IACHR Publishes Guidelines on Internal Displacement in the Northern Triangle

Situation of Victims of Forced Displacement in Guatemala
Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera via IACHR Flickr

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has launched a report on internally displaced people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; it analyzes a years-long increase in internal migration due to violence and the forceful expulsion of Indigenous and farming communities, details the rights of internally displaced people, and provides human rights-based guidelines for essential policy reforms. See IACHR, Internal Displacement in the Northern Triangle of Central America: Public Policy Guidelines (2018). Internally displaced people are those who are forced to flee their homes involuntarily due to armed conflict, violence, human rights violations, or natural or manmade disasters, and who remain in their country of origin or residence after fleeing their homes. See id. at para. 8. A previous IACHR report touched on forced displacement and forced migration in the three countries, known as the “Northern Triangle” of Central America, in the context of human mobility in the Americas. [IJRC] The new report includes a practical guide intended to make its main recommendations more accessible to civil society and individuals working on the promotion and protection of internally displaced people’s rights, as well as to government officials. The IACHR has stated its willingness to provide technical assistance to States and institutions in implementing its recommendations. See IACHR, Internal Displacement in the Northern Triangle of Central America, para. 14.

Internal Displacement & State Obligations in the Northern Triangle

In the Northern Triangle, internal displacement has increased in recent years and is largely the result of gang violence or violence perpetuated by drug cartels. See id. at paras. 29, 42. The report finds that activities by State agents and large-scale business also contribute to internal displacement. See id. However, the IACHR highlights that internal displacement is a complex phenomenon that may be caused by multiple factors, including structural deficiencies that cannot be overlooked. See id. at para. 49. For example, the report points to the existing patriarchal system, high levels of corruption and impunity, States’ inability to ensure personal safety, weak government institutions, and social inequalities that limit access to economic and social rights, such as health, education, and housing. See id. at paras. 49-50.

Certain populations are at higher risk of internal displacement given their particular circumstances, including Indigenous and farming communities forcibly displaced by megaprojects and business activities, women, children and adolescents, human rights defenders, LGBTI people, and journalists, among others. See id. at paras. 29, 43, 54.

While internal displacement in the Northern Triangle continues to increase, the lack of accurate data makes it difficult to identify the full scope of the problem. See id. at paras. 57-59, 72. The report concludes that displacement in the region is often disregarded or minimized as a result of low-level reporting, often because of fear of reprisal or the high level of impunity in the States, and incomplete records or lack of official recognition of internal displacement in reported cases. See id. The IACHR Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons has called on States to “collect additional data […] and analysis to build a comprehensive picture of the internal displacement situation, identify trends, patterns, and risk profiles and understand the location, needs, protection concerns, and intentions of internally displaced persons.” See id. at para. 75.

Human Rights Violations & State Obligations

The IACHR analyzes internal displacement and its impact on the human rights of individuals and communities in three phases. See id. at paras. 55-56. First, it considers the human rights violations that predate and often cause the internal displacement, then the rights violations that occur during the displacement itself, and, finally, the rights violations that occur because of the State’s failure to provide adequate protections and solutions to the problem. See id. at para. 56. While forced displacement is considered a human rights violation in it of itself, the IACHR recognizes the multiple and continuous human rights violations that displacement entails, including but not limited to violations of the rights to an adequate standard of living, freedom of movement, humane treatment, private and family life, property, work, and identity. See id. at paras. 87, 92-93, 100.

As such, the IACHR clarifies that States have an obligation to prevent displacement; to provide protection and assistance during displacement, including humanitarian assistance to ensure an adequate standard of living; and to implement measures that facilitate return or local resettlement as a way to guarantee lasting solutions for internally displaced persons. See id. at paras. 99, 112, 125, 131.

Public Policy Guidelines

The report presents the core Inter-American standards, focusing on the scope of Article 22 (freedom of movement and residence) of the American Convention on Human Rights and drawing on United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. See id. at paras. 81-86. The IACHR then translates those standards into 12 policy recommendations aimed at assisting States in complying with their international obligations in this area. See id. at para. 142.

The proposed guidelines are included in the report as well as in the separate practical guide. See IACHR, Practical Guide: Guidelines for the formulation of public policies on internal displacement. The guidelines provide specific steps for States’ executive, legislative, and judicial branches with respect to creating public institutional frameworks capable of achieving effective solutions for the protection of internally displaced persons, adopting data-gathering measures that guarantee transparency and accountability, recognizing internal displacement as a human rights problem and implementing prevention measures to mitigate it, and recognizing and protecting the fundamental rights of the internally displaced. See id. at 9-17.

The guidelines also emphasize the need for a gender and diversity perspective when addressing internal displacement, noting specifically the historical discrimination impacting internally displaced women, girls, and LGBIT individuals, and also highlight the need for an approach that includes an intersectional intercultural perspective. See id. at 21-24. In line with the State obligations previously outlined, the guidelines include specific steps to facilitate humanitarian assistance and efforts to return, resettle, and reintegrate individuals into the local community. See id. at 27-29. Additionally, the guidelines call on States to guarantee access to justice and reparation, and to facilitate civil society and community participation in the process of formulating, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating policies related to internal displacement. See id. at 31-35. Finally, the guidelines include specific measures to guarantee a budget that sustains institutions and policies aimed at protecting internally displaced persons, and steps to expand regional and international cooperation. See id. at 36-37.

Additional Information

To learn more about the Inter-American human rights systemmigrants’ rights, and asylum and refugee rights, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. For an overview of the Northern Triangle countries’ human rights obligations, view IJRC’s Country Factsheets. To stay up-to-date on international human rights news, visit IJRC’s News Room or subscribe to the IJRC Daily.