May 20th , 2004
REPORT ON THE FACT-FINDING STUDY OF COSTA RICA ON THE CAUSE FOR
THE INCREASE OF THE NUMBER OF PERSONS FROM COSTA RICA ARRIVING
IN CANADA TO CLAIM REFUGEE STATUS
By: Francisco Rico-Martinez
I, Francisco Rico-Martinez, am currently a co-director of FCJ Refugee Centre (that strives to
meet the diverse needs of uprooted people, particularly refugee claimants and non-status people);
Board Member of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC); Member of the
Immigration and Refugee Law Advisory Committee of Legal Aid Ontario; Past-president of the
Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR); and the recipient of the 2001 City of Toronto William P.
Hubbard Race Relations Award. I also worked as a paralegal in the Refugee Law Office of Legal
Aid Ontario from 1994 to 1997. I am fluent in the English and Spanish languages.
I earned a Master's degree in economics from Costa Rica and a Law Degree (J.D.) from El
Salvador. In El Salvador, I was a law professor at the National University, writer, political
analyst, human rights advocator and investigator for the Archbishop's Office in San Salvador as
well as refugee issues advisor for the Jesuit Refugee Service, El Salvador. I have a long history
of refugee advocacy and volunteer activity on behalf of victims of human rights violations,
particularly refugees. I also have a number of publications regarding refugee and human rights
In March 2004, I traveled to Costa Rica for a week to do a fact-finding study on the cause for the
increase in the number of persons from Costa Rica arriving in Canada to claim Refugee Status.
According to Canada Immigration, last year Costa Rica was 4th on the list with 6% of the total
of claims made in Canada. Only Colombia (6.2%), Mexico (8%) and Pakistan (12%) were ahead.
The Immigration and Refugee Board's response to this increase in the numbers of Costa Rican
claims in 2003 was to reject 98% of the claims and close to 100% rejection for the first quarter of
I volunteered my time to travel to Costa Rica to conduct the study and prepare a report. The cost
of the trip to Costa Rica for this fact-finding mission was covered by the contribution of several
refugee lawyers and refugee concerned citizens. The cost of the transcriptions of all the
interviews was covered by FCJ Refugee Centre. The cost of the translation of all the interviews
was covered by Legal Aid Ontario.
The host in Costa Rica of the fact-finding study was Ms. Gloria Maklouf Weiss, Director of the
Association of International Consultants and Advisors (ACAI -- Associacion de Consultores y
Asesores Internacionales). ACAI is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' service
provider for refugees in Costa Rica. Ms. Maklouf contacted me, confirmed and coordinated all
the interviews with the following persons;
On March 22nd 2004:
Mr. Bruce Harris, Executive Director of Covenant House Latin America (Casa Alianza). San
José, Costa Rica. Attachment #1
On March 23rd 2004:
Ms. Kathia Rodriguez, Director of the Special Protection Area, and Ligia Marin, Director of the
Area for Women; both from the Office of Defender of the Habitants (La Defensoria del los
Habitantes). San José, Costa Rica. Attachment #2
Mr. Francisco Madrigal, Director of Administration and Daria Suarez, Executive Director, both
from the Central American Human Rights Centre for Research and Promotion (CIPAC - Centro
de Investigacion y Promocion para America Central de Derechos Humanos). San Jose, Costa
Rica. Attachment # 3
Ms. Esmeralda Britton, Minister of the Condition of Women and President of the National
Institute for Women (INMU - Instituto Nacional de la Mujer). San Jose, Costa Rica. Attachment
Ms. Zarella Villanueva, Member of the Supreme Court of Costa Rica. San Jose, Costa Rica.
Attachment # 5
On March 24th 2004:
Ms. Lillian Gomez, Sexual Crimes and Domestic Violence Department Coordinator, Attorney
General Office. San Jose, Costa Rica. Attachment # 6
Ms. Rosalía Gil, Minister for Children and Adolescents and President of the National Board for
the Infants (PANI - Patronato Nacional de la Infancia). Attachment # 7
On March 25th 2004:
Mr. Marco Porras-Arraya, Lawyer and Notary Public. Ayala, Porras and Associates. Alajuela,
Costa Rica. Attachment # 8
Mr. Ana Helena Chacon, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Public Security. San Jose, Costa Rica.
Attachment # 9
Ms. Gloria Valerin, Member of the National Assembly. Former Minister of the Condition of
Women. Attachment # 10
The goal of this trip was to provide the result of the fact-finding study, which I am doing through
this report, to:
1) the Costa Rican refugee claimants,
2) the Immigration and Refugee Board to assist with the process of decision-making involving
claimants fearing persecution in Costa Rica,
3) Refugee lawyers to assist them in understanding the conditions in Costa Rica,
4) Legal Aid Ontario to assist with the application process for legal aid certificates from
claimants fearing persecution in Costa Rica.
After being in Costa Rica doing the interviews, transcribing and translating all the interviews
mentioned above, I am certain that they do not need either an explanation or an interpretation
from my part because they speak for themselves. Just let me suggest that Costa Rica is dogged
by a myriad of political and governance problems due mostly to the lack of resources. Some of
these problems are of the type that some individuals fearing persecution cannot reasonably be
expected to get state protection.
If you need more information or any kind of clarification on the fact-finding study, please do not
hesitate to contact me at
208 Oakwood Ave.
web page: www.fcjsisters.ca/HamiltonHouse
Interview with Bruce Harris, (Bruce) Executive Director of Covenant House Latin America
(Francisco Rico-Martinez) FRM
FRM: Okay Bruce, should we talk abou t your work in Costa Rica?
Bruce: Girls are exploited, and 80% of them have been exploited by their families before the age
FRM: Has any one filed a complaint to the authorities about this abuse?
