The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date.  This site is not updated so external links may no longer function.  Contact us with any questions about finding information.

NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Department Seal

flag
bar

TITLE:  COSTA RICA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.D. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995









                           COSTA RICA


Costa Rica is a well-established, stable constitutional 
democracy with a unicameral Legislative Assembly that is 
directly elected in elections that have been free and fair.  
Jose Maria Figueres won the February presidential election, in 
which approximately 80 percent of eligible voters participated.

The 1949 Constitution abolished Costa Rica's military.  The 
Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Government, and 
the Ministry of the Presidency share responsibilities for law 
enforcement and national 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.

The economy is based on agriculture and light industry as well 
as tourism.  Economic growth in 1993 was about 6.1 percent but 
slowed to 4.5 percent in 1994, and the Government faced a 
growing fiscal deficit.  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 and timely compensation.

Costa Ricans enjoy a wide range of individual rights and 
freedoms, although there have been well-founded complaints 
concerning the occasional use of excessive force by police and 
lengthy pretrial detentions.  Discrimination against blacks, 
Indians, and women has also been reported, and many women are 
victims of domestic violence.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings and one credible 
report of an extrajudicial killing.

In August the authorities arrested four officers of the 
Judicial Police for the murder and mutilation of suspected drug 
dealer Ciro Monge.  The police dismissed all four and the 
investigation continued.  Although the police initially jailed 
all four, they were free on bail at the end of the year.  In 
1993 the authorities dismissed seven Judicial Police officers 
in the beating death in custody of suspected gang member 
William Lee Malcom.  Their trial was scheduled but had not 
begun by year's end.  The Monge and Lee Malcom cases, plus 
alleged instances of corruption, led many sectors of society to 
call for a reorganization of the Judicial Police.

The trial of the 2 commanding officers of a 13-member Rural 
Guard unit (the "Cobra Command") for the 1992 murder of 2 drug 
suspects and the rape and abuse of indigenous people, although 
scheduled in the fall, had not begun by the end of the year.  
The authorities have charged 12 ex-members of the Cobra Command 
with murder, rape, and deprivation of liberty.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports 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.  The 
authorities generally respected these prohibitions in practice, 
although a study by the National Ombudsman's office found that 
reports of isolated instances of beatings and other physical 
abuse by police agents were credible.  The Ombudsman's office 
is limited to responding to complaints that are filed with it.  
The Ombudsman's office can and does investigate and file suit 
against the officials involved.

There were also limited instances of police using excessive 
force in controlling crowds, including squatter evictions in 
Pavas and an April labor conflict in Sarapiqui.  The press and 
labor groups severely criticized the police for failing to 
negotiate a peaceful end to the confrontations and for their 
ready resort to force.  In particular, the media and unions 
strongly condemned the police for using firearms to clear the 
strikers' blockade of the main road in Sarapiqui.

In the face of escalating crime, there was considerable debate 
over the competence and adequacy of the law enforcement 
system.  In an effort to professionalize and depoliticize the 
police force, the Assembly enacted a bill intended, over a 
period of years, to reduce patronage in the appointment of 
police officers and increase the level of training.

Prisoners generally receive humane treatment in Costa Rica.  
Physical abuse by prison guards is uncommon.  Other forms of 
abuse by guards, such as extortion, do occur with some 
frequency.  However, the Prison Rights Ombudsman investigates 
cases and refers serious cases of abuse to the public 
prosecutor.  Authorities have dismissed guards who have been 
found to have committed physical and other abuses.  While 
public concern exists about crowded penitentiaries, the 
availability of weapons in prisons, occasional rioting, and 
assault within the prisons, the Government has achieved limited 
progress in the repair and improvement of the more run-down 
prison facilities.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law requires judicial warrants for arrests and that an 
officer of the court arraign a detainee within 24 hours of 
arrest.  The Constitution entitles a detainee to a judicial 
determination of the legality of the detention.  The 
authorities generally respected these rights, although persons 
charged with serious offenses often remain in pretrial custody 
for long periods due to judicial backlogs.  The past several 
years brought some improvement in this regard.  The average 
number of prisoners awaiting trial fell from 20.9 percent of 
all prisoners in 1991 to 18.0 percent in 1994.  As of the end 
of March 1992, 134 prisoners had spent more than 9 months in 
detention without being sentenced.  Estimates from the Ministry 
of Justice for 1994 were similar.

The law provides for the right to bail, and the authorities 
observed it in practice.

Generally, the authorities do not hold detainees incommunicado.
With judicial authorization, the authorities may hold suspects 
for 48 hours after arrest or, under special circumstances, for 
up to 10 days.  The judiciary has proven effective at ensuring 
the observance of legal and constitutional safeguards.

