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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

8 December 2009 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Costa Rica this afternoon, during which forty-five Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Bhutan, following the review of the country on Friday 4 December.

Presenting the national report of Costa Rica was BRUNO STAGNO, Minister of Foreign Affairs and of Worship, who said it was timely to refer to the process which took place in preparing the report, the outcome of a broad process of dialogue and debate involving twenty-nine Government organisations and twenty-three civil society organisations. Costa Rica was a visionary society- more than sixty years ago the President abolished the Army by Constitutional order, with the goal of channelling resources to more social investment, and providing universal access to public services in general without any discrimination. Costa Rica was a democratic, free, and unfettered Republic, with a relationship between power and persons expressed in a way that was favourable to the dignity, freedom, and rights of persons. It had a consolidated, democratic and plural system in power. 

Costa Rica had developed policies that responded to a broad vision of the protection and promotion of human rights, with an internal practice of extending the range of acknowledged rights whilst building mechanisms for accountability. It had been possible to permanently optimise the living conditions of the people, and build a permanent structure for the development and protection of human rights. Despite that it was a country that had sought to do things well, it was penalised by not being poor enough. The State covered the cost of health, maternity and sickness programmes, and covered 89 per cent of the population. There was immunisation and emergency care for the entire population. General, basic and diversified education was free of charge, in particular for disabled persons. By Constitutional definition, public expenditure on education could not fall below six per cent of the GDP. 

The Constitution made it obligatory for provisions on human rights to prevail over any restrictions made over them. Any acts or standards that undermined Constitutional rights and provisions apart from those contained in international Conventions ratified by the country could be considered null and void. Electoral democracy and respect for civil rights were guaranteed and protected by the Supreme Court, and the Ombudsman's Office, set up in 1992 as a National Human Rights Institution in line with the Paris Principles protected the rights of individuals, communities and communes, among other activities. One of the development objectives was to combat poverty, a social scourge that could cause two-fold vulnerability for certain groups, and the National Poverty Index had showed a decrease. Handling the trend of migration was done from a human rights-based viewpoint by the State, and integration of migrants was one way of ensuring their human rights. 

During the three-hour interactive discussion, delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the great emphasis accorded by Costa Rica to the protection and promotion of human rights as reflected by its comprehensive constitutional and legislative framework, as well as the establishment of many mechanisms and specialised institutions in the country; the success in maintaining conditions of relative peace and stability at the national level; thereby providing the Government with the necessary space to pursue the realisation of the full range of human rights and fundamental freedoms for its people; that Costa Rica had a longstanding record of compliance with human rights and participated actively in international human rights bodies; the actions taken against poverty which had reduced extreme poverty; and the programmes to help people with disabilities as well as the elderly. 

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to, among other things, that socio-economic development and political stability were crucial for there to be significant progress in implementation of basic rights and liberties; that Costa Rica take measures to improve the situation in detention centres for illegal migrants; that it increase its capacity to prevent child prostitution, to protect victims, to raise awareness and the prosecution of perpetrators; a request to elaborate on the reform of the Criminal Code and the National Plan on trafficking in persons, as well as whether there would further reinforcement of the legislation concerning trafficking and sexual exploitation of children; and a request for further information on the criminal legislation regarding acts of racism and racial legislation in Costa Rica.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These
included: stepping up implementation of legal and institutional measures aimed at addressing the reported increase of domestic violence against women and children; to continue ensuring systematic training for all personnel working in the juvenile justice system, including police, lawyers and judges; that the State continue to take effective measures to increase enrolment in primary and secondary schools, to reduce the high drop-out rates of students particularly in rural areas and to address the lack of school infrastructure in these areas; to take effective steps in providing all segments of society with access to safe drinking water and sanitation; and to ensure sufficient resources for effective functioning of the National Preventive Mechanism and strengthen further mechanisms for independent investigation of alleged cases of torture and for effective access of victims to remedies.

Other recommendations included: to strengthen gender equity policies with a view to narrowing the gender gap in all areas of society; to strengthen efforts to eliminate child labour and sexual exploitation; to increase efforts to improve prison conditions, including health care; that the law be strengthened to afford women greater protection and reduce the rate of femicide, sexual violence, and trafficking in women; the need for action to change perceptions of disabled people, as well as of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups; that greater emphasis be placed on providing services for vulnerable, poor, and homeless children; that service aimed at protecting women be enhanced and enshrined in law, and that women be provided with adequate information on how to access such support and medical care, including permitted abortions; and that efforts continue aiming to address the persistent wage gap between men and women. 

Responding to questions and issues raised, the delegation said there was a law to criminalise violence against women, which criminalised femicide, which carried a sentence of thirty-five years imprisonment. In terms of the support to the United Nations Fund, there was a plan for the prevention of family violence, with a Social Action Platform to train police and other officials to come up with policies for dealing with human rights issues, including HIV/AIDS, sexual exploitation, and others. At this time, abortion was prohibited, except for in cases where there was a medical situation which could cause harm to the mother. Children and adolescents with low incomes were kept in the formal education system through a system of monetary transfers, with subsistence provided to the families providing the child continued to attend or resumed attendance at school. There was a National Plan for Childhood which stipulated the State should carry out actions to prevent commercial sexual exploitation throughout the territory, helping victims and their families. There were various measures to help integrate migrants into society. 

Member States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Belgium, Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Slovenia, Chile, Italy, France, Uruguay, Nicaragua, United States of America, China, United Kingdom, Burkina Faso, Slovakia, Jordan, Argentina, and Ghana.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Malaysia, Belarus, Turkey, Maldives, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Holy See, Paraguay, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Panama, Morocco, El Salvador, Republic of the Congo, Portugal, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, and Ecuador. 

The seven-person delegation of Costa Rica consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of Worship, and the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Costa Rica are United Kingdom, Burkina Faso, and Republic of Korea.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Costa Rica can be found here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Costa Rica on Friday 11 December.

Adoption of report on Bhutan: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Bhutan are India, Madagascar, and Uruguay. Introducing the report, GOPINATHAN ACHAMKULANGARE (India) said the delegation of Bhutan had been attentive to the recommendations and suggestions made by members of the Working Group, and the Troika hoped that the Government of Bhutan would apply constructively all recommendations that enjoyed its support, in order to improve further human rights standards at all levels of the national sphere. Representing the State under review, LYONPO KINZANG DORJI, Former Prime Minister and Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Bhutan, said all recommendations made would receive the careful consideration of the Government, which would do its part in following up, whilst looking towards civil society as essential stakeholders and partners of the Government to do its part.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., it will review the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Equatorial Guinea.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp

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