Bruce: Yes. Complaints have been filed. The problem is who is called. They call 911 and 911
passes the information to President of the National Board of Infants (PANI - Patronato de la
Infancia). The problem is that PANI does not have the capacity to respond. The two or four
psychologists that tended the calls from victims or cases of abuse have been dismissed due to
lack of funding. The complaint is made and there is no response. Plus PANI is a complete mess.
FRM: There is no mechanism of protection?
Bruce: In theory there is protection, but there is no one to put it into practice. In the city of San
Jose alone we estimate that there are 3000 children being sexually abused. This came out in the
report done by the State Department of the U.S. They used PANI's information. As an institution
that has the constitutional responsibility to defend children, the only place they have for girl
victims of sex exploitation fits 24 girls, and its space is used badly.
FRM: For how long can these girls stay?
Bruce: That depends on the situation of the girl, but it is not very long. PANI is incapable to
respond to the majority of social problems. The problem for PANI is that social problems
continue to grow and worsen and new problems become severe. For example, Costa Rica is the
receiving country for many trafficked girls because it is not that poor. We get girls from
Colombia, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, etc;
FRM: Do they come here to be sent to other countries or is it the final destination for the girls?
Bruce: This is their final destination with the exception of the girls from the Philippines that are
sent to Canada. We stopped the issuing of visas to work in Canada. The Canadian visas for all of
Central America are now in the Canadian Consulate in Guatemala. We found out that these girls
were supposedly environmental students from the Philippines. They flew from the Philippines to
Hong Kong, then to Los Angeles taking a direct flight to Costa Rica with a stop in Guatemala.
They brought them to Costa Rica as students. They were sexually exploited in Costa Rica until
they got visas and then were sent to Ontario as exotic dancers. They used a computer to make
fake exotic dancer diplomas because Canada only gave working visas to professional exotic
dancers. It looked like the girls got a diploma from a dancing school and had graduated as exotic
dancers. With that diploma they fit the criteria.
FRM: What did they do about the age?
Bruce: It is easy to get false certificate papers for minors here.
FRM: How many were sent?
Bruce: We have documented 12 girls sent to Ontario. They came here first and then to Ontario.
We talked to the Canadian Consul in Guatemala and he was grateful for the information. They
were sending the girls by plane and land through the States and trying to cross them through the
New York/Canadian border. It is a business. The principle producer of sex tourism in Costa Rica
is a Canadian that lives here. I have the information with me, in case you need his name.
FRM: Have you worked with Canada to see if they can protect certain children who are victims
Bruce: The problem is that the victims do not see themselves as victims; they get angry with us
for taking away their job. It is a huge problem. We have funding from Canada and the U.S for a
project to reintegrate minors that were the victims of trafficking, back into the society. We did an
interview with 160 prostitutes from Honduras. We also found that 1,059 minors were being
sexually exploited. Of the 286 prostitutes in Guatemala, 70% were not of age, half from foreign
countries. In Costa Rica we did a study three or four years ago on six countries and child
prostitution, pornography, but it was a quantitative study to answer everyone's question of how
many are out there. We have done one on Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua is almost done and
we are hoping to do another on Costa Rica. We are not able to look at all of the brothels but we
see a good number.
FRM: What are the children offered when you talk to them?
Bruce: The problem is trying to convince them. We have to gain their trust and show them that
we are not going to throw them back into poverty and the abuse they experienced in the past. I
cannot walk into the brothel yelling and screaming, and tell them that if they come with us we
will give them a house, job and all the rest. It does not function that way. We offer the access to
the girls, to prepare them, and offer them our services of reintegration, which is complicated. It is
not that there are none and we do not identify them, it is a problem of access. Little by little
gaining their confidence is complicated.
FRM: At the legal level, what is the process done here? Do they legalize them?
Bruce: The government's response has been to deport them. In Guatemala we filed a complaint
with ONU because they had detained the girls as if they were criminals. We filed recourses
before the Supreme Court and it worked. They put the girls in another place and they were
supposed to support them until they could be sent to their home country, but they did not want to
go back. The majority of the girls did not want to leave. The first reaction of the girls was to say
that they would be abused if they were sent back and they would not get paid. They felt that here
at least they were paid and the clients liked them a lot. They brought them presents. It was a mix
of the adventure young people feel in going to another country.
FRM: Is there any mechanism for permanent residence or temporary status?
Bruce: We are talking right now with UNICEF and looking for strong cases in order that we can
start to demand it from the State.
FRM: I have been told that there is a program for repatriation.
Bruce: Yes, for voluntarily repatriation. In most cases people that have been repatriated have
previously decided to leave the business or they have been rescued, in the sense that they have
been kept against their will. They are placed in one of our houses. This gives us the chance to
gain their confidence and start an education program. We can begin explaining to them the
various options. One of the options is to be repatriated. We explain the problem in obtaining
legal papers and of not having a family around here, etc. In regards to the legal status, the
international law prescribed that the country that rescues a trafficked person must give them
residency. Countries like Mexico do not see it this way.
FRM: Does Canada not see it this way either?
Bruce: Yes, there are many countries where their immigration approach has changed completely
with the new notion of terrorism. In Covenant House in Toronto, 70% of the population was
immigrant but right now hardly any are immigrants. Many times the victims do not understand
the definitions that politicians invent for them. If a guy comes and you ask him how he arrived
he will tell you, "Look, I left my house and met up with some guy who told me he could take me
to Chiapas and when we got there I worked to pay off the debt." They see this as someone doing
them a favor. They do not see themselves as victims. The majority of the people that are
trafficked come from a socioeconomic class that is used to being victims and consider it normal.
