U.S. Human rights report overlooks some key expat issues

The U.S. Department of State has issued another report outlining the state of human rights around the world. The section on Costa Rica holds no surprises for anyone who is a daily newspaper reader.

There is little of issues affecting U.S. expats, except perhaps criticism on how Costa Rica handles parent child abduction cases. The report makes no mention of the many property thefts that victimize Costa Ricans and expats. Nor is there any mention of restriction of the right to have firearms for self protection or even the prohibition of any foreigner without an approved form of residence from getting a driver’s license.

Basically the report echos a fill-in-the-blanks form that the State Department asks workers at the embassy to complete each year.

Regarding Costa Rica, the report said that the principal human rights abuses reported during 2012 included harsh prison conditions and treatment, delays in the criminal judicial process, and domestic violence against women and children.

Other human rights problems included trafficking in persons, commercial sexual exploitation of minors, and discrimination based on sexual orientation, the report said.

Without giving specifics, the report said that sex tourism still was a problem.

There were these other summaries:

• The Ombudsman’s Office recorded 187 complaints of police abuse, arbitrary detention, torture, and other inhumane or degrading treatment, and cited as an example a complaint by a club owner of aggression and homophobic behavior after uniformed and municipal police conducted a raid.

• The prison population increased and exceeded designed capacity by 30 to 100 percent depending on the section and facility.

* As of July 31, there were 3,357 persons in pretrial detention, constituting approximately 12 percent of the prison population.

•  In 2011 approximately 237,000 criminal complaints were filed with the judicial branch, of which 4 percent (10,997 cases) went to trial with a conviction rate of 64 percent, according to the statistics office of the Poder Judicial.

• Traditional attitudes and the inclination to treat sexual and psychological abuse as misdemeanors hampered legal proceedings against those who committed crimes against children.

• The native communities of Térraba, Curré, and Boruca were concerned about the social, cultural, and environmental impact of the development of the Diquis hydroelectric dam project.

• While the labor and health ministries shared responsibility for drafting and enforcing occupational health and safety standards, they did not enforce these standards effectively in the formal or informal sectors.

The report noted that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled against Costa Rica in December for its ban on in vitro fertilization. The issue had been raised by a handful of would-be parents. The country is still trying to respond to the ruling.

The report also notes that Evangelical legislator Justo Orozco had been named to chair the legislative rights committee even though he is an opponent of gay rights and that the committee subsequently rejected a  civil partnership proposal.

The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, and the report cited a separate document that said there was just one pending case of parental abduction, although it gave no names.

The report, which was released Friday, also noted that the Sala IV constitutional court had watered down the impact of the Hague convention by ruling in another case that courts hearing Abduction Convention petitions must consider the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other legislation to determine the best interests of children.

The Hague Convention basically says that the court originally involved in a child custody case continues to have jurisdiction. Frequently individuals hunt for a favorable venue and abduct their non-custodial child to that state or country. This happens several times a year in Costa Rica, and Costa Rican courts are reluctant to give up jurisdiction, despite what the treaty says.

The report also noted that the legislature had passed and President Laura Chinchilla had signed a law to criminalize any individual trying to obtain inappropriately secret political information. This is the law that has been heavily criticized by newspeople in Costa Rica because they see it as a way to keep unfavorable news stories out of print. The legislature just passed an update of this law.

Some newspeople said they thought the central government backs this gag law because of revelations of corruption and poor construction of the roadway that borders the Río San Juan in the northern part of the county.

The report noted that there are allegations of bribery surrounding the work and that two highway department inspectors are under investigation.  There also have been resignations. The issue is one of several major scandals facing the Chinchilla administration.

Much of the report is based on 2011 figures, the year when 2010 census data was released, and not those of 2012.

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