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TITLE:  COSTA RICA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

                           COSTA RICA


Costa Rica is a well-established, stable democracy with 
separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches.  A 
Supreme Electoral Tribunal is considered a fourth branch of 
government.  Elections for president, two vice presidents, and 
57 deputies to a unicameral Legislative Assembly are held every 
4 years; they have been free and fair.  Rafael Angel Calderon 
won the February 1990 presidential election, in which 
approximately 80 percent of eligible voters participated.  The 
President is constitutionally barred from reelection.  Members 
of the Legislative Assembly may be reelected but only after at 
least one term out of office.  The next presidential and 
legislative elections will be held in February 1994.

The 1949 Constitution abolished Costa Rica's army.  Several 
government ministries share responsibilities for law 
enforcement and national security:  The Ministry of Public 
Security includes the Civil Guard, the Crime Prevention Unit, 
and the Antidrug Police; the Ministry of Government includes 
the Rural Guard and the Directorate of Narcotics and 
Intelligence; and the Ministry of the Presidency has the 
Directorate of Intelligence and Security.  The Judicial Police, 
under the Supreme Court, is an investigative force, while the 
San Jose Metropolitan Police and the Transit Police within the 
Ministry of Public Works and Transportation also have limited 
police functions.  Public security forces generally observe 
procedural safeguards established by law and the Constitution, 
but there have been occasional incidents of the use of 
excessive force by the police.

Export-oriented businesses, both in agriculture and light 
industry, lead the Costa Rican economy.  Economic growth 
accelerated in 1992 to about 7.3 percent but slowed in 1993 to 
about 6 percent.  The right to own private property is 
protected by the Constitution; however, foreign and Costa Rican 
property owners who have had land expropriated for national 
parks, Indian reserves, or squatters have had significant 
difficulties receiving adequate compensation in a timely manner.

Costa Ricans enjoy a wide range of individual rights and 
freedoms.  Complaints of human rights abuse, when they arise, 
tend to cite delays in the judicial process (many prisoners are 
subjected to lengthy periods of pretrial custody) or 
discrimination against blacks, Indians, and women.  The police, 
particularly the Rural Guard, have sometimes used excessive 
force.  There were credible charges that in September seven 
Judicial Police officers tortured and killed a suspected gang 
member.


RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The Government does not practice, abet, or condone political 
killing, and none was reported.

Serious charges arose in September, when a suspected member of 
a gang of thieves died while in the custody of the Judicial 
Police.  A subsequent autopsy revealed that he had been beaten 
to death.  Seven members of the Judicial Police were arrested, 
and an investigation of the incident continued at year's end.  
All seven have been discharged from the police force, and three 
are under indictment.

In February 1992 residents of the Talamanca region testified 
that members of a 13-man counternarcotics Rural Guard unit beat 
and shot two suspected drug traffickers.  These Rural Guards, 
known as the "Cobra Command," were also accused of mistreating 
local residents, forcing some to serve as supply- bearers, and 
assaulting two women.  The entire squad was taken into custody 
when the Judicial Police began an immediate investigation.  The 
two commanding officers (charged with committing the murders) 
are under indictment; the other 11 were subsequently released.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no known or reported incidents of politically 
motivated abductions or secret arrests.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits cruel or degrading treatment and 
holds invalid any statement obtained through violence.  These 
prohibitions are generally respected in practice, but incidents 
of police mistreatment are sometimes reported.

Although there was considerable debate over the suitability and 
adequacy of the law enforcement system in 1993, efforts to 
professionalize the various police agencies and standardize 
training had little success.  A bill, submitted over 2 years 
ago, to grant career status to the police and set minimum entry 
requirements continued to languish in the Legislative Assembly.


Prisoners generally receive humane treatment in Costa Rica.  
While physical abuse by prison guards is uncommon, a limited 
number of guards have been implicated in swindles, robberies, 
and drug trafficking.  Prisoners may bring complaints before 
the special defense counsel for prison inmates, which will 
investigate them.  Especially serious cases are handled by the 
Office of the Chief Prosecutor.

Public concern about crowded penitentiaries and the 
availability of weapons in prisons is growing.  Occasional 
rioting is a problem in several large prisons.  The Government 
continues to earmark funds to repair or improve the more 
rundown facilities.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Judicial warrants are required for arrests and an arraignment 
before an officer of the court must take place within 24 hours 
of arrest.  The Constitution entitles detained persons to a 
judicial determination of the legality of the detention.  These 
rights are generally respected, although persons charged with 
serious offenses often remain in pretrial custody for long 
periods due to judicial backlogs.  The past 2 years brought 
some improvement in this regard.  The number of prisoners 
awaiting trial stood at 1,145 at the end of March 1990; by the 
end of June 1992, the most recent figures published, it had 
dropped to 688 (as of the end of March 1992, 134 prisoners had 
spent more than 9 months in detention without being sentenced).