If someone tells them that they were victims they see it as absurd. It is a form of self-defense that
the victims believe they fall under a certain category and in circumstances they are not afraid of
that type of help. Many of these people come from countries where they do not go to the
authorities for help, and that influences them in taking the stance that they are not victims. In
Costa Rica maybe people will go to the authorities, but in Guatemala or Honduras, never. To
think that these people crossing the border could change their way of thinking, at first it does not
FRM: What are the judicial and legal resources for the abuse of minors in Costa Rica?
Bruce: It depends on the age. If a child under age is sexually or physically abused it is a crime,
and a public one. In that sort of case anyone can file a complaint or even the Attorney General
offices can act under a suspicion. When the children are between 12 and 18 it becomes a private
crime, thus only the victim or the guardians/parents are able to file a complaint, which makes it
difficult. We had a case in Honduras where a poor family sold their 14-year-old daughter to an
American for a piece of land. The victim did not want to go with him but did not say anything
because her parents ordered her to do it. The parents did not complain because they were
receiving land and we can't do anything, which is extremely frustrating and horrible. In theory,
the girl that is being violated by her stepfather can file a complaint but the way they feel about it
is interesting. The children love their mother and their mother needs the stepfather. If they file a
complaint against the stepfather, the mother is kicked out of the house.
FRM: Does the child also become aware of this situation?
Bruce: In other words, the child feels isolated from their own mother. Here the father figure, at
least among the people we work with is very negative, especially the figure of the stepfather. The
stepfather is usually the source of violence against boys, girls and the mother. There is a lot of
domestic violence going on and it is finally coming into the limelight. In the judicial system
abused women can go to the authorities, the National Women's Institute, the Attorney General,
etc. What happens is that the Attorney General sends a restriction order against the father. There
are statistics of women that are murdered by their husbands and partners etc. The restriction
order makes the husband or partner angrier and that increases the violence and sometimes he
kills her. Instead of protecting the women it accelerates the problem. Women do not file
complaints anymore because this is well known. The problem is that we do not have a good
sexual education program. The Commission Minister for Women said so herself. The real
problem is that the Catholic Church does not allow it to occur. Not even in the schools. That is
one of the reasons why the violence and all the perverse sexuality against women continues. We
are not teaching boys an alternative view, thus they repeat what they see.
FRM: What are the protection measures taken for minors?
Bruce: A minor that has been abused should be protected by PANI, but they do not have the
structure needed to do their job. They do not have the human capacity to manage a good
program. In fact, there are many abuses of minors within the PANI shelters and many times
among the minors. This is due to the inadequate rehabilitation measures. They are not offering
anything better than what these minors have experienced back home. There is no point for that
institution to continue.
FRM: I imagine you learned this from the children and teenagers?
Bruce: Yes. PANI's image has deteriorated. Around 9:30 pm, a friend and I found a 14-year-old
girl at Central Park of San Jose. She had been raped. Police officers patrol Central Park at night
because there are a lot child prostitutes working there. They pick the girls up with other male
officers and take them to the station. Some girls have told us that they have to perform sexual
favors to get released. The girl is taken to the police station when the law prohibits it. We offer to
take her to our institution and the police say no. We ask why she cannot come and they say that
she is under arrest. The police ask us if we know that she is committing a crime and that they are
doing her a favor by taking her to PANI. I call PANI for them to take the girl and they tell me
that it is 9:50 pm and they close at 10:00 pm. I say, "Wait a minute, you are from PANI, an
institution that is supposed to protect minors in this country and you are telling me that you are
not going to help this person? What happened to the best interest of the child?" She replies, "I
understand but we do not have a driver." I answer, "Send a taxi." She says, "There is no money
to pay a taxi." The person is not bad; it is the system that is messed up. I called the Minister to
intervene and at the beginning she does not believe me. Sometimes it is 1:00 a.m. and I call her
about cases because it is the only way for her to understand. We have received more than 600
criminal cases processed in two years.
FRM: Have they been condemned?
Bruce: No. The majority was about sexual or physical abuse against the person's vulnerability.
The people call us because they have already called the police, PANI and have gotten nowhere.
FRM: Of the 600 complaints, how many have been condemned?
Bruce: I think about 40 cases. Since all the cases of sexual abuse go to the Attorney General's
Office, there is a long line of cases. When the Attorney General's Office started working on these
matters in 1998, it only had two investigators. We began to support the workers in the Attorney
General's Office. Lillian Gomez, she is good, but she had a computer without Internet access.
Since she did not have access to the Internet, she had no clue about the sexual tourism industry.
We brought her to our offices and showed her. She almost had a heart attack. We got them
computers, photocopiers, and all the basic equipment to start investigating and have had a good
level of success. The American government stepped in and we had to do a lot of hard work.
FRM: I imagine there must be a back up in the intervention of justice. How long can a case last?
Bruce: We filed a complaint in 1999 and the person was detained four months ago. The person
is in police custody now but how many more children suffered because it took four years to
finish the investigation?
FRM: We are receiving cases in Canada of people who say that their abusers are from a certain
social status in the community. Why is there impunity within the police? Why do they not get to
the person? We have a case that has gathered my attention. The girl I interviewed was 14 years
old and her abuser was a teacher with a lot of money. She went to court to present her case and
the next day the teacher took her out to the hall to discuss the situation. He kissed her in the hall
and later witnesses were saying that the girl was provoking the situation to occur. He presented
this declaration to the judge and he let him go free.
Bruce: The person keeps moving so they cannot be personally notified or they are sent on
vacation. The situation is very complicated and horrible.
FRM: I interviewed the family and they said, "What did you want me to do? I can not move
from the city. I cannot send my daughter on the bus because they may assault her. So she has to
continue going to the same school. They began threatening us that they were going to fail her.
