Commissioners: Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, Joel Hernández García, Antonia Urrejola Noguera

Petitioners: Ex officio (convened at the initiative of the IACHR)

Participants: Maria Soledad García Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (ESCER); Marlene Alejos, Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations; Daniela Burgi-Palomino, principle coordinator of Mexican immigration in the Latin America Working Group (LAWG); Ursula Roldan, Universidad Rafael Landívar de Guatemala; Syria Viyatora, Center for Human Rights Fray Matías de Córdova; Mariana Zaragoza González, Universidad Iberoamericana de Tijuana; Claudia León, Jesuit Migrant Service Mexico; Sara Pavletic, University of Pennsylvania; Lucero Ortiz, Alianza Americas; and Catherine Johnson, representing both American Friends Service Committee and Alianza Americas.

States: Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, United States

Since October 2018, thousands of migrants have traveled more than 2,500 miles to escape persecution, poverty, and violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, according to the BBC and Vox. In November 2018, 7,000 Central American migrants, including many women and children, reached the U.S.-Mexico border with 3,000 additional migrants on their way to the border. The members of the group, known as the Migrant Caravan, left their respective countries to seek asylum and to build a better future for themselves and their families.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) initiated a regional hearing on the human rights situation of the persons that make part of the Migrant Caravan on December 6, 2018. Central America is severely unstable, with Honduras and El Salvador ranking among the deadliest places in the world that are not active conflict zones, which has caused the Migrant Caravan to form. Civil society and international organizations actively participated and they examined four main violations of the American Convention. The primary right examined was Article 22 Freedom of Movement and Residence, followed by Article 5 Right to Humane Treatment, Article 7 Right to Personal Liberty, and Article 19 Rights of the Child.

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) reported a new migratory paradigm in which people were fleeing their country of origin due to violence and poverty. On October 12th, the Migrant Caravan left San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and three more groups followed between October 12th and December 6th. At the hearing, CSOs advocated for assistance and protection for the large migratory party in the absence of state responses. They reported systematic and widespread human rights violations correlating to the political rhetoric that continues to criminalize the Migrant Caravan and encourages containment and detention of asylum seekers. The CSOs requested that the transit states and origin countries assume their human rights responsibilities, guarantee integral protections in the face of the humanitarian crisis, provide adequate facilities and access to resources, guarantee family unity, and allow transparency in the negotiations.

Since the Migrant Caravan’s departure from Guatemala, CSOs reported that the transit states have criminalized the movement and militarized the borders. The governments attempted to detain the caravan in the border city of Aguascalientes with police and military force and brutality. The governments temporarily closed the border at Aguascalientes and other border checkpoints to prevent people from crossing in a documented fashion, which was a direct violation of the Central American Agreement-4 and the Guatemalan Migratory Code. Furthermore, neither the Guatemalan nor the Honduran government contributed to humanitarian aid. On October 20th, the governments implemented the plan called “Safe Return”, which returned 7,000 migrants to their country of origin and lacked transparency or proof of consent. CSOs were not permitted to monitor the situation and there continues to be a lack of timely and truthful information of the number of people who have been solicited to return and illegally deported. The transit states have failed to adopt the evaluation measures necessary for proper reintegration into the origin country. The detention conditions in Honduras and Guatemala have prevented migrants from reaching humanitarian aid in Mexico.

At Mexico’s southern border, the government’s response has focused on safety rather than aid. Federal police forces have suppressed and blocked the passage of the Migrant Caravan.  Mexico allowed persons to enter the territory on the condition that they submit to migratory detention. Lack of clean water, medical services, and food has exacerbated the long waits. Mexico separated families and further fragmented the caravan with harassment and police brutality. CSOs have reported inhumane and degrading treatment, including torture at the hands of police agents with judicial and federal assistance. There continues to be a lack of transparency.

At the U.S.’s southern border, the Migrant Caravan was met with deterrent patterns of dispersion and harassment implemented by the U.S.’s state and federal government. The group was met with minimum conditions of humanitarian assistance and excessive use of force which left migrants especially vulnerable. There continues to be local hostility in Tijuana, including violence from anti-immigration groups. Tijuana lacks the capacity to address specific needs of the large group which, at the onset, created a humanitarian emergency. There were reports of massive arbitrary detention and irregular deportation. Lastly, there continues to be rejection and distrust at the U.S. border as shown by U.S. border patrol agents launching tear gas against the migrants.

The UN representative, Marlene Alejos, encouraged collaboration between the Commission, CSOs, and the local governments to address the human rights of migrants participating in the Migrant Caravan. Édgar Corso Sossa, representative of the Mexican National Commission of Human Rights, also stressed the need of collaboration. The Commissioners did not ask questions, rather they commentated on the need to focus on human rights, continue working and assisting on the borders, and help resolve the larger humanitarian crisis by addressing the underlying causes. They recognized the immediate need to address the violations of the rights of migrants and the vulnerability of the migrants. Since the hearing, the IACHR has expressed concern over the situation in two press releases, calling on States to adopt measures for the migrants’ protection and guarantee their effective enjoyment of human rights. The Migrant Caravan has highlighted the issues which continue to plague the region and the need to collaborate among international organizations, CSOs, and governments.