Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over Arbitrary Deportation of Colombians from Venezuela

August 28, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern over the arbitrary and collective deportation of undocumented Colombian migrants being carried out by Venezuelan authorities in the border state of Táchira, Venezuela.

According to information in the public domain, these arbitrary deportations are being carried out by members of the Venezuelan Armed Forces on instructions from the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, who has decreed a state of emergency with suspension of guarantees in several municipalities in Táchira and closed the border for 60 days as of August 22, 2015. That decree was issued in response to a clash on August 19, 2015 between members of the Venezuelan Army and alleged Colombian smugglers or paramilitary operating on the border between Venezuela and Colombia. Three Venezuelan soldiers and one civilian were reportedly wounded as a result of that clash. Under the state of emergency, President Maduro ordered the dispatch of 1,500 additional troops to Táchira to conduct a house-to-house search for those responsible for the aforementioned clash. In addition, President Maduro ordered the closure "until further notice" of the principal border crossing-point between San Antonio, in the state of Táchira in Venezuela, and Cúcuta, in the department of Norte de Santander in Colombia.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), since August 22, at least 1,088 Colombian migrants, including 244 children and adolescents, have been deported from Venezuela. According to the Colombian Red Cross, 4,260 more people have spontaneously opted to return to Colombia following the declaration of a state of emergency and the closing of the border. Various sources have indicated that many of those who opted to return to Colombia did so out of fear that the Venezuelan authorities would forcibly evict and deport them.

According to information in the public domain, the persons deported were undocumented migrants living in Venezuela. According to that same information, the Venezuelan authorities have reportedly carried out raids and migration control operations in neighborhoods and districts primarily inhabited by Colombian nationals. In the course of these operations, the Venezuelan authorities are allegedly evicting Colombian nationals from their homes. Reportedly, the authorities are committing abuses and using excessive force, and then proceeding to deport Colombian nationals collectively and arbitrarily. The manner in which these operations are being carried out is said to have prevented many people from taking their papers and other goods with them.

The IACHR has also received reports that many of those deported have been separated from their families. In some case, adults have allegedly been deported to Colombia without their children and other family members. Through videos published in the media, the Commission has learned that the Venezuelan authorities have painted the letter "D" on the homes of Colombian nationals in the La Invasión neighborhood, before proceeding to demolish those homes, after evicting and arbitrarily deporting the people who had lived there.

The Commission takes note of the statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, requesting that Venezuela respect the bodily integrity and human rights of Colombian nationals in accordance with international norms currently in force and that it examine the situation of each family in order to ensure respect for each family's right to stay together.

Pursuant to its human rights obligations under international treaties, the Venezuelan State must take every necessary step to guarantee that racial profiling does not occur during migration control raids. The State has a general duty to respect the rights of all migrants, including their right to live free from discrimination and all forms of violence and their right to personal integrity, family unity, and property.  The IACHR reiterates that, in accordance with international norms and standards, migrants subject to proceedings that may lead to their being deported shall  be entitled to have, at the least, the following  guarantees respected: i) the right to be heard by the competent authority in deportation proceedings and to have adequate opportunity to exercise their right of defense; ii) the right to have interpretation and translation facilities, as needed; iii) the right to be represented by a lawyer; iv) the right to consular protection from the moment they are detained; v) the right to receive notification of the decision ordering their deportation; vi) the right of recourse to an effective remedy to challenge the deportation decision; and viii) the right to suspension of the deportation decision pending appeal.

The Commission wishes to issue a reminder that the Venezuelan State has an obligation to analyze, substantiate, and take an individual decision in respect of each deportation. Accordingly, the Commission reiterates that collective expulsions are manifestly contrary to international law. Furthermore, given the possibility that parents or relatives of persons entitled to Venezuelan nationality may be deported, the IACHR considers that the proceedings that could lead to the deportation of such persons must take into consideration the principle of the best interests of the children of migrants and the right of the person subject to deportation proceedings to protection of his or her right to a family life and the principle of family unity, pursuant to human rights norms and standards.

In this regard, Commissioner Felipe González, the IACHR's Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, has stated that "the Commission is extremely concerned about the circumstances surrounding the Colombian nationals who are living or who lived in the state of Táchira following the declaration of a state of emergency and closing of the border by the Venezuelan State. The information at our disposal indicates that these deportations are apparently being carried out arbitrarily, without respecting due process guarantees for migrants, the principle of family unity, the best interests of the child, the right to personal integrity, or these persons' right to property. The manner in which these deportations are being carried out indicates that these people are the victims of multiple human rights violations and that they are being expelled collectively, which runs completely counter to international law. We in the Commission are also concerned that among those deported are refugees and other persons requiring international protection and in respect of whom the Venezuelan State has a duty to respect the principle of non-refoulement."

The IACHR urges the Venezuelan State to put an immediate stop to any collective, arbitrary, and/or summary expulsion and to urgently adopt all necessary measures to guarantee that any undocumented migrant has access to proceedings that provide guarantees of due process prior to deportation and that the principle of family unity be protected.  The IACHR further calls upon the Venezuelan State to adopt measures to ensure respect for all the rights of the persons caught up in this situation, including their right to live free from all forms of discrimination and violence. In addition, the Commission urges the Venezuelan authorities to refrain from taking any steps conducive to the destruction of property belonging to Colombian nationals.

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 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.

No. 100/15