The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has affirmed the fundamental right of all asylum seekers–including those interdicted on the high seas–to seek and receive asylum. The Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, along with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, filed the action with the Inter-American Commission on behalf of Haitian refugees in March.

“Asylum seekers fleeing Haiti now have recognition of fundamental rights, the right to seek and receive asylum and the right to a hearing,” said Deborah Anker, HLS lecturer and director of the Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. “It is critical that an international human rights body has clearly recognized these rights as applying extra-territorially.”

The advocacy groups’ petition was filed on behalf of Hatian refugees who have been fleeing their country since former President Jean-Baptiste Aristide was forced to leave in February. The Inter-American Commission’s decision established a precedent in recognizing asylum claimants’ right to fair hearings even when interdicted in international waters, and in asserting the Commission’s jurisdiction over such cases.

While the United States appeared to acknowledge its asylum-related obligations in its response in the case, the commission found that the American government had failed to demonstrate it was complying with those obligations. As a result, the commission ordered that the United States provide bi-monthly reports to the commission concerning Haitians who are interdicted and raise claims for asylum.