Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

Costa Rica, the IACHR, and Human Rights

Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

Costa Rica, the IACHR, and Human Rights

Article excerpt

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was created as an autonomous body within the Organization of American States with the ambitious aim of protecting human rights in the Americas. In 1965, the IACHR was authorized to investigate specific cases of human rights violations, a significant step in the development of the interAmerican system. Since then, thousands of petitions have been filed, resulting in the appearance of more than 12,000 cases on its docket, each calling for a promotion of human rights in the region.

Costa Rica

Since abolishing its armed forces in 1948, Costa Rica has had a troubled history marked by corruption and human rights violations. The U.S. State Department's 2013 Human Rights Report discussed persistent human rights problems involving human trafficking, especially the sexual exploitation of children. According to a report prepared by the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the National Institute for Children (PANI), in the first six months of 2013 there were over 1,300 cases of physical abuse and 172 cases of extra-familiar sexual abuse. In the same time frame, police departments throughout Costa Rica reported 19 cases of commercial sexual exploitation of minors. However, this number has been decreasing annually. Since 2009, PAÑI has documented over 103 cases of commercial sexual exploitation of minors. The falling number of cases involving the sex trafficking of minors may be a small victory in a losing war. In order to counter the threat posed by human trafficking, the Commission must not only impose more stringent punishments, but also lobby for increased efforts to combat all forms of trafficking and ensure accountability for all parties involved.

Another problem area for Costa Rica is in its penal system and detention facilities. In 2012, Costa Rican prisons housed just over 28,046 people and in 2014 that total number of inmates jumped to 31,491. This increase in an already overcrowded penal system puts an excessive strain on a system already lagging behind. There have been no new improvements in the infrastructure of the prisons_and the government has made only minor changes and modest repairs to selected jails. This slow adaption to a growing prison population has led to a 38 percent overcrowding rate in its system. The Commission previously ruled "poor jail conditions may be considered a demeaning and cruel treatment for prisoners" This overcrowding has lead to increased in violence in prisons, inadequate sanitation conditions and a shortage of medical supplies. Not only is access to health services seriously limited, but illegal drugs also become easier to obtain, resulting in an increase of illegal drug usage in prison. In addition to the lack of medicine and unsanitary living conditions, beatings and torture have become common. In order to combat the growing number of violations, improvement of prison infrastructure and additional facilities for the large numbers of people being incarcerated are essential. Building new facilities to house the record number of prisoners would ease the overflow problem the older facilities should no longer have and providing urgently required medicine throughout the country's penal system would help the many prisoners waiting for diagnoses and badly needed prescriptions.

Despite these setbacks, in February of this year former President Chinchilla signed a bill implementing the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture by setting up an independent body to prevent torture and other human rights violations, an important step to end these abuses. It is important for Costa Rica to be a global leader in human rights and to make certain that law officials treat everyone equally. Justice Minister Ana Isable Garita praised the passing of the law, saying,

"With this new law, our country is meeting its obli- gâtions under the Optional Protocol (Convention against Torture) and the recommendations of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, which will place us in a position of leadership and on the cutting edge of Latin America"

By repeatedly taking a stance against human rights abuses, Costa Rica is one of the few Latin America countries to take allegations of human rights violations seriously. …

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