Costa Rica

Costa Rica is what we call a “liberal” country. On the UNHRC, in the sessions we have covered, it has consistently voted in favor of human rights resolutions on Syria, North Korea and Ukraine, allying itself with the other regional liberal countries like Chile and Uruguay and with France and United Kingdom and does not shrink from raising political and civil rights concerns in the UPR process. In the inter-American System it plays a positive role, scoring a 3 (the best) in its cooperation with the IACHR. Costa Rica’s former presidents have also continued to play a strong role in defending democracy and human rights internationally, with former President Oscar Arias Sánchez signing letters and speaking out over the deterioration of democracy in Venezuela and former President Laura Chinchilla leading an OAS election observation delegation to the 2016 U.S. elections.    

Below is a breakdown of Costa Rica’s actions and votes at the various venues we are monitoring. For more information click on each title and summary.


Freedom House   
Freedom Status  Free
Aggregate Score (100 is perfect freedom and protection of rights) 91
Political Rights (scores out of 40, with 40 being the best)  38/40
Civil Liberties (scores out of 60, with 60 being the best)  53/60
Reporters Without Borders  
World Press Freedom Index (scores out of 100, with 1 being the best)  10
Transparency International  
Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 56/100
 Global Rank 44/180
World Justice Project  [1]  
Rule-of-Law Index  0.68
 Regional rank  2/30
 Global rank 25/128
UN Human Development Index  
Human Development Index 0.810
 Global rank 62
Americas Quarterly (last report 2016)  
Social Inclusion Index 79.18/100
Regional rank  5/15

United Nations System:

United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC or Council)

Costa Rica was previously on the Council from 2012-2014 (Council sessions 19-26). It is one of the countries that consistently votes to uphold human rights at the Council on the issues of Syria, North Korea, and Ukraine.

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UNHRC Resolutions on the conflict in Syria

 Resolution 27/16  The continuing grave deterioration in the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
 Resolution 26/23  The continuing grave deterioration in the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
 Resolution 25/23  The continuing grave deterioration in the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
 Resolution 24/22  The continuing grave deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
Resolution 23/26 The deterioration of the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the need to grant immediate access to the commission of inquiry  voted Yes
Resolution 23/01 The deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the recent killings in Al-Qusayr voted Yes
Resolution 22/24 Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic voted Yes
Resolution 21/26 Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
Resolution S-19/1  The deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the recent killings in El-Houleh  voted Yes
Resolution 20/22 Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
Resolution 19/01  The escalating grave human rights violations and deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
Resolution 19/22 Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic voted Yes
Resolution S-18/1 The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic voted Yes
Resolution S-17/1 The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes

UNHRC resolutions on the conflict in Ukraine:

Resolution 26/30 Cooperation and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights  voted Yes

UNHRC resolutions on the conflict in North Korea:

Resolution 25/25  Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  voted Yes


UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review

As part of its mandate to promote human rights around the globe, the UNHRC has instituted a Universal Periodic Review, where, once every four years, each country’s human rights record is examined. Other countries are invited to review the record and make comments and suggestions for improvement. The country under review then acknowledges each comment by either “accepting” the comment, meaning typically that they agree to focus on, or “noting” it, indicating that they disagree and will not be focusing on improvements in this area.

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As recipient: Costa Rica received 209 recommendations. Accepted 174, noted 35. (only select topics listed below)

Area Received Accepted Noted
Civil society 2 2
Enforced disappearances
Extrajudicial executions
Freedom of association and peaceful assembly
Freedom of opinion and expression 1 1
Freedom of religion and belief 1 1
Freedom of press
Human rights defenders 1 1
Human rights violations by state agents 2 2
Indigenous peoples 29 28 1
Internally displaced persons
International instruments 36 14 22
Justice 8 7 1
Migrants 40 19 21
Minorities 14 14
Racial discrimination 17 17
Sexual orientation and gender identity 4 2 2
Torture and CID treatment 7 7
Women’s rights 51 44 7
Total 209 174 35

Note: some comments are classified under multiple categories.

