bar while men they had never met came to sit next to them, observing them closely.

One of the three women told Amnesty:

“Our 'friend' asked Fati to join him outside the bar. She then realised that he was no longer waiting for her outside. Two men started assaulting Fati and stealing her belongings after asking her if she was a man or a woman.

“We wanted to go out to join her, but the door had been closed. We couldn't run away or help Fati. The door was finally opened, and we were able to join her outside. I was asked if I'm a man or a woman. I didn’t answer, then I said I’m a trans woman. The man who asked me the question didn’t understand what I was saying. He then touched me and started slapping me when he saw that I had no breasts."

She added:

“They had started taking pictures of us. Then they threatened to undress us. They forced us to pull off our clothes. I screamed to ask them to take us to the police station, but they kept hitting me, then I tried to defend Fati, and someone hit me on the neck with a bottle of beer.

“During all this time, people were filming and photographing us … Finally, we were able to escape thanks to the taxi-motorcycle drivers.’’

Distressing videos

Amnesty has viewed several videos showing a noisy crowd of men in front of the three transgender women who were trapped against a wall, forced to undress, and prevented from hiding their genitals with their hands.

A medical certificate belonging to one of the victims concluded that "severe bodily contusion is compatible with the abuse the patient claims to have suffered". Since the attack, the three women have been unable to return home. After the videos were posted on social media, some of their parents threatened to kill them. Other parents advised them to keep a low profile until interest around the video had died down.

Support organisations besieged

On the night of 1 May, two people broke into the premises of the association where the three victims had found refuge. They ran away when they were spotted by residents.

The following day, a crowd gathered in front of the building, pointing at people entering and those exiting, leaving people feeling threatened. Other LGBTI rights associations across Benin that have stood up for the women have also received threats following the assaults.

The president of one organisation told Amnesty:

“Before the three were assaulted I was already insulted, and I never responded. The situation worsened after they were attacked as five members of the association including myself received threats. In the area where I live, I hardly go out, and my parents threatened to kick me out of the house, accusing me of being a ‘damned child’."

The president and founder of another LGBTI rights association told Amnesty that she received death and rape threats over the phone after she denounced the assault in a video posted on the association's Facebook page on 2 May.

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