Despite its international reputation as a champion of peace and human rights, Costa Rica was not above criticism by the U.S. State Department in its latest Human Rights Report for the country.
The report, presented to U.S. Congress last week, said Costa Rica’s government “generally respected the human rights of its citizens,” but cited such problems as judicial process delays, excessive penalties for libel, human trafficking, domestic violence, child prostitution and child labor.
Public security officers were the subject of special scrutiny in the report, which citied a June 2008 incident in which two police officers allegedly killed two people, and an officer who was reprimrimanded after beating a woman during a raid on street vendors in August. According to the report, the Ombudswoman’s Office had received 31 complaints of police abuse as of December 2008, of which 21 were from prisons, seven from citizens, and three from migrants.
Prisons were another common subject in the report, which named overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of health services and violence among prisoners as issues of primary concern.
“Illegal narcotics were readily available in the prisons,” during 2008, the report added, “and drug abuse was common.”
The report also referenced a Justice Ministry statistic revealing that 2,099 inmates – comprising approximately 15 percent of the prison population – were being held in pretrial detention at the end of the year. Corruption was another avenue in which the report noted improvements but said more work was needed. Property rights were also a cause for concern.
“The law grants considerable rights to squatters who invade uncultivated land,regardless of who may hold title to the property,” the report said. “Property rights were irregularly enforced, and duplicate registrations occurred.”
Violence against women and children continued to be a pressing issue, despite its acknowledgement from the government “as a serious and growing societal problem.”
The report cited statistics from the National Institute for Women (INAMU) that the number of women and girls killed in incidents of domestic violence rose from 16 in 2007 to 37 in 2008. Cases of spousal rape, INAMU said, were difficult to prove in practice.
Child abuse, the report continued, “remained a problem,” especially sexual exploitation and sex tourism. Despite efforts by the government and the Child Welfare Office (PANI), the report said, “Traditional attitudes and the inclination to treat sexual and psychological abuse as misdemeanors occasionally hampered legal proceedings against those who committed crimes against children.”
Child labor, especially in informal sectors of the economy, further remained a problem, the report said, as “regulations were not enforced effectively in the informal labor sector as a result of inadequate resource allocations by the government.” Enforcement of general labor standards and laws was additionally deficient, which the report attributed to “a lack of political will.” Finally, the report cited a “diminished” quality of life for indiengous Costa Ricans, which the Ombudswoman’s Office attributed to “a lack of social development policies.”
Many indigenous persons lack access to schools, health care, electricity and potable water, according to the report, and approximately 40 percent of the land legally set aside for indigenous people was held by nonindigenous persons at year’s end.
Requests to the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry for comment on the report were not answered by press time.