There continues to be verbal abuse against her brothers and sisters."
Bruce: The whole family is attacked.
FRM: They begin to say that their daughter is a prostitute in the community.
Bruce: The victim gets attacked. They believe it was her fault for wearing a short skirt. We are
not going to change anything until society changes.
FRM: Change comes from education and there is none in Costa Rica.
Bruce: There is no education, even in the schools because the Church does not allow it. The
Church has a lot of priests that abuse girls and boys. In the Don Bosco School, a 14-year-old girl
went for confession and the priest abused her during her confession. A girl wrote a note
complaining about the abuse and left it for her principal at the college. The priest was sent to
Guadalajara. We found out that the Church has a place in Guadalajara for pedophile priests.
They did nothing about the case. The girls began to get lower grades and her parents asked what
was wrong with their girl. The beautiful thing about this case is that the priest died of old age in
Guadalajara. Those are just rumors because we are not sure. The parents are suing the principal
for covering up the crime. The priests have not learned in Costa Rica. They are not aware of
what happened in the United States.
FRM: Are there any repercussions for covering up a sexual abuse crime?
Bruce: There is a difference between theory and things carried out. The first is trying to prove
that the principal covered up the crime, which is difficult. In this case it was not difficult because
they found the girl's letter. The only other place where the same situation is occurring is in Punta
Arenas, Chile. It could be a new way of getting the people in the Church that are covering up for
FRM: There are some cases in Canada where the abuser threatens to kill the family if they file a
complaint with the police. Do you think the same scenario occurs here?
Bruce: Yes, of course, but it does not necessarily mean that the threat will be carried out. The
threat towards the family and the victim does occur, especially if the family is poor. Normally
the abuser has some form of authority over the family. For example, if the teacher has a higher
status, then it is a power relationship.
FRM: What can you do in this case with Costa Rican resources?
Bruce: We have to make sure that the law is followed. This country is a paradox because there
are so many good laws that are not carried out. We have evidence that a dentist has violated 12 to
14 children in the Quiepos zone. They let him go with a fine of $1000 dollars. This is the money
that he received for doing a root canal. That's the way he cures himself from this case and the
girls do not receive any special treatment.
FRM: Is there any follow up or support?
Bruce: PANI should be following up on these cases. The children are used to being victims of
sexual exploitation and on top of it all they are given money. They say, "We can enter the
beautiful houses with pools and that would never happen any other way." Or they say, "We can
watch TV on a big screen." This man is from Oklahoma with a high status and higher education.
The dentist escaped. We continued the process against him and he was condemned to 24 years
imprisonment for drug related charges. It was not for sexual abuse because up until 1999 the law
stated that it was not sexual abuse if the man's penis did not enter the woman's vagina. If it was
not penetration it fell in another category such as corruption against minors. There is case
precedent where it stated that if the girl or boy was not a virgin then they were already corrupted.
This allowed for the criminal to go free. This changed in 1999 when a lot of organizations
pushed for a change in the law.
FRM: What happens now?
Bruce: Now the penetration does not have to be with the penis but can also include the finger or
any other object. Child pornography is processed under corruption but its production is not
considered corrupt. Child pornography is not considered a crime.
FRM: What do the police do if they find you with child pornography?
Bruce: Nothing. They would only charge you if you were looking at it or buying it.
FRM: What if the person already has it with them?
Bruce: Nothing happens, which is a big problem. These people are called perverts. There is a
relationship with the people that look at it and then want to do it. The simple fact that child
pornography exists is a crime because the children in the pictures are abused.
Interview with Kathia Rodriguez (KR)Director of the Special Protection Area and
Ligia Martin (LM), Director of the Area for Women; both from the Ombudsman Office
(La Defensoria de los Habitantes).
KR: The Ombudsman in Costa Rica is a juridical institution based on the generic Ombudsman
concept. Anyway, as you know, every country assumes the Ombudsman is materialized
differently. For instance, Latin America has to say it in a certain manner, its own figures of
Ombudsman; in the majority of the countries they are known as the Procurator of Human Rights
or Defender of the People or Ombudsman (Defensoria de los Habitantes), like it is named here in
We are a non-governmental institution; that is to say, we are not part of the government but we
are not an entity of civil society either. We are an institution of the state with sort of quasi-
judicial jurisdiction, inserted a bit inside the administrative system of the state. The Ombudsman
(La Defensoria de Los Habitantes) is the chairperson of the institution and is appointed by the
National Legislative Assembly. The Ombudsman has to present once a year a report in front of
the National Legislative Assembly about the situation of the cases that have been processed and
above all the different thematics that the Ombudsman has identified as susceptible to the
violations of human rights.
Our mandate is circumscribed by the actions of the public sector. Our legal mandate is to guard
the good functioning of the public sector as well as to safeguard or defend the rights and interest
of the inhabitants of this country. Even more, there is a third function, of an educative character,
to promote rights. Practically, we could say that it is an administrative recourse and not a judicial
one; we are the only organization that exists for the protection of human rights.
Human rights must be protected in all instances by the state. But as an institution of protection at
the state level we are the only one that is not a judicial character.
FRM: Does this area include citizens; that is to say, the violation between citizens?
KR: Our mandate is circumscribed to the public sector but in regards to the part that has to do
with citizens, we have a lot of restrictions. Our own definition does not permit us to get involved.
Even though we have acted as a mediator, we cannot go and ask for accounts of particulars. But
if the action involves a public activity that must be protected or regulated by the state, we have
instated the government so that it can intervene in that case. We basically watch so that the
public sector does its duty.
