Mexico: One Month After Fire at Migrant Detention Center, IACHR Urges State to Identify Responsible Parties and Ensure Nonrepetition

May 1, 2023

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its regret over the death of 40 migrants and the injuries sustained by 27 others following a fire at a Type B Migrant Detention Center run by the National Migration Institute (INM) in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, on March 27, 2023. One month after these events, the IACHR once again expressed its solidarity with the victims and their families and urged the State to act with due diligence to investigate the events, punish those responsible for them, provide appropriate compensation for the victims, and adopt urgent measures to avoid the repetition of these events.

According to public information, migrants detained in the men's area of the Provisional Detention Center started a fire to protest against their conditions of detention and the threat of deportation. Civil society organizations have indicated that more than 80 people deprived of their freedom were being held at the center following the immigration control operations in downtown Ciudad Juarez and the surrounding area that morning. These organizations expressed their concern in response to a video posted on social media, according to which guards working for the private security company responsible for the site (Grupo de Seguridad Privada CAMSA, S.A. de C.V.) did not assist detainees after the fire started. They also emphasized that these events are part of a wider context of human rights violations inside migrant detention centers, involving fear of deportation, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions.

The IACHR condemned the loss of lives of migrants in the custody of the Mexican State. However, it also took note of the actions taken by the latter, particularly the following: the definitive suspension of activities at the temporary detention center; the issuing of humanitarian visitors cards that guarantee hospital care for the injured; the opening of investigations to clarify the facts and punish those responsible; and the process implemented to provide reparations to the victims' families. It also noted the announcement issued by the Office of the President regarding the creation of a council for the protection of the human rights of migrants and the reform of the INM.

Furthermore, civil society organizations have spoken out again the criminalization of Jaison "N," who the criminal proceedings allege to be the perpetrator of the crimes of homicide and intentional injuries and who was exercising his right to protest the lack of basic supplies such as water, toilet paper, and food. These organizations also warned about the possible risks during the collection of evidence, the release of the bodies of the deceased, and the limitations on the participation of the victims' families and survivors in the investigation.

On the matter of the transfer of mortal remains, according to information from the State, as of April 24, the remains of 31 of the 40 deceased victims had been returned. The State also reported on the creation of the Immediate Action Group (GAI), a joint initiative that it has implemented with the governments of Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Venezuela. This seeks to provide prompt support to the victims' families, assist with the identification of the deceased, repatriate human remains, provide care for those with injuries, and seek to reunite families. In this sense, the IACHR noted that, in accordance with the Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Trafficking, the State must guarantee that the process of identifying, investigating, and transferring the mortal remains of migrants is respectful and allows victims' families to carry out their funeral rites appropriately. States of origin and residence should work together to consult with family members prior to taking any action that alters the victims' remains, while guaranteeing logistical and financial support for the transfer of these (principle 77).

As multiple migrants lost their lives during this event, the IACHR urges the State to implement protocols and measures to guarantee that the bodies of the deceased are identified reliably and delivered to their families while providing full access to information during the procedures in question.

The IACHR also emphasized that migrants and their families have the right to know the truth about the events that led to these human rights violations and to be informed of the identity of the perpetrators. This implies an obligation to clarify, investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible and, if appropriate, guarantee access to information held by the State. They are also entitled to assistance, protection, access to justice, and full and effective reparation for any damages they have sustained. This includes access to justice across borders under conditions that are equitable, effective, and accessible.

With regard to the ongoing practice of depriving people of their freedom in Mexico for migration-related reasons, the IACHR warned that any measure that prevents a migrant from freely exercising their freedom of movement constitutes detention, regardless of the name used to describe it. The State is the guarantor of rights for all people in its custody.

Finally, as indicated in principle 68 of the Inter-American Principles, the State must ensure that detention is used only when authorized by law and only when necessary, reasonable under all circumstances, and proportionate to a legitimate purpose. In light of this principle, the IACHR urged the State of Mexico to adapt its immigration laws, policies, and practices to eliminate the detention of irregular migrants in the country. In the meantime, it is the State's obligation to ensure that any detention complies with the aforementioned principles while seeking to eliminate this practice and adopt alternative measures to the deprivation of freedom for reasons that relate exclusively to migration.

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. 081/23

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