Tensions between the government and public officials over fiscal reforms

Association

In August 2018, the Supreme Court of Justice declared that Costa Rica's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and ordered the National Assembly to enact legislation accordingly. Three months on and the decision has yet to be published by the Court. The publication of the decision is vital for the effective enforcement of the ruling as the court stated that if the National Assembly doesn’t reach an agreement within 18 months of the decision's publication, the amendments to the law will automatically enter into force. Therefore, the LGBTI community is demanding the Supreme Court to publish the full decision. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) visited Costa Rica from 14th to 18th October, 2018. In its preliminary report, the IACHR welcomed the State’s actions to safeguard Nicaraguan refugees’ rights, especially through its “open-border” policy. This benefits human rights defenders from Nicaragua who have had to leave their country because of the constant threats they face. These include Alvaro Leiva, who was already granted asylum in Costa Rica. The IACHR also highlighted some challenges and recommended Costa Rica implement a number of measures, such as speeding up the process for people request refugee status in the country. 

Peaceful Assembly

Public sector workers in Costa Rica began a strike on 10th September 2018, rejecting the fiscal reform presented by the government of President Carlos Alvarado. Their grievances include a reduction to some benefits of public sector workers and the taxation of goods and services previously exempted, for instance private education. The strike lasted for several days, and was considered "the biggest strike in 20 years".

On 6th October 2018, an agreement to end the strike was signed between the government and Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja y la Seguridad Social (National Union of Employees of the Fund and Social Security, UNDECA), Sindicato Nacional de Enfermería (National Union of Nursing, SINAE) and Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (Costa Rican Social Security Fund, CCSS). In addition, the government committed not to take any retaliatory action against workers involved in the strike. 

The strike had the support of other sectors of the population. On 12th September 2018 a group of students from the Costa Rica University (UCR) held a demonstration outside the university to reject the fiscal reform. Police officers entered the university campus, after which there were clashes between officers and students, that ended with 5 students arrested. UCR authorities and the students strongly criticised this violation of the university’s autonomy. The government committed to create a Commission that will investigate the incident and uncover why the police accessed UCR’s campus. 

In a separate development, on 25th October 2018, 31 members of congress signed a draft law that some believe undermines the right to protest. The law proposes a retroactive deduction from employees’ salaries from the moment their employer files the petition to declare a strike illegal. Currently, the salary is deducted from the moment a judge declares a strike illegal if the employee does not return to the workplace within 24 hours. As of 24th October, 22 public sector strikes were declared illegal after the court adjudged they were not directly related to labour issues.

Expression

In October 2018, in the context of the Inter-American Press Association’s 74th General Assembly that took place in the City of Salta, Argentina, the general manager of Grupo Extra, Iary Gómez and the director of Diario Extra Paola Hernández presented their semi-annual report on the situation of freedom of expression in Costa Rica. They reported that during the protest on 12th September 2018 on the UCR campus (reported in the peaceful assembly section above), police officers attacked two journalists. Other restrictions on this right include verbal attacks against journalists in the context of citizen demonstrations and proposed restrictive legislation.