We are an institution whose main role is to influence; that is, our mandate is to provide moral
leadership, and this is related to the confidence that the population has in our institution and the
response that our institution gets from governmental authorities. In that sense, we have two
forms of intervention. One is the receipt of complaints that is open to any inhabitant of this
country, be it a national, immigrant, documented or undocumented person, in transit; that is, any
person that is in Costa Rican territory is susceptible to be attended by the Ombudsman
(Defensoria de los Habitantes) Office.
The characteristics of our procedures are informal and expedited. The intention is to rapidly
identify the problem. We must enable the public sector to resolve the problem and instruct them
on what they are supposed to do. This is basically our job, which is why lawyers are not needed.
Here the person does not need any written submissions to come and complain before us. There
are also no age restrictions.
We have two methods of action: receiving and investigating individual complaints. If it is not an
individual complaint, the Defender may decide there is an issue that deserves to be investigated.
The majority of times these investigations reveal systemic or structural situations that have
repercussions at the individual level. In specific cases where we feel that there is something
structural that is not working, we then advocate the investigation of the issue. Under exceptional
circumstances we have implemented investigations without an individual complaint on
individual cases, if we know of it.
The procedure that is in place in the law is straightforward; simply, someone has to make a
complaint. Like I told you it has no formalities, the only thing we cannot do is receive
anonymous complaints. All our complaints are confidential. The Defender's Office must know
who made the complaint and in that we have been extremely protective in keeping
confidentiality. Confidentiality is a mechanism that we offer to any person, not only if they are
involved, as long as the complaint can be managed in a confidential manner. Sometimes it is not
possible. For instance, if there is a complaint of political abuse, they cannot just tell me, "I was
Once the investigation has been completed, which includes soliciting information from the
public sector, and like I said, we are very expeditious and informal. Then, we analyze the
information. If this is sufficient to get an idea of what happened, we proceed to initiate a case.
But if it is not sufficient, we have to search other sources of information, which may be from the
same public sector. In few cases is the information requested from the interested party. One must
understand that this is not a judicial court here. There are no witnesses and it is not an adversarial
We advise the public sector of the information that we have on file, how the case was dealt with
or if there was a situation that by itself generated the violation of rights, and once the
investigation is completed we submit a final report.
We have two ways to do the final report. One reports on what was investigated, what was found
and how it was interpreted or evaluated. The other provides recommendations, which is used
when we have found elements or indications, or eventually a complete confirmation that there
has been a violation of rights. The recommendations have three categories. There are
recommendations that are basically legal reminders of the duty to the public sector. I must
remind you that these types of things must be guaranteed. At other times they are
recommendations of a general character; so as to say, "We became aware that the security guards
of the penitentiary system do not have adequate installations to spend the night. We hope
appropriate measures will we taken." There are also recommendations more specific and directed
to individuals, functionaries of a particular institution, who were accused of violating the rights
of a citizen.
FRM: What happens if the public sector does not correct this?
KR: This is part of the reports and the recommendations. The Defender cannot do any more. The
law does not permit it. And this is why I told you about the moral leadership. In any case, there
are some options for recourse or things that we can use that may have an impact, but we do not
believe that they are necessarily decisive for it to be completed. For example, it is accepted that
all the public sectors have the obligation to promote collaboration that helps the Defender. On
one hand, nobody can refuse to give us information; on the other hand, any interference or
obstruction of the advance of the investigation by the public servant can result in criminal
charges due to disobedience. There we are not resolving the case concretely but we are framing
the jurisdiction of the Defender in front of the public sector.
The law states that when the public sector does not follow up the recommendations, they have to
justify it to the Defender.
If the non-compliance with the recommendation is not justified, the functionary must be
susceptible to disciplinary sanction. Then, like I said, it is a persuasive mechanism to the public
sector so that our petitions or recommendations can be implemented. We cannot think that just
because that is what the law says they are going to listen to us. Better yet, the strength of the
Defender's Office has been its objectivity. That is to say, in these ten years we have been an
institution that has gained the confidence of the people, even though we have a lot of territory to
cover. The people have confidence in the intervention of the Defender. The people have seen the
Defender act in concrete cases, as well as taking on huge battles when the case implies structural
Once the recommendations have been submitted, that is as far as the law goes. There is a term
given of two months, but most of the time it is impossible to do anything in two months. In that
case, once the recommendation is issued the most that can be done is to give a legal warning to
the institution. But if the recommendations suggested very specific actions then we do follow up,
even though this stage is not in the book. This is something that the Defender has seen as
absolutely necessary, to be able to have a parameter to measure the effectiveness of our
recommendations. Further more, the people of course feel empowered by the resolution issued
by the Defender, particularly when there is a resolution in favor of the individual. But since our
resolutions are not binding, like judicial ones, there is the need to keep accompanying the
citizens to make the recommendations effective.
The follow up is a reality check, and the truth is that a lot of the cases are not closed until we are
able to effectively comply with the recommendation. This is related to what you asked me about
the types of complaints that we receive. This is why I'm going to try to talk a bit about the
structure of the Defender's Office.
There are six areas:
(1) Women. Ligia will explain its proceedings.
(2) The Special Protection Area, which includes all sectors of society that experience social
(3) The Environment; this is where we see all the complaints that have to do with health,
pollution, housing and also related to the earth.
(4) Public Administration, which investigates the complaints against the public sector,
complaints against local government and public services.
(5) Economics, which looks over the economic rights in the broad sense, in the collective sense,
and not individually. In that sense they look at taxes, tariffs and those sorts of things.
(6) Children and Adolescents, which attends to all the complaints of the violation of the rights of
As you can see, we have the faculty to intervene in all public services. But the law states two
limitations for our actions, which are the judiciary and electoral jurisdictions. These are the two
areas where our intervention is not permitted.
