Press Release

IACHR Completes Working Visit to Costa Rica

June 3, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a working visit to Costa Rica on May 20-21, 2019. The visit sought to monitor implementation of the precautionary measure granted in favor of the Bribri and Teribe indigenous peoples, and to obtain—through the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI, by its Spanish acronym)—information about the Nicaraguan diaspora that arrived in Costa Rica in the context of the ongoing human rights crisis in their home country. Commissioner Joel Hernández, the IACHR’s First Vice President as well as its Rapporteur for Costa Rica, led the delegation and was supported by technical staff from the Executive Secretariat.

The Commission appreciates the invitation it received from Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada to conduct this visit, and all the support it enjoyed during the visit. Members of the delegation met with President Carlos Alvarado, with Costa Rican Attorney General Emilia Navas Aparicio, and with high authorities of the Ministries of Public Security, Peace, Health, Labor, Foreign Affairs, Interior and the Police, Public Education, Human Development and Social Inclusion, with the presidential department in charge of Political Affairs and Citizen Dialogue, with the Institute for Rural Development and with the coordinator of the judicial committee on access to justice for indigenous peoples.

On May 20, in the context of its activities to monitor the precautionary measure in favor of the Bribri and Teribe (Broran) indigenous peoples, the IACHR delegation met with authorities in charge of implementing those dispositions. On May 21, the delegation travelled to Bribri territory in Salitre and to Teribe (Broran) territory in Térraba, where it met with beneficiaries.

According to the figures the IACHR has had access to, only 40% of the land recognized as indigenous in Salitre is in the possession of indigenous peoples, while that percentage is as low as 12% in Térraba. Bribri and Teribe indigenous persons agreed that uncertainty concerning the possession of land that traditionally belonged to their peoples and the lack of a concrete response to date have fueled conflict about land tenure. That conflict continues to expose beneficiaries to risks, particularly in the form of threats and harassment from non-indigenous persons that allegedly remain in the area.

According to information obtained by the delegation concerning this precautionary measure, the long-term failure to execute at least eight evictions—several of which continue to be disputed in court—has prompted a need to rebuild trust through new measures and plans launched by the State to solve the problem. In this context, Bribri and Teribe indigenous persons explained the actions they have undertaken to peacefully retake land and the tensions that are apparent in the context of their efforts to recover that land.

The IACHR delegation was informed of the existence of groups of landowners—sometimes armed—who allegedly threaten and occasionally attack members of indigenous communities. The leaders of both communities, particularly the Broran, are allegedly also being subjected to a smear campaign and to threats on social media, at the hands of non-indigenous persons who live on those communities’ ancestral land. Although there was a hotline in place, indigenous peoples reported that the authorities took too long to get to the area following calls and that perpetrators were not being punished.

In several cases, formal complaints were said to have delivered no concrete results or not to even have been recorded by the authorities. That allegedly discourages indigenous persons from filing such complaints, which takes considerable effort in any case. The Commission heard the testimony of a Bribri man who was again expelled from his land by non-indigenous persons despite having the documents to prove he was entitled to that land. Such uncertainty within their territory was allegedly made worse by the decisions of an agrarian court that allegedly disregarded the rights of indigenous peoples. The court issued precautionary measures to request evictions from estates on land that had traditionally belonged to the Bribri and Teribe peoples. Indeed, while the IACHR was meeting with staff of the Office of the Ombudsperson for the Rights of Residents of Costa Rica at the recovered estate of Crun Shurin, it witnessed delivery of a warrant issued by a Buenos Aires court that required the immediate eviction of Broran families at the site. Those events showed the need to press on with land remediation efforts, in order to grant legal certainty to indigenous peoples.

The Commission noted the renewed commitment of the authorities of the Costa Rican State to take action aimed at solving this complex, long-standing problem and at improving dialogue to regain the trust of indigenous communities.

The IACHR delegation was informed of the efforts made by the current administration to implement the Plan to Recover Indigenous Territory (known in Spanish as Plan RTI) in the area, by visiting and surveying such land. According to the information provided by the State, the Plan will provide technical data and accurate information, which will in turn make it possible to grant more legal certainty in dealing with potential evictions and with any compensation due. The IACHR urges State authorities and beneficiaries of that precautionary measure to keep working toward implementing Plan RTI.

Further, following the murder of indigenous leader Sergio Rojas, the State reported on measures taken to revive and boost implementation of the protocol that was agreed with Bribri beneficiaries in 2017. The State sought to finally launch, among others, a security committee with beneficiary participation that granted timely and even permanent protection to indigenous persons and ensured a point of contact in emergency cases, as well as constant patrols. The State also mentioned efforts to adopt a protocol to protect Teribe (Broran) indigenous persons.

The IACHR was informed of the creation of a special group to investigate the murder of Bribri indigenous leader Sergio Rojas. According to the information the Commission has had access to so far, no one has been arrested in connection with that murder. The State also informed the delegation of the work done by the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Indigenous Affairs and about measures taken to prevent the criminalization of the efforts of indigenous peoples to recover their land, which include making sure that instances of such recovery cannot be considered misappropriation. The State highlighted how important it is to train agrarian judges on their obligation to exercise conventionality control concerning their own actions, to ensure they respect the rights of indigenous peoples. The Public Prosecutor’s Office noted that a special prosecutor had been appointed in Buenos Aires and charged with dealing with risks that are reported in the area, including those faced by precautionary measure beneficiaries. The IACHR calls on Costa Rican authorities to ensure timely investigation and prosecution of suspects in the murder of Sergio Rojas, so that event is not left unpunished.

The Commission recognized, in meetings both with the State and with beneficiaries’ representatives, that the parties are open to dialogue and mutually acknowledge the need to take short-, medium- and long-term action to solve the structural problem that continues to pose serious risks for members of the Bribri and Teribe indigenous peoples, and has led the Commission to grant those peoples precautionary measures since 2015.

The Commission recognizes that the State of Costa Rica is willing to comply with precautionary measures. The IACHR urges the State to work harder to effectively implement the plans and measures it described, to protect the rights of the Bribri and Teribe peoples and to investigate the risks they face, in order to prevent any violence from being left unpunished. The Commission stresses the need to comprehensively address the issue, with the participation of authorities from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government in the context of their different capabilities. The IACHR further notes the importance of enabling continuous dialogue with beneficiaries of this precautionary measure and prioritizing consensus as a principle, to build trust and identify appropriate, effective measures to address the issue.

The Commission has received a series of proposals from members of both the Bribri and Teribe peoples to improve measures to protect them. The State has also made several commitments, and the IACHR will duly monitor its compliance with those commitments in the context of the precautionary measures that are in place.

Concerning activities linked to the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI, by its Spanish acronym), the IACHR delegation met with high authorities of the State to follow up on the visit that the Commission’s Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants made to Costa Rica in 2018. The delegation also met with Nicaraguan civil society organizations present in Costa Rica, and with Nicaraguans who were forced to flee their home country. The MESENI also held training sessions for Nicaraguans on inter-American standards and on the mechanisms of the Inter-American Human Rights System, and it heard the testimony of more than 50 displaced persons from Nicaragua.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 089/19