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Title: Costa Rica Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996




                            COSTA RICA


Costa Rica is a longstanding, stable constitutional democracy with a 
unicameral Legislative Assembly directly elected in free multiparty 
elections every 4 years.  Jose Maria Figueres of the National Liberation 
Party won the presidency in the February 1994 elections, in which 
approximately 80 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.  The 
Government respects constitutional provisions for an independent 
judiciary.

The 1949 Constitution abolished Costa Rica's military forces.  The 
Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of the Presidency share 
responsibility for law enforcement and national security.  The Judicial 
Police, under the Supreme Court, conducts investigations, while the San 
Jose Metropolitan Police and the Transit Police within the Ministry of 
Public Works and Transportation also have limited police powers.  Public 
security forces generally observe procedural safeguards established by 
law and the Constitution.

The market-based economy depends primarily on agriculture, light 
industry, and tourism.  The pace of economic growth slowed from a 4.5 
percent increase in 1994 to a projected rise of 2.0 percent in 1995.  
The Government also faced a growing fiscal deficit.  The Constitution 
protects the right to own private property; however, domestic and 
foreign property owners encounter difficulty gaining adequate, timely 
compensation for lands expropriated for national parks and those set 
aside for indigenous people or invaded by squatters.

Citizens enjoy a wide range of individual rights and freedoms.  The 
Government fully respects the human rights of its citizens, and the law 
and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with instances of abuse 
of individual rights.  Nonetheless, the judicial system moves very 
slowly to process criminal cases, resulting in lengthy pretrial 
detentions for some suspects.  There were two reported instances of 
abuse by police.  The Government has identified domestic violence 
against women as a serious societal problem and sponsored a public 
awareness program to deter such abuse.  Discrimination against women and 
indigenous people remains a problem.

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 or other extrajudicial killings.

There was progress in resolving some cases from previous years.  In July 
authorities again jailed four former Judicial Police officers for the 
1994 murder of suspected drug dealer Ciro Monge, and charged them also 
with the 1994 murder of a drug abuser.  In August a court found a former 
member of the now-defunct Immediate Action Unit (UAI) guilty of simple 
homicide for killing a 12-year-old child during a drug raid in May 1990.  
The former agent received a suspended 5-year sentence, and the court 
ordered the Government and three former agents to pay about $45,000 (8.2 
million colones) in damages to the victim's family.  There was no 
progress in the Malcolm and "Cobra Command" cases (described in last 
year's report).

  b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

  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.  Authorities generally 
abide by these prohibitions.  The Ombudsman's Office investigates 
complaints and, where appropriate, initiates suits against officials.  
In one instance during pretrial detention, however, police personnel 
severely beat a person who allegedly shot a policeman, according to a 
firsthand report.

In August plainclothes members of the Police Information Center (CIP) 
used undue force against unruly labor demonstrators in front of the 
Presidential Office in response to unruly demonstrators.  Following a 
public outcry, the Ministry of Public Security fired four CIP members 
and disbanded the group, transforming it into merely an archive for 
information on criminal activities.

A large percentage of police personnel owe their appointments to 
political patronage.  The Figueres administration began implementation 
of a new Police Code, enacted in 1994, designed to professionalize and 
depoliticize the police force.  The Government implemented a program to 
establish permanent, professional cadres, which is intended eventually 
to result in a nonpolitically appointed career force.  In September the 
Ministry of Public Security initiated a revamped basic course for new 
police recruits, including training using a human rights manual 
developed by the Ministry.

Prisoners generally receive humane treatment.  While guards rarely abuse 
prisoners physically, there are credible reports that prisoners are 
sometimes subjected to other forms of abuse such as extortion.  The 
Prison Rights Ombudsman investigates complaints and refers serious cases 
of any abuse to the public prosecutor.  Authorities dismissed two guards 
on suspicion of drug trafficking; charges against them have not been 
proven.  Penitentiaries remain overcrowded--about 60 percent above their 
overall planned capacities.

