Press Release

To Mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the IACHR Urges States to Implement Public Policies to Protect Indigenous Peoples Who Have Been Forced to Migrate

August 9, 2018

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Washington, DC – To mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the IACHR wishes to express its concern over the large numbers of indigenous people who have been forced to move or migrate from their lands and/or countries of origin after facing extreme violence or discrimination. The IACHR urges states to implement public policies to protect indigenous communities that have been displaced within their countries or have been obliged to emigrate. These policies should contemplate their identity as indigenous peoples and guarantee their capacity to maintain this identity throughout the migration process.

In recent years, the IACHR’s Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Migrants have been informed of a significant number of indigenous communities that have been forced to abandon their ancestral lands and/or countries of origin for multiple reasons, as well as on the practice of forced eviction and internal displacement affecting various indigenous and peasant communities. The indigenous peoples in question are now experiencing extremely precarious circumstances, lack basic services such as access to drinking water, food, healthcare, or education, and are suffering from high levels of malnutrition.

The IACHR has also been monitoring with concern the situation of indigenous persons who have migrated to the United States. In this regard, the IACHR has condemned the death of a young Maya-Mam indigenous woman from Guatemala who was shot and killed by US Border Patrol agents. The IACHR also condemns the profound repercussions of the new “zero tolerance” migration policy, which separated children from their parents with a disproportionate impact on indigenous immigrants. This included violations to the right to family life, the principle of family unity, the principle of the best interests of the child, the right to personal integrity, and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, among other rights.

The displacement and migration of indigenous peoples and communities in the Americas are most frequently caused by conflict and pressures in relation to their lands and resources; environmental disasters; lack of access to their land and the resources necessary for their physical and cultural survival; and in response to limited supplies of services, goods, and opportunities for employment or education and the situations of poverty in which many of these communities find themselves. In response to these circumstances, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, the IACHR’s Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, stated: “It is of vital importance that the American states guarantee indigenous communities a life of dignity and the means they need to protect and preserve their cultural and linguistic wealth during migration and displacement both within the countries where they live and to other countries.”

The IACHR and Inter-American Court of Human Rights have established that the forced displacement of indigenous peoples or members of these peoples outside their communities can put them in a particularly vulnerable position due to the intrinsic relationship they have with their ancestral lands. The destructive consequences of these practices on the ethnic and cultural fabric pose a clear risk of cultural or physical extinction for indigenous peoples. Furthermore, such displacement can give rise to specific risks such as of arbitrary deprivation of liberty, violence, human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation or labor exploitation, denial of access to basic healthcare and education services, denial of the right to nationality, and other human rights violations. As the IACHR stressed in its report Indigenous Women and Their Human Rights in the Americas, this situation is especially difficult for indigenous women and girls, making them more vulnerable, as they face different sources of discrimination and tend to find themselves in precarious socioeconomic circumstances with dependents in their care.

The IACHR reminds states that they have the obligation to respect and guarantee the right to freedom of movement and residence to all people under their jurisdiction, which includes the prohibition of arbitrary displacement. Whenever internal displacement of indigenous peoples occurs, the IACHR urges states to comply with the obligations set out in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, especially their obligations to prevent internal displacement, protect the displaced during and after the displacement, provide and facilitate humanitarian assistance, and seek lasting solutions in the form of return, resettlement, and reintegration of the internally displaced in safety and with dignity. Likewise, the IACHR urges states to protect the right to property and the use and enjoyment of this and to take measures to safeguard against the displacement of indigenous peoples.

The IACHR also stresses the need for recognition of the identity and forms of organization of indigenous people who are forced to migrate, along with the maintenance of their languages, cultural practices, and culture. It urges states to implement public policies to protect migrant indigenous communities and to guarantee their ability to maintain their indigenous identity throughout the migration process.

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. 174/18