The authorities arrested four Venezuelans in June in connection 
with a series of violent bank robberies and assaults, and 
summarily deported them to Venezuela without resort to the 
courts.  The executive branch defended the expulsions on the 
grounds that continued detention of the suspects invited 
retaliation and represented a threat to Costa Rican lives.  
Many members of the judiciary criticized the action as 
arbitrary and outside established legal procedure.  The 
Venezuelans filed suit, which resulted in a judgment that three 
government ministers may be financially liable for the 
expulsions and may also lead to formal charges against them.  
Any further civil or criminal charges against the ministers 
will depend on the removal of the immunity inherent in their 
office.

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.  The Legislative Assembly elects the 24 
Supreme Court magistrates to 8-year terms, which are 
automatically renewed unless the Assembly votes against a 
renewal by a two-thirds majority.  Accused persons may select 
an attorney of their choice, and the law provides for access to 
legal counsel at state expense for the indigent.

There are no political prisoners.

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

There were no reports of extralegal invasions of privacy 
conducted by, or with the knowledge of, the Government.  The 
law requires judicial warrants to search private homes, and 
police seldom fail to comply.  In August the Legislative 
Assembly approved legislation permitting government-authorized 
wiretaps in certain restricted circumstances, primarily to 
combat narcotics trafficking.

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 generally respected in 
practice.  However, courts sometimes construe libel and 
defamation laws so broadly as potentially to inhibit free 
expression.  A judge sentenced journalist Bosco Valverde to 
1 year in prison for "disrespect" displayed in an editorial he 
wrote about the judges presiding in an important fraud trial.  
Although a court later reduced the sentence to probation and a 
fine, the case raised concerns that journalists would be less 
likely to criticize public figures in the course of covering 
public events.

A 1969 law requires that journalists must have a degree in 
journalism from a Costa Rican university and a license from the 
government-sponsored journalists' guild.  Journalists have 
attempted to challenge the law in court several times, but 
without success.

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 has been 
little evidence of self-censorship or governmental intimidation.

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

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and 
association, and the Government fully respected these rights.  
The law requires permits for parades or similar large-scale 
gatherings, which the authorities routinely grant.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution protects freedom of religion, and the 
authorities generally observed it in practice.  Foreign 
missionaries and clergy of all denominations work and 
proselytize freely.  Roman Catholicism is the official state 
religion, and the Catholic Church benefits from certain 
privileges which non-Catholic persons and institutions are 
denied.  For example, non-Catholic churches are required by law 
to comply with building codes from which Catholic churches are 
exempt, and Catholic priests may perform marriages, whereas 
non-Catholic religious marriages are not valid without an 
additional civil marriage.  The law on career educators 
stipulates that all teachers of religion, including 
non-Catholic teachers, must be approved by the Catholic 
Church's Episcopal Conference.

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

There are no restrictions on travel within the country, and 
emigration and the 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.  The Government considers large numbers 
of undocumented Nicaraguans to be economic migrants and 
frequently expels them summarily.

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

Citizens exercise this right through free, secret ballot 
elections every 4 years.  The independent Supreme Electoral 
Tribunal insures the integrity of elections, and the 
authorities and the citizens respect the election results.  The 
Constitution bars the President from reelection; Assembly 
members may seek reelection after at least one term out of 
office.  National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Jose Maria 
Figueres won the February elections, in which the PLN gained a 
plurality in the 57-member Legislative Assembly with 28 seats.  
The opposition Social Christian Unity Party won 25 seats.  A 
leftist coalition party holds two seats, and two independent 
provincial parties hold one each.

There are no legal impediments to participation by women or 
minorities in politics.  Although women are underrepresented in 
leadership positions in government and politics, this has begun 
to change.  Two Cabinet ministers, seven vice ministers and 
nine members of the Legislative Assembly are women.  In 
addition, one of the two vice presidents is a woman.

Costa Rica's 30,000 blacks, who reside largely on the Caribbean 
coast, enjoy full fights of citizenship, including the 
protection of laws against racial discrimination.  The 
Legislative Assembly includes one black member; one member of 
the Cabinet is black.

Indigenous people are free to participate in politics and 
government.  However, they have not had a significant presence 
in either except on issues directly impinging on indigenous 
rights.  This lack of political role and influence stems from 
historical neglect, discrimination, physical isolation, and the 
very small number of indigenous people relative to the total 
population.

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

At least three nongovernmental groups monitor and report on 
human rights free of government restriction:  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.  The Ministry of Justice 
houses an official Ombudsman, empowered to hear individual 
complaints concerning human rights abuses.

The Government is open and responsive to concerns expressed by 
international human rights groups and 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

The Constitution pronounces all persons equal before the law.

     Women

While there is no legal discrimination, and in fact a number of 
laws seek to protect women from sex discrimination in such 
areas as property ownership, employment, and inviolability of 
person, in practice women face a number of inequalities.  
Official statistics indicated that 30 percent of working-age 
women earn wages, as opposed to 79 percent of working-age men.  
The law requires that women and men receive equal pay for equal 
work, but due in part to limited resources the Government has 
not effectively enforced it.  On average, women's salaries are 
20 percent below men's.