  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, 
and the Government generally respects these prohibitions.

The law requires issuance of judicial warrants before making arrests.  
The Constitution entitles a detainee to a judicial determination of the 
legality of the detention during arraignment before a court officer 
within 24 hours of arrest.  The authorities generally respect these 
rights.

The law provides for the right to release on bail, and authorities 
observe 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.

  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the 
Government respects this provision in practice.  The Constitution 
provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary 
vigorously enforces this right.

The Supreme Court supervises the work of the lower courts, known as 
tribunals.  The Legislative Assembly elects the 22 Supreme Court 
magistrates to 8-year terms, subject to automatic renewal unless the 
Assembly decides otherwise by a two-thirds majority.  Accused persons 
may select attorneys to represent them, and the law provides for access 
to legal counsel at state expense for the indigent.

Persons accused of serious offenses and held without bail, however, 
sometimes remain in pretrial custody for long periods.  Lengthy legal 
procedures, numerous appeals, and large numbers of detainees cause 
delays and case backlogs.  There were 992 accused persons, representing 
25 percent of the prison population, jailed awaiting trial at the end of 
the year.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices.  Government authorities 
generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to 
effective legal sanction.  The law requires judicial warrants to search 
private homes.  Judges may approve use of wiretaps in limited 
circumstances, primarily to combat narcotics trafficking.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the 
Government respects these rights in practice.  An independent press, a 
generally effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political 
system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including 
academic freedom.  Nonetheless, courts sometimes interpret libel and 
defamation laws so broadly that they potentially inhibit free 
expression.  For example, while exonerating the director of La Prensa 
Libre of defaming the Association of Small Farmers of the Atlantic, a 
court nonetheless ordered the director to pay civil damages of nearly 
$31,000 (5.66 million colones) to the group and its former director.  La 
Prensa Libre had accused the group in 1988 of being a "paramilitary 
organization."

In May the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled 
unconstitutional a provision from a 1969 law that required a degree in 
journalism from a Costa Rican university and the licensing of 
journalists with the government-sponsored journalists' guild.  This 
requirement had long been criticized in Costa Rica and abroad as an 
infringement on press freedom.

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 governmental intimidation.

The Office of Control of Public Spectacles rates films and has the 
authority to restrict or prohibit their showing; it has similar powers 
over television programs and stage plays.  Nonetheless, foreign and 
particularly American films spanning the U.S. rating system are offered 
to the public.  A tribunal reviews appeals of the Office's actions.

  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects 
them in practice.

  c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 
respects this right in practice.  While the Constitution establishes 
Roman Catholicism as the state religion, people of all denominations 
freely practice their religion without government interference.  Foreign 
missionaries and clergy of all denominations work and proselytize 
freely.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects 
them in practice.  There are no restrictions on travel within the 
country nor on emigration or the right of return.  There is a long 
tradition of providing refuge to people from other Latin American 
countries.  In July the Government granted political asylum to a Cuban 
diplomat after another country refused his request.  The Constitution 
specifically prohibits repatriation of anyone subject to potential 
persecution.  There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having 
a valid claim to refugee status.  The authorities regularly repatriated 
undocumented Nicaraguans, most of whom entered the country primarily for 
economic reasons.

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

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their 
government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice 
through free and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage 
and by secret ballot every 4 years.  The independent Supreme Electoral 
Tribunal ensures the integrity of elections, and the authorities and 
citizens respect election results.  The Constitution bars the President 
from seeking reelection, and Assembly Members may only seek reelection 
after one term out of office.  In the 1994 elections, President 
Figueres' National Liberation Party gained a plurality in the 
Legislative Assembly, winning 28 of 57 seats.  The Social Christian 
Unity Party won 25 seats, the Democratic Force won 2 seats, and 2 
provincial parties each garnered one seat.