LM: Two complimentary parts to what Kathia has said. Most of these areas, and I am talking
about Special Protection and the area of Women, have strong communication with governmental
institutions and non-government organizations. For example, in the case of gender violence, we
have ten commissions. There is one commission that includes a Member of the Supreme Court,
the Minister of the Commission for Women, the Vice-Minister of Justice, myself, representing
the Ombudsman (Defensoria de los Habitantes), and two or three persons representing non-
government organizations. This is a high-level commission about general violence.
FRM: What is the emphasis of this commission?
LM: We design the work plan related to general policies. At this time, a serious problem that we
are discussing is in relation to the treatment of aggressors. There is a lot of pressure to work with
aggressors. Even though the Defender is not going to work with aggressors, but being part of this
commission, we have to discuss the need for institutions and especially NGOs that can work on
providing institutional support.
FRM: If there is a complaint of family violence or inter-family violence, doesn't that proceed
with the Defender?
LM: The Defender does not proceed, unless the public sector has denied assistance to the victim.
March 23, 2004
Interview with Francisco Madrigal (FM) Director of Administration and Daria Suarez
(DS)Executive Director, both from the Central American Human Rights Centre for Research
CIPAC (Centro de Investigación y Promoción para America Central de Derechos Humanos). San
Jose, Costa Rica
FRM: What is the magnitude of persecution because of sexual orientation in Costa Rica?
FM: To talk about this subject we have to talk about the historical context. The homosexual
movement did not take a political position until the arrival of AIDS among males who have
sexual intercourse with other men, specifically around 1985. The political movement
strengthened with the formation of organized groups at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of
the 1990s. The majority of these groups and organizations no longer exist because they were
funded by international resources
These organizations were born as a result of the huge persecution in Costa Rica since the
appearance of AIDS and its association with homosexual men. The well-known networks for
gays and lesbians increased from the 80s to the 90s. Because of pressure from the police, the
Minister of Public Health decided that there was a need for a centre called SIDARIO - a centre
where people living with AIDS are isolated - where people found positive for AIDS would be
enclosed. It provoked a form of witch hunt against the homosexual population in Costa Rica.
I wish I could undo the myth building of all those years of oppression against the homosexual
population, of myths and taboos with respect to AIDS. It has cost us a lot. It is precisely this
subject which forces gays and lesbians to speak out publicly about our rights as humans in Costa
In 1995, Costa Rica recognized for the first time, not voluntarily, but pressured by both national
and international human rights organizations, a legal organization composed of gays and
lesbians. This gave the political work of gays and lesbians a foundation for what we have been
doing these last years. But as I have mentioned, discrimination against sexual orientation
continues. For example, at the end of the 90s the organization of the International Congress of
Gays, an activity that was considered constitutional, was shut down. It was incorrectly
characterized by the Catholic Church, which, being the official church of the state recommended
to the President that international homosexuals not be allowed into the country. The President
himself voted for this initiative of the Catholic Church.
We are talking about the year 1998, when we filed a police complaint against the Catholic
Church and all its allies. We lost both cases. The judge stated that church representatives were
doing their duty as priests, evangelists, etc. It was different when we filed a complaint with the
Defensoria de los Habitantes (the Ombudsman) against the President. The Ombudsman
recommended that the President refrain from making discriminatory remarks against
homosexuals and that he recognize that the said population is a part of this country. This has also
allowed gays and lesbians to publicly use the media to speak about our situation.
Our organizations are more committed to investigating the real situation of the homosexual
community in Costa Rica. We have had closer relations with some institutions of state and non-
governmental organizations, working on the subject of sexual diversity. This has put forward that
discrimination against gays and lesbians is politically incorrect, but it only happens on paper or
in political discourse, not in the national reality. To change the mentality of the nuclear family
and the Catholic Church in Costa Rica is a difficult process. We have identified two areas of
difficulty for the gay and lesbian community - not to say that there are not other problems - the
first being employment, where workers are being fired because of their sexual orientation or
assaulted in the workplace. Lesbians, when they have been identified as lesbian, have suffered
sexual assault in the workplace for being lesbians, and suffered other violations. In the nuclear
Costa Rican family it is culturally incorrect for a single child of 18 to move out and live on their
own. The majority of youth who are single live with their parents until they are married or die.
When the nuclear family finds out about the sexual orientation of their child, there are many
consequences; one is that the family takes away the child's liberties.
DS: The other result is the family disowning their child, and kicking the child out of the house.
FM: Normally they do not look for a homosexual organization for help, but go to their pastor or
the priest at the church who is not necessarily promoting the rights of homosexuals. This makes
the situation more critical.
The complaints, as we know, are not easy. When a teacher filed a complaint with the police for
being fired because of his sexual orientation it hit the public spotlight and everyone found out
about the professor's sexual orientation. We worked in solidarity with the professor to lend our
support. After it became public, he had to create his own private business because no one would
hire him. This is something that the gay and lesbian community has become aware of. When
someone asks what we can do about being fired for sexual orientation or delicate situations in the
family or in school, we always tell them that proof is essential to be able to win a case in court.
In Costa Rica a case of this type can take up to two to four years. We have to be clear about this
when we speak to the person because when someone files a complaint they have to be aware that
the process is long and tiring, and the burden of proof is on the complainant.
FRM: Are the repercussions are the same whether the person wins or not? Is discrimination
systemic in the community?
DS: We did a study on suicide rates in the population and we discovered that the suicide rate in
the homosexual population is 7 times more than in the heterosexual population. Around 50% of
the homosexual population suffers labour discrimination.
FM: There was a study done by "Procesos", a research organization in Central America, which
was published in "La Nacion" (Costa Rican national newspaper) on August 15, 1998. It
confirmed that the most intolerable country to homosexuals in Central America is Costa Rica.
