Press Release

International Migrants Day: “Measures to prevent all types of hate speech and advocacy of hatred that tend to incite violence or any other illegal acts against migrants are critical to stop hate crimes”

December 18, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - On International Migrants Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on the States in the region to adopt measures to prevent all types of hate speech and advocacy of hatred that tend to incite violence or any other illegal acts against migrants, refugees, and stateless persons. Currently there are more than 63 million international migrants in the countries of the Americas.

In recent years, the Commission has been extremely concerned to observe a rise in discourse intended to foster hatred, violence, and discrimination against migrants and stateless persons in various countries in the region and around the world. In recent months, this rise in hate speech against migrants and other national minorities has been accompanied by an increase in the number of hate crimes and various forms of harassment against these individuals.

Increasingly, nationalist parties and populist politicians blame migrants for an increase in crime, terrorism, and unemployment, without providing statistical data that would back up these types of statements. By manipulating public perceptions about migration, certain politicians have made migrants and refugees the main scapegoats they use to stoke fear in their societies and win popular support.

The Inter-American Commission has observed with concern how political discourse that is hateful toward migrants has been accompanied by proposals to close borders, build walls against migration, conduct massive detentions and deportations of migrants, and in general stigmatize and criminalize migrants, especially those with irregular immigration status. In many cases, these types of measures have moved from discourse to practice, leading to gross and massive violations of the human rights of migrants and their families.

Hate speech and xenophobia against migrants and other minorities are also leading to many situations of harassment in schools, workplaces, and other public spheres, where people are being persecuted and harassed because of their immigration situation or that of their parents or because of their national origin.

The Commission calls to mind that there is a close connection between the prejudices and stereotypes spread within societies and the acts of violence committed against migrants and other minorities. Although not all hateful messages lead to hate crimes, hate crimes rarely occur without the targeted groups first being subject to stigmatization and dehumanization. The Commission observes that there is an intrinsic relationship between the spread of negative stereotypes and prejudice toward migrants and the marginalization, discrimination, and violations of rights that affect these individuals.

In this regard, the Inter-American Commission calls to mind that States have an obligation to adopt measures to prevent these conditions of hatred and discrimination from spreading, becoming worse, or turning into concrete acts of violence, as well as measures to protect the groups and sectors that are most affected, such as migrants. Moreover, States’ tolerance or inaction toward hateful or discriminatory speech or violence against migrants or other minorities reinforce the creation of a context of discrimination, making these groups more vulnerable; therefore, States should establish different types of sanctions that respond appropriately to displays of discrimination, hatred, and violence on the part of State or private actors.

Commissioner James Cavallaro, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said, “No State, for any reason, may legitimately violate migrants’ human rights. Even if there is support for it from some sectors of society, the rights of migrants may not be violated.” For his part, Commissioner Enrique Gil Botero, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, stated, “In the face of the current and future challenges posed by those who endorse hatred and violence against migrants, we at the Inter-American Commission reaffirm our commitment to promote and defend migrants’ dignity and human rights. As States and as societies we must draw a line and stand up to those who incite hatred and violence toward migrants and other minorities. We must stand united against those who use hatred to divide us.”

Finally, the Inter-American Commission notes that one of the primary ways to promote and protect the rights of migrants is to recognize them as subjects of rights. In this regard, the Commission urges the States to ratify the American Convention on Human Rights and other applicable instruments. The Commission also calls on the States to implement in their domestic policies and practices the norms and standards the Commission has developed in its report “Human Rights of Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, Victims of Human Trafficking and Internally Displaced Persons: Norms and Standards of the Inter-American Human Rights System.

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. 190/16