Women encounter no legal impediments to their participation in politics.  
While women are underrepresented in leadership positions of the 
Government and political parties, this situation has begun to change.  
Currently, one vice president, two cabinet ministers, seven vice 
ministers, nine Legislative Assembly members, and seven directors of 
autonomous institutions are women.  Indigenous people may participate 
freely in politics and government.  In practice they have not played 
significant roles in these areas, except on issues directly affecting 
their welfare, largely because of their relatively small numbers and 
physical isolation.  Costa Rica's 30,000 blacks, largely resident on the 
Caribbean coast, enjoy full rights of citizenship, including the 
protection of laws against racial discrimination.  The Legislative 
Assembly includes one black member; one member of the cabinet is black.

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

Various human rights groups operate without government restriction, 
investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.  
Government officials are cooperative and responsive to their views.  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, monitor and report on human rights.  
Several international organizations concerned with human rights, 
including the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights and the Inter-
American Court of Human Rights, are located in San Jose.

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

The Constitution pronounces all persons equal before the law and the 
Government generally respects these provisions.

  Women

The Government has identified domestic violence against women and 
children as a serious societal problem.  In July the First Lady and the 
National Center for the Development of Women and the Family initiated a 
public awareness campaign "For a Life Without Violence."  Beginning in 
September, authorities incorporated training on handling of cases of 
domestic violence in the basic training course for new police personnel.  
The Government regularly prosecutes physical abuse of women, including 
domestic violence, and often imposes stringent punishment.

Women constitute 49.5 percent of the population.  The 1990 Law for the 
Promotion of the Social Equality of Women not only prohibits 
discrimination against women but obligates the Government to promote 
political, economic, social, and cultural equality.  This year the 
Government's National Center for the Development of Women and the Family 
promulgated social awareness programs on "Active Participation by Women 
in Decisionmaking" and "Technical Training and the Fight Against 
Poverty."

According to the 1993 census, 30 percent of working-age women earn wages 
outside the home, compared with 79 percent of working-age men.  One-
fifth of all families depend primarily on the earnings of women.  Most 
women work in the services sector, with others working in industry and 
agriculture.  While laws require that women and men receive equal pay 
for equal work, average salaries for women remained below those of male 

counterparts.  The average life expectancy for women increased by 12 
years since the early 1970's to 77 years, higher than the 74-year 
average for men.

  Children

The Government is committed to children's rights and welfare through its 
well-funded systems of public education and medical care.  The 
Government spends more than 4 percent of gross domestic product on 
education and over 5 percent on medical care.  Accordingly, Costa Rica 
has a high rate of literacy (94 percent) and a low rate of infant 
mortality (12.99 per 1,000).  The autonomous National Institute for 
Children oversees the implementation of the Government's programs for 
children.  In August the Catholic Church began construction of a home 
for both teenage mothers and for children with AIDS, which the Church 
will operate with help from the National Institute for Children.

In recent years, the National Institute for Children has increased 
public awareness of crimes against children.  The Institute intervened 
in 2,405 cases of abandonment, 696 cases of physical abuse, 842 cases of 
sexual abuse, and 71 cases of psychological abuse of children during the 
first 6 months of 1995.  Abuses appear to be more prevalent among 
impoverished, less-educated families.  Traditional attitudes and the 
inclination to treat such crimes as misdemeanors sometimes hamper legal 
proceedings against those who commit crimes against children.

  People with Disabilities

No laws prohibit discrimination against those with disabilities nor 
mandate access to buildings for such persons.  Certain public and 
private institutions, however, have made individual efforts to improve 
access.

  Indigenous People

Costa Rica's population of about 3.3 million includes nearly 29,000 
indigenous people divided among eight ethnic groups.  Most live in 
traditional communities on 22 reserves which, because of their remote 
location, often lack access to schools, health care, electricity, and 
potable water.  The Government through the National Indigenous 
Commission initiated distribution of national identification cards to 
facilitate access to public medical facilities.  The Government also 
began construction of a medical clinic and two community health centers 
in indigenous areas.  The Ombudsman has established an office to 
investigate violations of the rights of indigenous people.