The subject of homosexuality is least accepted by Costa Ricans. They are more tolerant of an
army than homosexuality - this is coming from a population/country that does not have an army.
For example, employment benefits for men and women with same sex partners do not exist. In
heterosexual relationships, benefits are given even if the couple is not married. We have to
recognize that this is a very important issue in Costa Rica because the government has not
recognized any of their rights; no legal recognition or protection of partners of a same-sex
FRM: Are there physical attacks against homosexuals, any violence? Have there been any
murders? Are there any statistics about this problem?
DS: No. The statistics about this are not realistic because the judicial system in this country does
not investigate the sexual orientation of the victim. They look for any case of robbery or
connections to drugs, but sexual orientation is never considered a cause of the murder. Whenever
there are murders of single men, which we know is how the system sees gay men, there would be
no way of proving it.
FM: The other characteristic is that the majority of these men who are murdered are not openly
gay. They do not go to gay places or participate directly with gay and lesbian organizations.
They usually live a double life. A lot of them have been working for the government or
important places. They meet up with their partners and drop them off in generally dangerous
areas because they look for that sense of invisibility.
With respect to the situation of the transvestite population, the situation has not changed or
stopped. I can remember there being murders of transsexuals since I was born. It is very difficult.
A great example from the transsexual population is a person by the name "Amallansi" who was
murdered, and to this day no one knows who the assassins were. In the male population we have
calculated 15 to 18 cases per year, but with transvestites it varies. And on top of everything, the
way the media spins the stories in these cases it ends up that it was a client who did not want to
pay, or it was a drug problem. Very few times has the media said that these assassinations were
hate crimes. Usually they say that it was drug related. We do not agree with this because the
victim has been stabbed in the front, their face destroyed, their clothes cut and torn. There is
something deeper there than drugs. Drugs are used because people do not want to use the proper
words for it. In Costa Rica there is no classification in the Criminal Code for hate crimes, it does
not exist as a legal category.
FRM: So it is always framed as another type of crime, robbery or violation, etc?
FM: There is something called violent crimes, but that does not achieve the same result as
considering it a hate crime.
DS: In regards to violation against lesbian women the most frequent one is sexual harassment.
Most of the cases are not reported because the woman would prefer to pay 5000 pesos to the
officers and be let free. Just leave it there.
FRM: Is that why the Ombudsman (Defensoria de los Habitantes) does not have any statistics
for the abuse of authority or illegitimate actions by the police? The statistics they have do not
reflect the problem?
DS: No, it is the way that the gay and lesbian community responded to these situations. That is to
say, that leaving minus 1000 or 5000 pesos in our wallet is fine as long as we walk out in one
piece; we prefer to leave it at that. We do not file a complaint against anyone.
FRM: What is the attitude of the family?
FM: Just recently a support group for the families of gays and lesbians has opened, even though
the situation has not changed. We feel that fear, guilt, and shame are consuming the family. The
blame is put on the mother for bearing and raising twisted children. The taking away of their
liberties worries us the most; not recognizing them, kicking them out of the house, reducing their
allowance, not allowing them to go out with friends. For example, they are accompanied to the
entrance of the school and the parents wait until they step out from school and then take them
FRM: Is there physical violence in the family against gays and lesbians?
DS: Yes. We had at least one case in this lesbian group last year. A mom found out that her
daughter was lesbian and did not allow her to go out for a week. The girl escaped and came here.
She told us her problem. There are also a lot of cases of domestic violence.
FM: The violence is not always physical. Having your liberties taken away or hearing from your
family everyday that you will go to hell because you are homosexual is a form of violence. When
your family makes you feel obligated to change for the good of the family name and for the good
of society is also another form of violence. For this reason it is not strange that the studies done
on suicide show that there are more suicides in the homosexual population or attempted suicides
because the impact discrimination has on the people is huge. What happens to a person that is
living in a situation of discrimination? Obviously they are not doing well emotionally. They
expose themselves to dangerous situations and they abuse themselves with alcohol and drugs.
DS: In that sort of case they take into consideration more the problem with drugs. The other
consequence is the impact this will have on the children's future profession. They may have been
in a university program from which they were expelled. They have to find a way to survive and
end up working at a store when they could have been an engineer.
FRM: Is there any governmental program supporting the lesbian and gay community?
FM: Ironically, the only thing supporting the lesbian and gay population was SIDARIO. In the
last few years, CIPAC has coordinated with different ministries. Abel Pacheco told us before
getting elected, "If there is any problem do not hesitate to look for me." Since his electoral
victory we have sent him an invitation asking for him to meet with the lesbian and gay
community. Two years have passed by and we are still waiting for a response. We have started
communicating with people from the State but not with the State. To talk to us is not a policy of
FRM: Are there any institutional policies with respect to special sectors?
FM: AIDS prevention was considered a priority, recognizing that the male population that has
sex with other men was the most affected with AIDS. On the one hand they said this, but at the
same time Public Health (Caja del Seguro Social) does not want to give us information on AIDS
prevention specifically geared to gay men.
FRM: They deny you this information?
FM: Yes, and we have filed a complaint against them for this.
FRM: To the Ombudsman?
FM: On one hand the Ombudsman talks about making AIDS prevention a priority in this
country, but we feel that making AIDS/STD prevention a priority is due to homophobic attitudes.
We only have one law that mentions us, which is 7771, Article 48. It is under the general AIDS
law, but it does not state that discrimination against sexual orientation is wrong. The problem
with this law is that the penalty is ridiculous; they are talking about 30 to 60 days probation. It is
a shame. Who would want to go through a four-year process if at the end the most the person
will get is 30 days. In some cases everything is resolved with $700.