The right to bail is provided for by law and observed in 
practice.  Bail is sometimes denied to repeat offenders, 
however, and is usually denied to foreigners, major drug 
offenders, and terrorists on the assumption they would leave 
the country before coming to trial.

Generally, detainees are not held incommunicado.  With judicial 
authorization, however, suspects may be held for 48 hours after 
arrest or, under special circumstances, for up to 10 days.  The 
judiciary has proven effective at ensuring that legal and 
constitutional safeguards are observed.

The Constitution bars exile as punishment.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent and assures a fair public trial.


The Supreme Court supervises the work of the lower courts, 
known as tribunals.  Its 24 magistrates are elected by the 
Legislative Assembly to 8-year terms, which are automatically 
renewed unless the Legislative Assembly votes against a renewal 
by a two-thirds majority.  Accused persons may select an 
attorney of their choice.  Access to legal counsel is 
guaranteed and honored in practice.  The State provides counsel 
to those who cannot afford to hire their own.

There are no political prisoners.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
         Correspondence

There were no reported instances during 1993 of extralegal 
invasions of privacy conducted by, or with the knowledge of, 
the Government.  Judicial warrants are required to search 
private homes, and police seldom fail to comply.  Government 
authorized wiretaps remain illegal, pending enactment of 
implementing legislation by the Legislative Assembly.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution specifically provides for freedom of speech 
and press, and these freedoms are respected in practice.  Nine 
major privately owned newspapers, several periodicals, 
6 privately owned television stations, and over 70 privately 
owned radio stations pursue independent editorial policies.  
The media freely criticize the Government, and there is no 
evidence of self-censorship or governmental intimidation.

In 1993 the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court 
expanded press freedom by finding Article Seven of the Press 
Law unconstitutional.  The law had imposed heavy penalties, 
including jail terms, for those accused repeatedly of libel.  
The revision now requires a separate finding of guilt in each 
individual case regardless of prior legal history.  A 1969 law 
requires journalists to be accredited by the government- 
sponsored journalists' guild.  The Calderon administration 
publicly supported the licensing requirement on the grounds 
that it ensures professionalism.

An Office of Censorship rates films and has the authority to 
restrict or prohibit their showing; it has similar powers over 
television shows and stage plays.  A censorship tribunal 
reviews appeals of the office's actions.  


     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Constitutional provisions for freedom of assembly and 
association are fully respected.  Permits required for parades 
or similar large-scale gatherings are granted routinely; they 
are not required for other public meetings.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution and 
generally observed in practice.  Foreign missionaries and 
clergy of all denominations work and proselytize freely.  Roman 
Catholicism, however, is the official state religion, and Costa 
Ricans affiliated with non-Catholic groups note that 
non-Catholic churches are required by law to comply with 
building codes from which Catholic churches are exempt.  These 
groups seek remedial legislation.  Catholic priests may perform 
marriages, whereas non-Catholic religious marriages are not 
valid without an additional civil marriage.  The current law on 
career educators stipulates that all teachers of religion, 
including non-Catholic teachers, must be approved by the 
Catholic Church's Episcopal Conference.  In July 1991, a number 
of teachers of religion (most of them Catholic) filed suit 
before the Supreme Court asking that the law be overturned.  As 
of the end of 1993, their plea was still pending.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Though there are no restrictions on travel within the country, 
all citizens and residents are required to obtain an exit visa 
before traveling abroad.  Emigration and right of return are 
not restricted.  Costa Rica supports multinational refugee 
programs and has accepted many refugees from Central and South 
America.  The Constitution specifically prohibits repatriation 
of anyone subject to political persecution.  Political asylum 
traditionally has been granted to exiled dissidents of various 
political orientations.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Costa Ricans choose their government through free, open, and 
competitive elections (by secret ballot) every 4 years.  The 
integrity of elections is ensured by the independent Supreme 
Electoral Tribunal, and election results are respected.  The 
Legislative Assembly can and does reject executive branch 
initiatives.  Citizens can and do petition their elected 
representatives for legislative redress and assistance with 
government bureaucracies.  Prior to the February 1994 
elections, the ruling Social Christian Unity Party and the 
opposition National Liberation Party controlled 29 and 25 
seats, respectively, in the 57-member Legislative Assembly.  A 
leftist Coalition Party held one seat, and two independent 
provincial parties each held one seat.