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.  About 
15 percent of the work force is unionized, almost entirely in the public 
sector.  Unions operate independently of government control and may form 
federations and confederations and affiliate internationally.

Some trade union leaders contend that "solidarity" associations, in 
which workers renounce the right to strike and bargain collectively in 
return for receiving certain services including credit unions and 
savings plans, hurt the right of association.  After the International 
Labor Organization (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association ruled that 
solidarity associations and their involvement in trade union activities 
violated freedom of association, the Government amended the Labor Code 
in 1993.  The following year, the ILO Committee of Experts ruled that 
these and other planned changes fostered greater freedom of association.  
In 1995 this Committee encouraged the Government to approve legislation 
to allow unions to administer compensation funds for dismissed workers 
and to repeal Labor Code provisions restricting the right to strike in 
certain nonessential public, agricultural, and forestry sectors.

Costa Rica has no restrictions on the right of private sector workers to 
strike, but very few workers in this sector belong to unions.  
Accordingly, private sector strikes rarely occur.  The Constitution and 
Labor Code restrict the right of public sector workers to strike.  
Nonetheless, in mid-1995, teachers' unions conducted a largely peaceful, 
month-long strike to protest changes to a law on teachers' pensions.

  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 union formation.  The revised provisions 
require employers found guilty of 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.

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 such practices.

  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Constitution provides special employment protection for women and 
children and establishes the minimum working age at 12 years, with 
special regulations in force for workers under 15.  Children between 15 
and 18 can work a maximum of 7 hours daily and 42 hours weekly, while 
children between 12 and 15 can work a maximum of 5 hours daily and 30 
hours weekly.  The National Institute for Children, in cooperation with 
the Labor Ministry, effectively enforces these regulations in the formal 
sector.  After two adolescents died from chemical poisoning while 
working on banana plantations, the authorities prohibited employment of 
youths under 18 in the banana industry.  Nonetheless, child labor 
remains an integral part of the large informal economy.

  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Constitution provides for a minimum wage.  A National Wage Council, 
composed of three members each from government, business, and labor, 
sets minimum wage and salary levels for all sectors.  Monthly minimum 
wages, last adjusted in July for the private sector, range from $121 
(21,928 colones) for domestic servants to $587 (106,282 colones) for 
certain professionals.  Public sector negotiations, based on private 
sector minimum wages, normally follow the settlement of private sector 
negotiations.  The Ministry of Labor effectively enforces minimum wages 
in the San Jose area, but less effectively in rural areas.  Workers at 
the lower end of the wage scale, especially those with families, 
encounter difficulty maintaining acceptable standards of living and in 
taking care of their basic human needs.

The Constitution sets workday hours, overtime remuneration, days of 
rest, and annual vacation rights.  Although often circumvented in 
practice, it also requires compensation for discharge without due cause.  
Generally, workers may work a maximum of 8 hours 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 do not receive overtime, however, if they voluntarily work 
beyond their normal hours.  Little evidence exists that employers coerce 
employees to perform such overtime.

For several years, the ILO Committee of Experts has asked the Government 
to enact provisions regarding accident prevention for seafarers, as 
required by ILO Convention 134 on the "Prevention of Accidents 
(Seafarers)."  At year's end, the Committee had not yet received the 
requested regulations.

A 1967 law on health and safety in the workplace 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 subject to 
the law establish such committees, but either do not use the committees 
or neglect to turn them into effective instruments for improving 
workplace conditions.  While workers have the right to leave work if 
conditions become dangerous, workers who do so may find their jobs in 
jeopardy unless they file written complaints with the Labor Ministry.  
Due partly to budgetary constraints, the Ministry has not fielded enough 
labor inspectors to ensure consistent maintenance of minimum conditions 
of safety and sanitation, especially outside San Jose.

(###)

[end of document]

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