Press Release

IACHR condemns the recent death of Mexican national by U.S. Border Patrol Agents

July 24, 2012

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the actions that led to the death of Juan Pablo Pérez Santillán, a Mexican national. Pérez Santillán was found dead after an encounter with US Border Patrol agents at the border between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, United States. The Commission notes with concern that this is not the first incident of its kind, indicating that U.S. Border Patrol agents used an excessive and disproportionate use of force on the Mexico-United States border. The Commission has received information, indicating that other deaths caused by U.S. Border Patrol agents may have resulted from excessive and disproportionate use of force. Such is the case in the deaths Anastasio Hernández Rojas and 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernández Güereca.

According to available information, Juan Pablo Pérez Santillán’s body was found on July 7, 2012, near the bridge between Brownsville, Texas to Matamoros, Mexico, after being shot by a U.S. agent. The U.S. Border Patrol affirms that one agent fired after someone had allegedly thrown rocks at him from the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) riverbank and the second agent fired his weapon at the person who the agent alleges had directed a weapon at him from the Mexican border. Neither patrol agent was hurt during the incident.

The IACHR urges the United States to investigate this incident, particularly if the death of Pérez Santillán was caused by U.S. Border Control agents´ use of lethal force, and to punish those who are determined responsible. Similarly, the Inter-American Commission would like to reiterate the obligation that the United States has to respect and protect the human rights of all persons found under its jurisdiction, regardless of an individual’s migration status. As expressed in the Commission’s Report on Immigration in the United States: Detention and Due Process, it considers the information on the deaths of immigrants trying to cross the border that are neutralized by immigration agents through the use of excessive and disproportionate force as extremely serious.

Commissioner Felipe Gonzalez, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants at the IACHR, stated that “it is extremely concerning that in the current context, some States take measures that focus on the criminalization of irregular migration and adopt laws that directly contradict the rights of migrants, and even more, allow the use of racial profiling during immigration control procedures. Regardless of immigration status, migrants, just like any other person, have human rights that all States have the obligation to respect and guarantee. Within any immigration control procedure, States are obliged to guarantee that their authorities respect the right to life and physical and psychological integrity of migrants who are under their jurisdiction, regardless of their immigration status”.

According to the Inter-American system’s standards, the use of force by governmental security forces must be grounded on the existence of exceptional circumstances and should be planned and proportionally limited by the government authorities. In this aspect, the force or coercive means can only be used once all other methods of control have been exhausted and failed. At the same time, the use of force must be limited to the principles of proportionality, necessity and humanity. The use of firearms and lethal force against people by law enforcement officers --which must be generally forbidden--is only justified in even more extraordinary cases. The exceptional circumstances under which firearms and lethal force may be used shall be determined by the law and restrictively construed, so that they are used to the minimum extent possible in all cases, but never exceeding what is considered "absolutely necessary" in relation to the force or threat to be repealed. When excessive force is used, any deprivation of life is arbitrary. Likewise, States have the obligation to open a serious, independent, impartial and effective investigation when security agents are known to have used firearms with lethal consequences, which constitutes a fundamental and determinant element for the protection of the right to life, which has been annulled in such situations.

Consequently, the IACHR urges the United States to open a serious, independent, impartial and effective investigation on this death and any other deaths that have occurred under similar circumstances, as well as on allegations of disproportionate use of force and any other kind of abuse taken by its agents, with the objective of clarifying these facts and punishing all human rights violations in accordance to the aforementioned standards.

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 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. 93/12