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Costa Rica: Urgent reforms needed on indigenous peoples' rights, says UN expert

17 December 2021



The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Francisco Calí Tzay, today expressed his concern over the more than 40 years of non-compliance by the State of Costa Rica with the Indigenous Law, which establishes the State's obligation to return indigenous lands belonging to eight indigenous peoples across the country.

The UN expert said he was extremely concerned by continued attacks on human rights defenders and indigenous leaders in the south of the country, who suffer intimidation and death threats and attacks in the context of defending their lands, territories and natural resources. In most cases, he said, this property was in the hands of non-indigenous people.

"It is worrying that, to date, Costa Rica has not contextualised the murder of the two indigenous leaders Sergio Rojas and Jehry Rivera within the conflict over the recovery of indigenous lands, and the lack of progress in the judicial proceedings in these two cases,” Calí Tzay said at the end of a 12-day visit to Costa Rica. “The establishment of an effective and culturally relevant mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders, as recommended by human rights mechanisms, is urgently needed."

The Special Rapporteur pointed out the need for constitutional recognition of the existence of indigenous peoples. He also stressed the need to recognise the right to self-determination, to self-government of each people in accordance with their specificities, to land, territory and resources.

The expert invited the State to create the conditions for a constructive dialogue in good faith with indigenous peoples in order to develop a comprehensive, participatory legislative reform in accordance with international human rights standards.

"I am very concerned about the information received about the presence of structural racism and racial discrimination against indigenous peoples, which hinders the enjoyment of collective and individual rights, especially for indigenous women, children, adolescents and persons with disabilities," said Calí Tzay.

"I also received information on the obstacles faced by indigenous people in Costa Rica with regard to access to justice and reparation mechanisms," said the expert.

Cali Tzay encouraged the continuation of the process of elaborating a policy on access to justice for indigenous peoples in accordance with international standards.

"Finally, I wish to emphasise the fundamental role and extraordinary leadership of indigenous women," Cali Tzay added. "After meeting with various indigenous women leaders and organisations, I feel hopeful for the future of Costa Rica given the clarity of the proposals provided that would help build a truly pluricultural state." The Special Rapporteur concluded his visit by asking the Costa Rican State to prioritise the agenda of women, addressing their needs and favouring their political participation.

Cali Tzay welcomed the commitment expressed by the Government to initiate the process of compensation for the regulation of indigenous lands and territories in the coming months.

During his visit, the UN expert met around 400 indigenous persons in San José and in the indigenous territories, 70 representatives of indigenous organisations, and civil society organisations. He also met more than 20 State institutional authorities, including high-level representatives of the Presidency of the Republic and various ministries, the Human Rights Commission of the Legislative Assembly and representatives of the judiciary, including a bilateral meeting with the Acting Attorney General and his team.

The final report of the visit to Costa Rica will be presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2022.


José Francisco Cali Tzay (Guatemala) is the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. He is Mayan Kaqchikel from Guatemala, with experience in defending the rights of indigenous peoples, both in Guatemala and at the level of the United Nations and the OAS. He was a member of the Presidential Commission against Discrimination and Racism against Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala (CODISRA) and was Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what are known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name for the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that deal with specific country situations or thematic issues around the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and act in their individual capacity.

See the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

UN Human Rights, Country Page - Costa Rica

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