Press Release

IACHR Concludes Visit to Colombia's Border with Venezuela

September 28, 2015

CIDH visita la frontera de Colombia con Venezuela
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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a visit to the border of Colombia with Venezuela from September 10 to 12, 2015. The purpose of the visit was to monitor the human rights situation of Colombian migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers who have been deported or have returned to Colombia following the closure of the main border crossing point between San Antonio in Táchira state, Venezuela, and Cúcuta, Department of Norte de Santander, Colombia, on August 19, 2015, and the declaration of a state of emergency by the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, on August 21, 2015. 

In accordance with the rules that govern its mandate, the IACHR sought the necessary consent from the States of Colombia and Venezuela, and received an affirmative response from Colombia, with the result that the visit could only include that country. The Commission would like to thank the Government of the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and the Colombian people for all the facilities provided for conducting the visit. The IACHR regrets the lack of a response from the Government of Venezuela to the request.

The IACHR delegation was composed of Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Rapporteur for Colombia; Commissioner Felipe González, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants and Rapporteur for Venezuela; Executive Secretary Emilio Álvarez Icaza; and Karin Mansel and Álvaro Botero, specialists of the IACHR Executive Secretariat. In the course of its visit, the IACHR delegation visited Bogotá as well as Cúcuta and Villa del Rosario in the border area of the Department of Norte de Santander, Colombia. The IACHR also had meetings with Colombian state officials, civil society organizations, victims of human rights violations, and representatives of the United Nations system, the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia of the Organization of American States (MAPP/OAS), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Colombia.

The IACHR saw for itself the humanitarian crisis that is affecting the deportees and people who returned out of fear and because of the grave situation in which they found themselves in Venezuela. The IACHR received troubling reports about the way in which the deportations from Venezuela were carried out, suggesting that those individuals suffered multiple human rights violations and were subjected to collective expulsion. In this context, the IACHR received serious complaints alleging violations of the rights to liberty and to personal security and integrity; to equality before law; to protection of honor, personal reputation, and private and family life; to protection for mothers; to protection for children; to residence and movement; to the preservation of health and to well-being; to education; to work; to inviolability of the home; to property; of protection from arbitrary arrest; to judicial protection and due process of law; to the prohibition of collective expulsions; and to seek and receive asylum; as well as of the principle of non-refoulement. 

The Commission received testimonies and information to the effect that starting on August 21, 2015, the situation became critical at the migration points of Villa del Rosario in Colombia, and San Antonio del Táchira, in Venezuela, due to the arrival en masse of deportees from Venezuela or persons who had decided to return to Colombia for fear of deportation. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that between August 21 and September 9, 1,482 Colombians had been deported from Venezuela through the departments of Norte de Santander, La Guajira, Arauca, and Vichada. According to the OCHA, a further 19,952 Colombians had returned to Colombia owing to the situation that they faced in Venezuela. Many of them were having difficulties getting food and obtaining access to health care services as well as being subjected to discrimination and persecution, not only by the authorities, particularly the Bolivarian National Guard, but also, in some cases, by individuals. The total number of deportees and returnees came to 21,434 people. 

In light of the information gathered and of international human rights obligations, the Inter-American Commission urges the Venezuelan State to establish, jointly with the Colombian State, mechanisms that would allow all the families separated in this context to be reunited, as well as the restitution of the property, goods and chattels of those deported and returned, or, if this is not possible, to compensate them. In addition, the Commission urges the Venezuelan State to put an immediate stop to any collective, arbitrary, and/or summary expulsion and to guarantee that any undocumented migrant has access to immigration proceedings that provide guarantees of due process prior to deportation and that the principle of family unity be protected. Also, Venezuela must guarantee the enforcement of international standards on the use of force in immigration control operations, that migrant detention is used as an exceptional measure, the prohibition of the detention of child and adolescent migrants, detention in conditions commensurate with human dignity and the prohibition of mass expulsions. Finally, the Commission urges Venezuela to guarantee that refugees and asylum-seekers of Colombian origin are not deported or returned to Colombia.

With regard to the mass arrival of Colombians and, to a lesser extent, Venezuelans in Colombian territory, the IACHR received information about various measures that are being implemented by the Colombian state, civil society organizations, and international agencies to provide humanitarian assistance and to protect the rights of those affected. The Commission acknowledges the importance of the Colombian state's response, the emergency financial decrees that have been enacted, and the coordinated efforts of various state entities in delivering prompt assistance to address the situation of vulnerability of those affected by the mass deportations and returns from Venezuela.

Between late August, when the situation on the Colombia-Venezuela border began, and September 12, the Colombian State registered 15,176 people (including both deportees and returnees) in the Consolidated Disaster Victim's Registry (Registro Único de Damnificados - RUD), administered by the National Disaster Risk Management Unit (Unidad Nacional para la Gestión del Riesgo de Desastres - UNGRD). The RUD provides registered individuals with access to the institutional services offered by the Colombian state in terms of accommodation, rent allowances, access to health and education services, access to training through the National Training Service (SENA), access to jobs, and a host of other assistance measures targeting these people, which are made available by Colombian State institutions. In light of the ongoing deportation and return of Colombians via informal crossing places at other points along the Colombia-Venezuela border, the Commission urges the Colombian State to ensure that the RUD remained open to anyone who needed it for as long as the situation continued.

The Commission was also troubled by reports concerning the situation of people who are not in Colombian state shelters, also known as the "self-sheltered,” who reportedly do not have the same level of access as the people in the shelters to the humanitarian assistance and offer of institutional services envisaged by the Colombian State. There were also concerns and about the situation of individuals who had arrived informally in other municipalities in the country and about Colombians in Venezuela who intend to return to Colombia, particularly those who return after the RUD is closed. 

The Commission notes that after the visit, President Nicolás Maduro and President Juan Manuel Santos held a meeting in Quito, Ecuador, where they reached seven agreements aimed at the progressive normalization on the border between Venezuela and Colombia.

This press release has an annex, where the Commission shares its Preliminary Observations on the situation based on its visit. The Commission expresses its willingness to work with the States of Venezuela and Colombia to find integral and durable solutions that protect human rights and meet international 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. 109/15