There are no legal impediments to women's participation in 
politics.  Women are underrepresented in leadership positions 
in government and politics, but this has begun to change.  
There are two women cabinet ministers, three vice ministers and 
six members of the Legislative Assembly.  Ten women candidates 
for national deputy have solid chances to win in the February 
1994 elections, and a woman is assured election as vice 
president, since both major parties have female candidates.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

A 1984 executive order created the Office of Ombudsman for 
Human Rights, now housed in the Ministry of Justice.  The 
Ombudsman's office hears complaints from individuals about 
human rights abuses.  As noted above, a similar office 
considers complaints within the penitentiary system.  Three 
nongovernmental groups monitor and report on human rights in 
Costa Rica:  the Costa Rican Commission for Human Rights; the 
Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America;  
and the Family and Friends of Political Prisoners of Costa 
Rica.  There are also several private groups dedicated to 
assisting refugees.

A new ombudsman's office, the Defender of the People, opened in 
October with a mandate to look into any perceived human rights 
abuses committed by public officials.  The office will 
concentrate initially on administration of justice, public 
health, and medical administration (malpractice); however, the 
offices of the Ombudsmen for Children and Women are also in the 
process of being transferred to the new authority.

Costa Rica has traditionally been a strong supporter of 
multilateral and private human rights organizations.  Both the 
Inter-American Institute of Human Rights and the Inter-American 
Court of Human Rights maintain their headquarters in San Jose.  
The Government has invited the Inter-American Commission on 
Human Rights to visit the country whenever it wishes.


Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

     Women

The role of women, although still primarily domestic, is 
legally unrestricted.  According to the latest Census Bureau 
statistics, 30 percent of working-age women earn wages, as 
opposed to 79 percent of working-age men, although these 
figures probably underestimate the number of women in the work 
force due to the nature of their employment.  The number of 
female professionals and technical workers is growing.

Women and men are generally paid equally for equal work.  In 
1990 the Legislative Assembly passed significant legislation 
designed to supplement existing laws against sex discrimination.
The new law reinforces women's property rights, forbids 
employers from firing a woman for becoming pregnant or adopting 
children, and reaffirms the necessity for institutional 
safeguards to prevent and punish violence against women.  Two 
relatively new government agencies, the Justice Ministry's 
Women's Defense Counsel and the Government Ministry's Women's 
Delegation, act as advisors and legal advocates for women who 
have suffered abuse, harassment, or discrimination.  The White 
Cross Center, which reports to the Ministry of Public Security, 
was established in 1992 for the specific purpose of 
investigating and prosecuting crimes against women and 
providing temporary shelter for battered women.  However, owing 
to a lack of personnel and funds, it has had little impact.  

A recent government-sponsored survey indicated that 78 percent 
of 1,300 women interviewed reported having suffered abuse, 
either physical or mental, with 35 percent reporting frequent 
abuse.  (The definition of "abuse" was not reported in the 
survey.)  The increase in reported crimes against women may 
reflect increased attention to human rights, making it easier 
for women to file charges and take advantage of social 
services.  Physical abuse of women, including domestic 
violence, is prosecuted and often results in stringent 
punishment.  Still, many proponents of women's rights want an 
overhaul of the Penal Code to stiffen penalties and broaden the 
definition of rape.  (Abuse of female minors, for example, is 
only considered aggravated assault.)  There are a number of 
private organizations, including the Arias Foundation, that 
monitor abuse of women, provide counseling, and work to inform 
women of their legal rights.


     Children

The Government is committed to children's human rights and 
welfare within the constraints of a limited budget.  Although 
spending has decreased somewhat in recent years due to 
continued economic strains, the Government has consistently 
spent over 4 percent of its gross domestic product on education 
and over 5 percent on medical care.  This commitment to 
children has yielded a high rate of literacy and a low rate of 
infant mortality.

Children are not the victims of any systematic or organized 
discrimination or exploitation, but public awareness of crimes 
against children has grown.  During the first 3 months of 1993, 
625 new cases of the mistreatment or sexual abuse of children 
were reported, compared to 203 cases of child sexual abuse for 
all of 1990 (estimates are that two-thirds of all abuse is 
sexual).  As with violence against women, it is difficult to 
determine whether the increasing number of cases is due to 
better reporting or reflects an actual increase in the number 
of such crimes.  Legal proceedings against those who commit 
crimes against children are hampered by traditional family 
attitudes and the fact that such crimes are treated as 
misdemeanors.