As commenter: Costa Rica is an active participant in the UPR process, with 373 comments made so far in the 2nd cycle (for data available), 18% of which were made towards other Latin American countries.

Note: This data is for the 2nd cycle of the UPR. However, the final round of countries were reviewed in November/December 2016, and that data is not yet available to include in our analysis here.[/expandableContent]

UN NGO Committee

Costa Rica served in the UN NGO Committee from 1993 until 1998.

Inter-American System:

OAS Permanent Council

Under the new leadership of Secretary General Luis Almagro, the OAS has re-found its focus on promoting democracy around the region. This was shown most clearly in a meeting in June 2016 where Almagro presented his report on the state of democracy in Venezuela and proposed invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

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Costa Rica voted in favor of hearing Secretary General Almagro’s report on the situation in Venezuela. In the 2017 OAS General Assembly, Costa Rica voted in favor of a U.S. backed resolution that urged the Venezuelan Government not to convene a constituent assembly that would rewrite the Venezuelan constitution; and voted against a CARICOM backed resolution that called Venezuela to reconsider withdrawing from the OAS.

Its former presidents have also continued to play a strong role in defending democracy and human rights internationally, with former President Oscar Arias Sanchez signing letters and speaking out over the deterioration of democracy in Venezuela and former President Laura Chinchilla leading an OAS election observation delegation to the 2016 U.S. elections.


Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR or Commission)

In the IACHR Costa Rica plays a positive role, scoring a 3 (the best) in its cooperation with the regional human rights body. Costa Rica did not have any hearings during the 159th and 161st Commission.

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Hearing Issue Score
175th Judicial Independence in Costa Rica
164th Situation of the Right to Freedom of Expression in Costa Rica 3/3
164th Human Rights Situation of Persons Deprived of Liberty in Costa Rica 2/3
157th /158th General situation of Human Rights in Costa Rica (hearing requested by the State)  3/3
156th Obstetric Violence   3/3
156th People of African Descent   3/3

Voluntary financial contributions to IACHR (as of Sept. 16, 2016) 

Year Contributions by Argentina Percentage of Total
Contributions to IACHR
2011 $3,000 0.13%
2012 $3,100 0.17%
2013 $0
2014 $5,800 0.26%
2015 $3,200 0.14%
2016 $0


Electoral Missions

Costa Rica received its last electoral mission in 2020 for a municipal election. They had missions in 2018, 2014 and 2006 for presidential elections and in 2016 and 2010 for municipal elections. In 2007 there was a mission to monitor the referendum of the free trade agreement with the U.S. Before that, it had received a total of six electoral missions from 1962 until 1990.

Freedom of Information Laws

Since 2000 the right to information and freedom of information laws have expanded across the region. However, the existence of the laws on the books does not necessarily mean full enforcement.

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Signatory/Participant in MESICIC Yes
Constitutional protection Yes
Specific law enacted  No
Is there a presumption of right  N/A
Scope/Exceptions/Overrides Country not analyzed by GRI
Received information under FOIA law?* 73%
Received information within a week?* 50%
Received the appropriate information?* 65%

*Information from the 2015 World Justice Project Open Government Index


Women’s rights:

Protecting women against gender-based violence is a human rights issue often overlooked globally even though it crosses social, economic and national boundaries. And according to the United Nations Population Fund, gender-based violence undermines the health, security, dignity, and autonomy of its victims. Although 16 countries in Latin America had modified their laws to include a specific type of crime referring to the murder of women by 2015, they are not uniformly implemented, and practices to convict perpetrators of gender-based violence are still extremely weak. A 2016 report published by the Small Arms Survey found that Latin America and the Caribbean is home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world.

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With a female homicide rate of 2.2 per 100,000 women, Costa Rica falls in the middle of rates of femicide in Latin America. In 2007, Costa Rica passed the Violence Against Women Act to protect the rights of victims of violence and to punish forms of physical, psychological, sexual and patrimonial violence against adult women. The sentence for perpetrators of femicide—provided they maintained a relationship or marriage that lasted at least two years and have had one or more children with the victim—is between 20 to 35 years in prison.

