IACHR Condemns Use of Force Against People in Movement in Mexico and Calls on the State to Investigate Events and Prevent Them from Being Repeated

September 27, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the excessive use of force against members of the migrant caravan during August and September in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. It urged the State to conduct an ex officio investigation with due diligence into the acts of violence against this population, punish the State agents responsible for them, and make full reparations to the victims of these human rights violations. The State must also adopt the necessary measures to prevent these events from being repeated.

The IACHR observed that between August 28 and September 5, at least four mixed migration movements—also known as "migrant caravans"—were formed. These people in movement included women and other vulnerable groups in need of international protection, such as children and adolescents, pregnant women, and people of African descent. According to the available information, the formation of these movements reportedly stems from lengthy delays in settling asylum or protection procedures and the lack of access to State services and other human rights in the southern states of Mexico.

The IACHR noted that according to the current regulations, people requesting asylum or protection must wait for the ruling on these processes in the state in which they filed the request. As a consequence, civil society organizations have noted that the lack of opportunities for integration in the region has made these groups of people in movement even more vulnerable.

Several videos published on social media platforms show that the National Institute of Migration (INM) and the National Guard have used force during migrant monitoring operations to prevent people who are part of mixed migration movements from reaching Mexico's northern border, in contravention of inter-American standards on the matter. These authorities are also said to have arrested people in movement. According to the information received, members of the Mexican Army took part in these operations, as did so-called Beta Groups (migrant protection units run by the INM).

Specifically, regarding the excessive use of force, the IACHR has received information regarding confrontations that culminated in aggressions and beatings against these groups of people in movement. The videos that have been published revealed that State authorities and State security forces used shields and batons to hit their heads and other body parts of these people, who had no means of defending themselves. It also observed with concern that such attacks were allegedly used against families and adults in the company of children and adolescents. Furthermore, according to official information, the IMM allegedly initiated investigations against two federal agents, who were then sanctioned as stipulated in the Migration Act.

The IACHR was also informed that individuals, entire families, and children and adolescents were detained in a manner involving the excessive use of force. In response, organizations claim that they have documented cases of people being expelled into Guatemala after being detained. On this point, the IACHR is particularly alarmed by the reports from civil society organizations alleging that devices to administer electric shocks were used on detainees to force them to board buses and subsequently expel them from the country.

According to press reports, on September 13, 2021, both migrants and human rights defenders reportedly organized a hunger strike to demand the free passage of the migrant caravan through Mexican territory. On September 15, the IACHR noted that a new demonstration had taken place in the city of Tapachula, Chiapas, to protest the fact that measures had not been taken to expedite pending migration, asylum, or protection proceedings and the lack of opportunities for accessing work and integrating into society.

In response to these events, the IACHR once again stressed the guidelines set out in the Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Trafficking regarding the prohibition of the use of force in response to the formation of large-scale mixed migration movements. This is a remedy that should only be employed when all other means of control have been exhausted or have failed, and should always be strictly proportionate and necessary to achieve a reasonable, lawful objective within the specific circumstances in question. Likewise, the State must act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, and prosecute those responsible and provide reparation for the victims.

Furthermore, the IACHR reiterated that immigration detention is an exceptional measure that may only be legally authorized when it is deemed to be necessary, reasonable in the circumstances, and proportional to a legitimate purpose. The State should also adopt measures to guarantee the prohibition of the detention of children and adolescents in contexts of migration.

On the matter of the involvement of the armed forces and other State security forces in migration control operations, the IACHR noted in the Preliminary Observations on its virtual visit to Mexico that citizen security and migration control should be the responsibility of civilian police forces. It also deemed that personnel with a military profile and training do not have the skills to respond appropriately to people in need of international protection, including those at particular risk. Consequently, the IACHR stressed that a distinction needs to be made between security functions and the provision of humanitarian assistance to people in movement, which only specialized civilian personnel should be involved in.

Finally, in line with the recommendations set out in the report entitled Due Process in Procedures for the Determination of Refugee Status and Statelessness and the Granting of Complementary Protection, the IACHR called on the State to implement measures to adapt existing structures and institutions to enable them to process and issue appropriate decisions that respect due process regarding the status of the mass flows of asylum seekers, refugees, and people seeking other forms of humanitarian protection in the context of the mixed migration movements that are currently taking place in the region. It also highlighted the need to include a gender perspective and differentiated approaches in all measures that are taken, based on an intersectional approach.

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. 255/21

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