Among the governmental programs that provide services and 
safeguard the rights of children are an integrated program for 
adolescent health, a national guardianship for infancy, and a 
program for abused children.  Private organizations that 
provide assistance include the Arias Foundation and Paniamor.

     Indigenous People

Costa Rica's population of 3.2 million includes some 24,000 
indigenous people.  Most live in traditional communities on 
21 reserves which, in part because of their remote location, 
often lack access to schools, health care, electricity, and 
potable water.  Although hampered by budgetary restraints, the 
Government is attempting to improve the quality of basic 
services in the indigenous areas.  Indigenous people 
participate in the management of their own affairs through the 
National Indigenous Commission (CONAI), and indigenous leaders 
continue to urge the Government to devote more resources to 
helping their communities.  A serious concern is the management 
and control of natural resources located within indigenous 
reserves.


Until quite recently, about 20 percent of indigenous people 
were undocumented and so lacked proof of citizenship.  That 
problem has been all but eliminated by legislation that helped 
nearly 7,000 indigenous people obtain identification papers, 
allowing them to vote and making it easier for them to obtain 
credit.  A number of cases were filed in 1993 with the Office 
of the Ombudsman for Human Rights alleging discrimination 
against indigenous people.  Most of these cases involved actions
taken by CONAI rather than allegations of discrimination by 
individuals.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Costa Rica's 30,000 blacks, who reside largely on the Caribbean 
coast, enjoy full rights of citizenship, including the 
protection of laws against racial discrimination.  The 1990-94 
Legislative Assembly includes one black member.  The Government 
treats all matters of racial discrimination as human rights 
issues; the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights received 
no complaints of racial discrimination in 1993.

     People with Disabilities

Government funding for those with disabilities has been limited.
Discrimination against those with disabilities is not prohibited
by law, and there are no laws mandating access for such persons.
Social services that exist function primarily as charities, 
with little emphasis on integration into the larger society.  
Both governmental and private agencies provide services, among 
which are the Costa Rican Foundation for the Blind, the 
National Council for Rehabilitation and Special Education, and 
the Costa Rican Federation for the Functionally Limited.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Workers are nominally free to join unions of their choosing 
without prior authorization, although barriers exist in 
practice.  Approximately 15 percent of the work force is 
unionized.  Unions are independent of government control and 
are generally free to form federations and confederations 
(three social democratic labor federations merged in 1991), and 
to affiliate internationally.  However, the American Federation 
of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), 
the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), 
and other trade union organizations contend that trade 
unionism's right of association has been hurt by Costa Rica's 
"solidarismo" (solidarity) movement.

This movement espouses cooperation between employers and 
workers, offering workers such benefits as credit unions and 
savings plans in return for their renunciation of the right to 
strike and bargain collectively (although, in practice, 
solidarity associations have in the past acted as psuedo- 
collective bargaining agents).  Solidarity associations are 
financed in part by employers and are allowed under Costa Rican 
law to offer a range of services and engage in profit-making 
activities, which unions are not permitted to do.

In November the Legislative Assembly approved a package of 
reforms to the Labor Code that addressed International Labor 
Organization (ILO) concerns based in part on activities of the 
solidarity movement.  These reforms included:  reducing the 
number of members necessary to form a trade union to equal that 
required to form a solidarity association; explicitly 
prohibiting the dismissal of workers who attempt to organize or 
join a union; and increasing fines and tightening enforcement 
against employers who violate the Labor Code.  A separate 
reform proposal would include a fund ("cesantia") created to 
provide severance and retirement benefits, partially funded by 
employers but employees could designate the organization which 
would receive the funds.  This would enable unions to compete 
directly with solidarity associations in a number of service 
activities.  As of the end of the year, the severance pay 
reform had not been approved.

"Permanent workers' committees" made up of members of 
solidarity associations have entered into "direct agreements" 
with their employers, sometimes in order to stop attempts by an 
established union to negotiate a collective bargaining pact.  
In June 1991, the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association 
concluded a 2-year investigation and ruled that management's 
use of solidarity and the associations' involvement in trade 
union activities (such as collective bargaining) were 
violations of freedom of association.  The 1993 package of 
labor code reforms included a provision explicitly prohibiting 
solidarity associations from participating in collective 
bargaining or direct agreements affecting labor.

