IACHR Calls on States in Central and North America to Ensure Comprehensive Protection for the Rights of the Individuals who Make Up the Migrant Caravan from Honduras

January 28, 2020

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Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about the rights of the thousands of mobile individuals who made up in Honduras a migrant caravan that is on its way to the United States. The IACHR further condemns the excessive use of force by Guatemala's police and army in two raids conducted on January 17 and 18. The Commission urges all the States in the region to take measures to address the structural problems that trigger displacement and to coordinate their efforts to effectively protect the human rights of individuals in the caravan (particularly their rights to health and personal integrity, to seek and obtain asylum, and to non-refoulement). The IACHR also calls on States to protect the safety of individuals in mobility contexts and to refrain from using force in ways that violate the applicable international standards.

According to publicly available reports, close to 3,500 people left San Pedro Sula, Honduras, over the period January 13–15, 2021, and are on their way to the United States. This group has reportedly been joined by others, and more than 7,500 people are believed to have crossed the Guatemalan border on January 15–16. The Commission notes that—according to the Office of Guatemala's National Human Rights Prosecutor (PDH, by its Spanish acronym)—this migrant caravan was allegedly stopped in Chiquimula, Guatemala, by an anti-migration raid conducted by thousands of Guatemalan police officers and soldiers. On January 17–18, this raid reportedly led to two clashes where excessive force was used against the individuals who made up the caravan. According to reports the IACHR has had access to, law-enforcement officers and soldiers hit migrants and used tear gas to disperse and stop the caravan.

The IACHR also notes with concern that, according to media reports, almost 3,000 people were returned by bus to Honduras by Guatemalan authorities on January 19, while thousands more continued their journey toward the Mexican border, en route to the United States. This happened in a context where at least 20 people tested positive for COVID-19, according to Guatemalan State data. According to information provided by Guatemala, the return processes of the migrants were carried out on a voluntary basis, after verification of the good health and that they would not be at risk in their country of origin. The State also reported that it had provided assistance to the persons identified with the disease.

The IACHR highlights the complexity of this human mobility phenomenon and the need to take structural, well-coordinated response measures based on the comprehensive protection of human rights and on differentiated, intersectional approaches that comply with the obligation to prevent violations of the human rights of the affected individuals. As the Commission said in a press release issued on February 7, 2020, this situation is similar to other displacements in Central and North America in recent years. The Commission has closely monitored migration dynamics in Central America, Mexico, and the United States through visits, press releases (dated February 19, 2019; September 16, 2019; and December 27, 2019), as well as through specific thematic reports. Its findings and recommendations stress the need to adopt a structural and regional approach to the situation.

The IACHR further stresses States' obligation to prevent human rights violations and protect the human rights of individuals in human mobility contexts, paying particular attention to the COVID-19 pandemic and its intersectional effects on conditions for displacement, migration, and effective access to protection mechanisms. The Commission stresses that, according to its Resolution 1/2020, Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas, States must immediately take, with due diligence, all measures required to protect the rights to life, health, and personal integrity of individuals within their jurisdictions from the risks posed by the pandemic.

Also based on this resolution, the IACHR stresses that States must not adopt migrant detention and other strategies that increase the risks of infection and spread of the pandemic and the vulnerability of individuals in human mobility contexts. Measures that should not be taken include group deportations and expulsions and any other form of return of an individual to their country of origin without adequately coordinating and checking the relevant health conditions. States must always ensure that these individuals and their families remain able to safeguard their right to health without discrimination. States must therefore focus on their protection and prevention duties, in a coordinated way that mitigates the impact of displacement factors and the risks of rights violations.

Along similar lines, the Commission stresses the guidelines and recommendations it issued in Resolution 4/2019, Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Human Trafficking. This resolution calls for the adoption of measures to prevent, end, reverse, or change discrimination that perpetuates stigmatization, prejudice, and intolerant or criminalizing practices against individuals based on their migrant status. The IACHR also urges States to protect the personal integrity of individuals in human mobility contexts based on Principle 65, on the adequate, gradual use of force in migration checkpoints, ensuring that security measures in checkpoints and other migration control facilities always seek to protect migrants and their rights. The IACHR notes that the large-scale movements that have been observed in Central and North America demand a comprehensive perspective focused on protection and prevention, as well as regional coordination and cooperation.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

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