Costa Rica 2019

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The government took some, but limited, steps to ensure women and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights. Guaranteeing the rights of thousands of people who fled the serious, ongoing human rights crisis that erupted in Nicaragua in April 2018 and sought protection in Costa Rica remained a challenge. By the end of year, Costa Rica had yet to ratify the Escazú Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean.


In April, the Ministry of Health authorized the sanitary certificate for emergency contraception, which became available for purchase in the country without prescription. The law continued to restrict abortion to therapeutic abortion (to preserve the life or physical health of the woman). In December, after months of promising it, the government finally issued a decree containing technical guidelines for the implementation of therapeutic abortion in public and private health centers. The decree, however, was criticized by women’s rights defenders, who claimed its provisions were insufficient and inadequate to overcome the obstacles faced by women in relation to this procedure.


By the end of the year, Congress had not approved changes to the national legal framework to allow same-sex marriage, as required by an August 2018 Supreme Court ruling. The current ban is due to become null and void in May 2020.


According to the Costa Rican government, as of December 2019 more than 70,000 people had sought protection in Costa Rica following the outbreak of the crisis in Nicaragua. While the Costa Rican authorities continued to respond positively by allowing entry of migrants and refugees without mass deportations, important challenges remained to guaranteeing their human rights and access to basic services.[1] According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, these challenges included the significant cost of accessing the asylum procedure through phone calls; the lack of legal advice and information on rights and the asylum procedure; and the length of time taken to process applications, in some cases up to a year. These challenges, combined with the failure to provide asylum-seekers with provisional documentation, resulted in people not being able to access their economic, social and cultural rights, such as formal employment, education, adequate housing and public health services.


Local organizations reported smear campaigns and attacks against human rights defenders on social media, particularly against those defending women’s rights, LGBTI people, the territory, land and environment or trade union members.

Indigenous leader and human rights defender, Sergio Rojas, was killed in March. He had reported threats and attacks against himself and other members of the Bribri and Boran communities in the context of land conflicts. By the end of the year no progress in investigating the killing had been reported and the precautionary measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the protection of the communities had not been implemented.

[1] Costa Rica: Authorities must guarantee the human rights of people fleeing the crisis in Nicaragua (News story, 25 March)