Celebrating 40 Years

Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Costa Rica, mostly known for its privileged geography boasting both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, is also a champion of the vulnerable throughout the Americas.

Think of Costa Rica, and you might immediately picture a good cup of coffee. After all, it’s home to the celebrated Tarrazú bean. But coffee is hardly the main preoccupation of this Central American country of roughly 4.8 million people.

Costa Rica today, which since 1948 has opted against having a standing army, is known for its active role in the arena of diplomacy, legal and human rights.

Civil rights champion

Specifically, let’s consider the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, 40 years-young this year, and which in unison with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, represents the human rights oversight system of the Organization of American States (OAS).

The latter is mandated to sustain and promote basic human rights across the Americas. Celebratory corks are popping today on July 19 at the University of Costa Rica to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the entry into force of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Remarkable reach

No mere talking shop, the organization has played a pivotal role in such weighty issues as violence against women and children, and championed international domestic reforms to make the necessary provisions.

The Court notably took up the Case Study of Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) vs. United States, a landmark to further advance legal provisions for women’s rights on the continent.

This particular case was significant in that it took on the US itself in the wake of the murder of Jessica Lenahan”s three children by her estranged husband, who kidnapped them despite a valid restraining order being in place.

Elsewhere, the pioneering case concerning children’s rights violation heard by the Inter-American Court concerned five Guatemalan street children murdered by police in June 1990.

In the so-called “Bosques San Nicolás” case, the Court ultimately found the State of Guatemala guilty of violating Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights, enshrining the right to life. In a heart-rending ruling, that nation was obliged to build a school that commemorated the victims, compensate victims’ families, and prosecute the guilty in accordance with Article 19 of the American Convention.

Pssst! Check this out

On Friday 13 July, auspicious for some, despite the date, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled on the right for refugees to seek asylum at embassies and other diplomatic compounds.

Specifically, it ruled on the issue of non-refoulement, namely not obliging refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country where their subjection to persecution is certain. The unnamed elephant in the room, clearly, was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a prominent resident on Ecuador’s dime at its London embassy since 2012.

A public notice confirmed that the Court had “interpreted the reach of the protection given under Article 22 (7) of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article XXVII of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, which recognize the right to seek and receive asylum in a foreign territory.” The Court ruled that the human rights obligations of the Member States of the Organization of American States must be followed concerning the host country, and in this case, third States, to safeguard against prosecution.

Costa Rica is a rather remarkable nation. For one, vocally the vanguard of progressive policymaking on key issues such as renewables, with the bulk of its electricity, at 80%, derived from hydropower.

Much more than that though, its legal weight in the region, entering its fifth decade this year, affords the nation international plaudits and diplomatic kudos.