Press Release

IACHR Urges Honduras and Guatemala to Guarantee the Rights of People in the Migrant and Refugee Caravan

February 19, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the human rights situation of the migrants and refugees that are part of the so-called migrant caravan heading to Mexico and the United States. The IACHR urges the states of Honduras and Guatemala to guarantee the human rights of the migrants and refugees that are part of this caravan, including the right to leave any given territory, to seek and be granted asylum, and to nonrefoulement.

According to publicly available information, on January 14, 2019, a new migrant caravan began to form in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, heading toward Mexico and the United States of America. According to information received by the IACHR, Hondurans, in particular, faced obstacles when attempting to leave their country, including at least seven checkpoints, blockades in the form of “human fences” made up of agents from different security forces, and police checkpoints requesting identity documents at the border. The IACHR has also received reports of the use of force by Honduran police officers, who allegedly teargassed the caravan, injuring several people, including children and adolescents. These events unfolded against the backdrop of a strong media campaign seeking to dissuade people from migrating. As a result, many migrants, including families with children, have decided to avoid regular border crossing points by taking more dangerous routes through blind spots on the border. The IACHR wishes to remind the state of Honduras that all people have the right to freely leave any country, including their own, according to the terms of Article 22.2 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Likewise, the inability to leave your country may also imply a restriction to the right to seek and be granted asylum, as per Article 22.7 of the American Convention.

Furthermore, the IACHR has received information regarding the use of force by authorities on the Guatemalan side of the border, including a riot police barrier armed with battens, rubber bullets, and other weapons. These officers only allowed women with children to enter the country. The IACHR stresses that force should only be used during migration-related operations in compliance with the principles of legitimate purpose, absolute necessity, and proportionality. It also wishes to remind states that migrants do not represent a threat to national security. As a consequence, the IACHR urges the state of Guatemala to guarantee the human rights of migrants and refugees, including the right to seek and be granted asylum and to the right to nonrefoulement, and to refrain from resorting to the use of force in response to the arrival of migrants in masse.

The IACHR has argued for several years now that the forced migration of people from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala is one of the main human rights challenges facing the region. According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of asylum-seekers from these three countries has risen significantly over the past five years: there has been a 439% increase in the number of people with pending applications for asylum and a 150% increase in the number of people who have already been granted asylum.

“More than ever before, we need to remember that migration is not a crime,” said Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, rapporteur on the rights of migrants. “The large-scale migratory movements that we have been witnessing for several years now reflect the widespread violence, discrimination, poverty, and inequality facing the most marginalized sectors of society in the Northern Triangle countries.”

On her part, IACHR President Esmeralda Arosemena de Trotiño, noted: “Many of the people who are part of these caravans need international protection and many others are in vulnerable situations and require special protection. These include children and adolescents, women, people with disabilities, LGTBI people, and the elderly.”

The IACHR urges states to refrain from criminalizing migration, to guarantee respect for the integrity and dignity of all people under their jurisdiction, to allow people to leave their territories, and to guarantee people the right to seek and be granted asylum.

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. 037/19