The National Ombudsman's office in June reported that women and 
children were the targets of physical, sexual, or psychological 
abuse in a significant proportion of all households.  The 
Government regularly prosecutes physical abuse of women, 
including domestic violence, which is increasingly recognized 
as a serious problem, and often imposes stringent punishment.

     Children

The Government is committed to children's rights and welfare, 
spending more than 4 percent of gross domestic product on 
education and over 5 percent on medical care.  This has 
contributed to a high rate of literacy and a low rate of infant 
mortality.

Public awareness of crimes against children has grown.  The 
National Institute for Infancy reported that in the first 
3 months of 1994, there were 376 cases of physical mistreatment 
of minors, 314 cases of sexual abuse, and 47 of psychological 
abuse; compared to a total of 625 new cases of mistreatment or 
sexual abuse for the first 3 months of 1993.  Traditional 
family attitudes and the fact that such crimes are treated as 
misdemeanors hampered legal proceedings against those who 
committed crimes against children.

     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.  The Government established the National 
Indigenous Commission (CONAI) to address concerns of indigenous 
people, but many indigenous people have complained CONAI is 
paternalistic and does not adequately represent their views.  
The Ombudsman has also established an office to investigate 
violations of indigenous rights and to strengthen its oversight 
of these rights.

     People with Disabilities

There are no laws prohibiting discrimination against those with 
disabilities, nor mandating access for such persons, although 
certain public and private institutions have made individual 
efforts to improve access.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The law specifies the right of workers to join unions of their 
choosing without prior authorization, although barriers exist 
in practice.  Approximately 15 percent of the work force is 
unionized, almost entirely in the public sector.  Unions are 
independent of government control and are generally free to 
form federations and confederations and to affiliate 
internationally.

Certain trade unions contend that the "solidarismo" 
(solidarity) movement has hurt unions' right of association.  
The movement espouses employer-worker cooperation and offers 
the latter 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 collective bargaining 
agents).  Employers partly finance solidarity associations; the 
law allows them to offer a range of services and engage in 
profit-making activities, which unions are not permitted to do.

"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.  
The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee on Freedom 
of Association concluded a 2-year investigation in June 1991 
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.  In June the ILO's Committee of Experts ruled 
that, with the changes to the Labor Code enacted in 1993 and 
the promises of further reforms, Costa Rican workers have made 
progress towards greater freedom of association.

There are no restrictions on the rights of private workers to 
strike, but very few private sector workers are union members, 
and strikes in the private sector are rare.  In April a labor 
dispute between Geest Caribbean Company and the workers at 
Geest's banana plantation in Sarapiqui escalated into 
violence.  There were numerous injuries, and the police 
arrested several strikers for inciting violence.

The law restricts the right of public sector workers to 
strike.  In April the Government introduced a bill that would 
guarantee 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, but the 
Assembly had not passed it by year's end.  Public sector labor 
disputes produced a scattering of demonstrations and brief work 
stoppages.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution protects the right to organize.  Specific 
provisions of the 1993 labor code reforms provide protection 
from dismissal for union organizers and members during the 
period of union formation.  The revised provisions of the Labor 
Code require employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination 
to reinstate workers fired for union activities.

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.  Private sector unions have the legal right to 
engage in collective bargaining but, owing to the dearth of 
unions, it is not a widespread practice.

All labor regulations apply fully to the country's nine export 
processing zones (EPZ's).  The Labor Ministry oversees labor 
regulations within the EPZ's, but acknowledged that it has only 
one inspector for every 30,000 workers.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and 
there were 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.  Children older than 15 but under 18 can work a maximum of 
7 hours a day and 42 hours weekly.  For children between the 
ages of 12 and 15, the limit is 5 hours a day and 30 hours 
weekly.  The National Children's Agency, an autonomous 
government institution, in cooperation with the Labor Ministry, 
is reasonably effective in enforcing these regulations in the 
formal sector.  In response to the deaths of two adolescents by 
chemical poisoning while working on banana plantations, the 
authorities prohibited further employment of youths under the 
age of 18 in the banana industry.  Nonetheless, child labor 
continues to be an integral part of the large informal economy.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Constitution provides for 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, which was last set in 
July for the private sector, ranges from $115 (18,176 colones) 
for domestic servants to $557 (88,023 colones) for certain 
professionals.  Public sector negotiations, based on the 
private sector minimum wage, normally follow the settlement of 
private sector negotiations.  The Ministry of Labor enforces 
minimum wages.  It has been reasonably effective, more so in 
the San Jose metropolitan area than in rural areas.  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 
proportion of their pay on basic human needs.

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.  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 in 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 made little effort 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.  Due in part to 
budgetary constraints, the Government has not fielded enough 
labor inspectors, especially outside the capital, to ensure 
that minimum conditions of safety and sanitation are always 
maintained.

(###)

[end of document]

flag
bar

Department Seal

Return to 1994 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.