Puerto Rico 2016/2017

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Puerto Rico 2016/2017

There was progress towards achieving equality and justice in relation to the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people; however, they continued to face discrimination in terms of their health and wellbeing. The reform of the police continued to have limited impact and incidents of excessive use of force were reported. The new federal law Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) caused serious concern as to its possible repercussions on economic, social and cultural rights, in particular for the most vulnerable groups in society.

Right to an adequate standard of living

A report compiled by academic organizations and presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in April raised concerns about the impact of government fiscal austerity measures on the standard of living of Puerto Ricans. There were fears that these measures would trigger an increase in poverty among vulnerable groups and cause increased exclusion, inequality and discrimination.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

Despite recent progress in ensuring the rights of LGBTI people, there were continued reports of violations of rights related to access to health services, particularly for transgender people. The policies of the Department of Health in relation to guaranteeing equal access to health services remained unchanged and, although the government allowed gender to be changed on state identity documents, there were continued reports of incidents of discrimination at the time of issue of identity documents.

Following the introduction of Charter 19, a new internal policy of the Puerto Rican Department of Education which sought to implement an educational curriculum with an integrated gender perspective in the country’s public schools, cases of discrimination and harassment of LGBTI students or those perceived to be LGBTI came to light. There were reports of students being suspended for wearing a uniform or having a hairstyle which were “inconsistent with their biological sex”.

In July, a US federal government directive was published which stipulated that transgender students must be allowed to use bathrooms which correspond to the gender they identify with. This directive had not been fully implemented.

Police and security forces

In 2013, the government signed an agreement with the US Department of Justice aimed at bringing about an in-depth reform of the policies and practices of the Puerto Rican police. This led to the creation of important new policies on areas such as control of the use of force and interaction with members of the transgender community. However, civil society organizations expressed serious concern over the legitimacy of the reform due to the lack of transparency and genuine participation of civil society in the process. Internal accountability mechanisms for the police remained deficient and an external monitoring mechanism had still not been put in place, despite repeated calls from civil society for this to be implemented.

Civil society organizations continued to report excessive use of force by the police, death threats by police against citizens and excessive use of electric-shock weapons, including on people with mental health problems or people who did not comply with police orders.

Death penalty

Although the death penalty was abolished in Puerto Rico in 1929, it could still be imposed under US federal law. No death penalty cases were reported in 2016.

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Get the Amnesty International Report 2016/17