Press Release

IACHR Hails Entry into Force of Migration Code in Guatemala

June 19, 2017

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hails the recent entry into force of Guatemala’s Migration Code, which took effect at the end of April 2017. The Migration Code incorporates and aligns into the Guatemalan legal system many norms and standards of the inter-American human rights system, international refugee law, and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The IACHR calls on the Guatemalan State to issue implementing regulations for this law and other migration-related laws in accordance with inter-American norms and standards on human rights.

The IACHR commends the law’s recognition of the right to migrate and the right to equal access to public services related to safety, health, education, work, housing, and all services migrants need in order to live their lives. The law also recognizes the rights inherent to human beings for any migrant—including the right to family, to non-discrimination, to justice, and to the principle of in dubio pro operario—and creates specialized, separate authorities to handle the issues of migration and asylum, as well as a career system in migration.

The Migration Code is innovative in incorporating the Guatemalan State’s protection of anyone in its territory, and expressly forbids demanding identification documents or any other requirement to provide that protection. In this regard, it establishes the power to authorize entities to provide temporary shelter and care to migrant persons. Recognizing the vulnerability faced by some people in the context of migration, the statute establishes special provisions for migrant children, women who need maternity services, and older persons.

Among the Migrant Code’s most important developments is its recognition of the right to seek recognition of refugee status and the concept of diplomatic asylum, as well as the right to non-refoulement for any case in which a person’s life, physical integrity, and liberty may be at risk, regardless of whether that person is recognized as a refugee or asylee. In addition, the Migration Code allows entry into the country for humanitarian reasons for people affected by natural disasters, medical emergencies, and armed conflicts; in cooperation with other States for medical, aid, or relief purposes; and for the repatriation of remains of family members who have died in Guatemala. International protection for refugees and asylum seekers and the establishment of humanitarian visas represent comprehensive, complementary, and sustainable solutions to protect those who are affected and to fulfill the 2014 Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action.

The Commission believes it is important to highlight the creation of a procedure to attend to families of people reported as missing as a result of migration. This includes the obligation to establish a search procedure, facilitate transfers, repatriate remains, prohibit cremation of migrants’ remains, and facilitate search mechanisms, as well as special provisions to search for unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents who have been reported missing. The implementation of these provisions is consistent with compliance with the recommendations the IACHR made to Guatemala in its 2015 report Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala and 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.

In this regard, Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, stated, “I would like to commend the decision by Guatemala to approve a Migration Code based fundamentally on a human rights approach instead of a national security approach. These types of measures are more in keeping with the norms and standards of the inter-American human rights system.” Rapporteur Vargas added, “The Migration Code is an important effort to guarantee the human rights of all people, regardless of their migration status, which is why we hope that its implementation will be ensured through a rule-making process that is open and transparent, with ample and active participation by civil society. This new law and any other laws that stems from it should be accompanied by processes to train and raise awareness among migration officials.”

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.

No. 079/17