Human rights in Costa Rica are established and protected by the country’s constitution. In the interest of protecting these rights, the Ombudsman’s Office was established to monitor complaints against government institutions and injustice. The office releases an annual report that evaluates the preservation of each constitutional right. All human rights abuses are covered in the report, along with progress being made to prevent future abuse.
According to the 2016 annual report on human rights in Costa Rica, there were four principal human rights violations. These abuses included overcrowded prisons, sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination, infringement on the rights of indigenous people and trafficking of persons.
Listed below are descriptions of each major human rights violation as well as the measures currently in place to minimize these abuses and protect human rights in Costa Rica.
- Article 40 of the Costa Rica Constitution states that “no one may be subjected to cruel or degrading treatment.” Under this article, overcrowding in prisons violates a human right. In June 2016, it was reported that prisons were 41 percent over capacity, creating poor conditions for prisoners. These included insufficient space, unsanitary surroundings and a lack of access to health services. To mitigate overcrowding and its resulting consequences, three actions were taken. The Administration permitted prisoners and detainees to file complaints to authorities or to the Ombudsman’s Office. Independent monitoring of prison conditions was permitted to human rights observers, allowing them to independently speak to prisoners and prison employees. And lastly, maintenance and minor repairs of all of Costa Rican prisons are now enforced.
- Costa Rica’s constitution states that “all persons are equal before the law and there shall be no discrimination.” However, in 2016, there were multiple cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity reported. The cases included discrimination involving employment, police abuse, education and access to health care services. Some of these issues stem from a lack of legislation regarding gay marriage. Costa Rica does not currently recognize gay marriage, but family courts can grant “common-law marriage.” This law grants all benefits of a traditional marriage but requires the approval of a judge. Thus, in May 2016, government employee regulations were reformed to prohibit sexual orientation and gender-based discrimination.
- Costa Rican law protects the reservation of property in indigenous territories. Despite this, about 38 percent of the land is taken by non-indigenous peoples. This has led to land disputes between indigenous and non-indigenous people, in which there were some reported cases of violence. In response, an executive directive was issued to establish a “consultative mechanism” with indigenous people on March 15, 2016. It was announced on April 13, 2016, that the government would lead workshops with indigenous leaders from all 24 territories.
- In 2016, human trafficking in Costa Rica was a critical issue, listed as Tier 3 by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The tier system ranks countries according to how well they are meeting the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards. Costa Rica has since been raised to Tier 2, meaning that it is not meeting the minimum standards, but is making significant efforts to do so. The efforts made were comprised of disbursing funds to key government agencies and providing funds for setting up a second emergency shelter. Costa Rica also identified more victims of trafficking than in 2016 and improved public awareness campaigns. However, there are some standards not yet met. Both prosecution efforts and victim services remain insufficient for the number of victims identified. With improvements in these areas, there is hope that Costa Rica will move from Tier 2 to Tier 1 by 2018.
Costa Rica is among many other constitutional republics that still has room for improvement. Although human rights in Costa Rica seem well-established, abuses of these rights show the importance of continual effort to improve governmental systems.
– Haley Hurtt