Strikes and labor unrest increased somewhat but remained at a 
low level in 1993.  There are no restrictions on the rights of 
private workers to strike, but the Labor Code contains clauses 
that employers have used to fire employees who try to organize 
or strike.  Very few private sector workers are union members, 
and there were no notable private sector strikes in 1993.  
Costa Rican law restricts the right of public sector workers to 
strike, but two articles of the Penal Code that mandated tough 
punishment for striking government workers were repealed by the 
Legislative Assembly in June.  The Government has indicated 
that it will present a new law to the Legislative Assembly that 
would guarantee organization and collective bargaining rights 
to all public sector workers and afford the right to strike to 
public workers who are not in "essential services" as defined 
by the ILO.  Public sector labor disputes produced a scattering 
of demonstrations and brief strikes, notably one that occurred 
in late summer and caused minor disruptions in social services, 
particularly in classrooms due to the participation of 
teachers' unions.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize is protected by the Constitution.  
Specific provisions of the labor code reforms provide 
protection from dismissal for union organizers and members 
during the period of union formation.  In a separate decision 
in October, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court 
ruled that Costa Rica's ratification of ILO Convention 135 in 
1977 protects union leaders from being fired without cause.  
These two events greatly enhanced legal guarantees for workers 
seeking to organize.  Previously, employers used a clause in 
the Labor Code, permitting employees to be discharged "at the 
will of the employer" provided the employee received severance 
pay, to fire labor organizers.  Currently mandated severance 
pay equals 1 month's salary for every year worked, up to a 
total of 8 years.  The payment of severance benefits to 
dismissed workers has often been circumvented in practice.  
Public sector workers cannot engage in collective bargaining 
because the Public Administration Act of 1978 makes labor law 
inapplicable in relations between the Government and its 
employees.

Collective bargaining is allowed in the private sector but, due 
to the dearth of unions, is not a widespread practice.  All 
labor regulations apply to the country's nine export processing 
zones (EPZ's).  Labor Ministry oversight of labor regulations 
within the EPZ's is limited, however, by a lack of manpower and 
resources.


     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and 
there are no known instances of either.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Constitution provides special employment protection for 
women and minors and establishes the minimum working age at 12 
years, with special regulations in force for workers under 15.  
A child welfare agency, in cooperation with the Labor Ministry, 
is responsible for enforcement.  Enforcement in the formal 
sector is reasonably effective.  Nonetheless, child labor 
appears to be an integral part of the large informal economy 
and there were scattered reports of children being employed in 
export industries.  (These incidents appear to be isolated and 
do not represent an industry-wide pattern.)

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Constitution provides the right to a minimum wage.  A 
National Wage Board, composed of three members each from 
government, business, and labor, sets minimum wage and salary 
levels for all sectors.  The monthly minimum wage ranges from 
$111 (16,829 colones) for domestic servants to $540 (81,501 
colones) for certain professionals.  Pay can and does exceed 
the set amounts.  The Board usually meets at the beginning and 
middle of each year.  While violations sometimes occur, the 
wage and salary levels are generally respected.  The minimum 
wage set in November was to take effect on January 1, 1994 for 
the private sector.  Public sector negotiations, based on the 
private sector minimum wage, were still under way at year's 
end.  Workers at the low end of the wage scale often find it 
difficult to maintain an acceptable standard of living, whether 
they have a family to support or not, and must spend an 
inordinate percentage of their pay on basic human needs such as 
food.

The Constitution sets the workday hours, remuneration for 
overtime, days of rest, and annual vacation rights.  It 
requires compensation for discharge without due cause, although 
this provision is often circumvented in practice.  Maximum work 
hours are 8 during the day and 6 at night, up to weekly totals 
of 48 and 36 hours, respectively.  Ten-hour days are permitted 
for work not considered unhealthful or dangerous, but weekly 
totals may not exceed 48 hours.  Nonagricultural workers 
receive an overtime premium of 50 percent of regular wages for 
work in excess of the daily work shift.  Agricultural workers 
are not paid overtime, however, if they work beyond their 
normal hours voluntarily.  There is little evidence that 
employers coerce such overtime from employees.

A 1967 law governs health and safety at the workplace.  This 
law requires industrial, agricultural, and commercial firms 
with 10 or more workers to establish a management-labor 
committee and allows the Government to inspect workplaces and 
to fine employers for violations.  Most firms required to set 
up such committees have followed the letter of the law, but 
often little effort is made to utilize the committees or turn 
them into effective instruments for improving the workplace.  
Workers have the right to leave work if conditions are 
dangerous.  In practice, however, workers who leave the 
workplace may find their jobs in jeopardy unless they file a 
written complaint with the Labor Ministry.  There are too few 
labor inspectors, especially outside the capital, to ensure 
that minimum conditions of safety and sanitation are maintained.
(###)



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