Similar to Chile, if the perpetrator and victim have not maintained a conjugal union, the murder is considered an aggravated homicide. From UN Women data available up to 2014, Costa Rica passed at least four more laws, including the creation of an internal registry of perpetrators and raising the initial period of protection measures from six months to one year, to help counter femicide.


Indigenous rights:

7.8 percent of the population in Latin America, roughly 41,813,039 people, identify as indigenous, 49 percent of them live in urban areas and 51 percent live in rural areas.

The Labour Organization’s Convention 169 (ILO 169)

The Labour Organization’s Convention 169 (ILO169)—which has the status of an international treaty—establishes the right of indigenous and tribal peoples to be consulted when a policy or project affects their culture or heritage through what is commonly called “previous and informed consent.” The vaguely worded treaty has been a point of contention in some countries, among governments, investors and communities; and progress in implementing it has been uneven. The Convention has been interpreted, in particular, as applying to issues of national resource extraction and infrastructure development that affect communal lands. In Latin America 16 countries have signed ILO 169.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s (UNDRIP)

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007, all Latin American countries, except Colombia, which abstained, voted in favor of this declaration. The only four countries to initially reject this declaration were the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. While it is not a legally binding instrument, it is an “important standard” for the treatment of indigenous people. The declaration sets out the collective and individual rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education, and other issues. It prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development. The end goal is to encourage countries to work alongside indigenous communities to solve global issues, like development, multicultural democracy and decentralization.

American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

In 2016, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples after a long negotiation of 17 years. The declaration recognizes the collective organization and multicultural character of indigenous peoples, the self-identification of people who consider themselves indigenous and special protection for peoples in voluntary isolation or initial contact. However, the declaration was met with resistance by members of the indigenous community, who complained that they did not have full participation in the negotiations and that the declaration rolled back several rights recognized in UNDRIP. The declaration does not mention the right to previous and informed consultation.

Previous to the declaration, in 1990, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had created the Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to devote attention to Indigenous Peoples in the Americas and to “strengthen, promote, and systemize the IACHR’s own work in this area. The current Rapporteur on the Right of Indigenous Peoples is Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli, Ambassador of Peru to Spain from 2012 to 2014 and Minister of the Office of Justice. He received a law degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru with a master’s degree in Constitutional Law and a PhD in Humanities. Former Rapporteurs include, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine a former IACHR Commissioner and Dinah Shelton an international law consultant for the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme among other organizations.

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In 2011, 104,143 people identified as indigenous, representing 2.4 percent of the total population. Forty one percent of those were living in urban areas at the time.

Costa Rica voted in favor of UNDRIP, the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and signed ILO 169. It has struggled to implement ILO 169. There is still no specific enabling legislation—similar to Guatemala which has only made limited progress in implementing its 169 obligations. There has been only one case relevant to previous and informed consent, the Diquís hydroelectric project. Executive decrees determined the project to be an issue of public interest but the consultation process was never completed because of lack or resource.


[1]WJP Rule-of-Law Index measures 4 principles: 1) The government and its officials and agents as well as individuals and private entities are accountable under the law; 2) The laws are clear, publicized, stable, and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property and certain core human rights; 3) The process by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced is accessible, fair, and efficient; 4) Justice is delivered timely by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
[2] AQ Social Inclusion Index uses 23 different factors to measure how effectively governments are serving their citizens, regardless of race or income, and is published annually by Americas Quarterly at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.
[3] Hearings were scored by Global Americans on a scale of 0 to 3 to evaluate government participation. 0 indicates that the government did not send any representatives to participate. If representatives were present, they were scored from 1 to 3 based on how engaged the representatives were, 1 indicating that they objected to the hearing, to the jurisdiction of the Commission to review the topic or dismissed there being any issue to discuss. A score of 3 indicates full participation of the government, including acknowledgment of the issue and its importance, the jurisdiction of the Commission to review and engagement on how this issue will be addressed going forward.
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