FRM: What is the attitude of authorities in this country with respect to the homosexual
FM: It depends a lot on who it is. The situation has changed. Before, if John Doe wanted to be a
police officer he only had to make himself a member of the party that was going to win that year
and he would easily get a job as a security guard or police officer. Now they ask for some sort of
professionalism in policing so we would expect that they would have more information about the
subject. The police force has received money to deal with domestic violence. So we would
expect that police officers would have some tolerance on certain subjects, even though not
specifically towards the lesbian and gay community.
FRM: Is there any violence in the police force against gays and lesbians? Do they abuse their
DS: In Costa Rica there are legal mechanisms that the police use against us, such as loitering.
They will charge you with loitering if you are found with your partner in a public place or found
kissing. They can also threaten to detain you for a different offense, in which case you need to
pay them off. They usually tell you to help them buy their coffee.
FRM: So it is extortion?
FM: Yes, when they tell you to treat them to a coffee, it is their way of seeing how much a
person will pay them. You have to stay away because by the next Sunday they will be asking for
FRM: Is there any information about serious cases of abuse of authority by the police against the
gay and lesbian community? For example, rape or assault.
FM: There are rapes and demands for oral sex. The rapes are principally against women and
demands of oral sex and/or money are to men and transvestites.
FRM: Are there any statistics about this?
FM: We know that two years ago there was information about a case of police abusing their
authority and the government had to compensate the victim.
FRM: You were saying that in the case of the judicial authorities the process is so long and the
penalty is so small that you do not recommend people going through the process to protect them?
FM: Listen, I believe that there is more to say about gays and lesbians filing complaints. They
are in the same situation as children who are sexually assaulted and then blamed for letting
themselves be sexually assaulted. They are the ones who are seen to be in the wrong. They end
up being prejudged. They end up defending themselves for something that happened to them. I
believe that the same situation happens to gays and lesbians. We have to demonstrate that we are
victims of an abuse. The process is shameful, expensive and hurtful because we have to talk
about our sexual orientation publicly which should be a private matter. We have to demonstrate
effectively that we were abused, robbed, assaulted, beaten, and humiliated. You would also have
to prove that you are a good person and there are no prior incidents for you to deserve this
treatment. So the situation is shameful and difficult.
FRM: What are the measures taken for protection if you were to file a complaint for harassment,
extortion, violence or any other situation? What is the process? If I go and file a complaint will
they protect me?
FM: It depends on the type of complaint. For us most of the time it is hard to tell people to file a
complaint because we cannot protect them 24 hours a day or find them a job.
FRM: Is there any legislation on gay and lesbian issues?
FM: We are trying to make people sensitive to the issue because experience has taught us that
we cannot go on with this type of project without doing this first. Maybe a project like this is not
everything because the project proposal can be discussed in the Legislative Assembly for ten
years and then be discarded. We are trying to recruit public institutions, not only with the hope
that the internal politics will change. We are trying to see how a few resolutions that are being
discussed on general discrimination will do within the Supreme Court Constitutional Division
(Sala Constitucional) to see how we introduce discrimination against the rights of gays and
lesbians. We are also trying to carry out an analysis of national legislation on the specific areas
where there have been violations. We have been reviewing international legislation. We have
done a survey on gay and lesbian perceptions of employment discrimination, family
discrimination and the recognition of benefits to same-sex relationships. It is a difficult and a
long process but we feel that we are seeing some results. First, we continue to exist due to the
financial support that keeps us going. The second is that after ten years we are seeing some
specific changes in the protection of gays and lesbians.
DS: In every part of the world there is something that is law and written down on paper stating
that these things are not allowed, but it does not guarantee that they will not continue to happen.
The situation in rural areas is different from the urban situation. We believe that to sensitize the
population is vital.
On the other hand, complaints against private institutions should be made by the Minister of
Labour if it is a labour question. We tried for two years to get close to the Minister of Labour,
just to talk about the sensibility of the labor sectors, and they did not even give us an
appointment to talk about the problem.
FM: First they rescheduled three times, and then they stepped out to ask if we could wait a little
longer. We had already been waiting for two hours in the waiting room. It was completely
disrespectful and they did not even call to apologize or to reschedule.
FRM: With respect to civil society, we are interested in the NGOs that work in the field and
what they do. Are there any that work in the field of human rights for gays and lesbians? What is
it that they do? What protection do they provide?
DS: CIPAC, there was a huge variety of organizations such as INPOF, which closed in 2001.
There was the April 5 Movement which closed the same year, the Triangle Roses which closed
in 1999-2000, the bisexual groups closed in '93 or '95, the University Party closed in '95, around
FRM: And what about the community magazine called Gayness. It disappeared as well?
DS: Gayness is on standby.
FRM: Which are the ones that are still functioning?
FM: Honestamente Gay, which is not an organization but a communication network, La Pagina
Electronica of Costa Rica.
FRM: How about the Asociacion Creativa de Empresarios?
FM: It does not exist.
FRM: How about Gaymocracia?
FM: Gaymocracia died two months after opening because it dealt with giving information about
how to file a complaint. Experience has taught us that people will not file complaints.
FRM: How about Agua Buena?
FM: It exists but it is not a gay and lesbian organization but mainly deals with AIDS. They
defend the rights of people that are living with the virus.
DS: We left out Rainbow, which is a space for the guilty and shamed which has a spiritual
FM: It is a space to reflect on the subject of guilt and homosexuality but it is not a political
FRM: Does it not offer any service to the population?
DS: It is a support group. There is Reguerro, a lesbian group that dedicates itself to organizing a
national lesbian festival, which is once a year activity, and it does not have a political agenda.
Ticosos is another group like Reguerro, which contains some political activism in their pride
festival. It is the public activity that we are going to have now. The first time it was held was last
year, and we plan to hold one every year. It is the only political activity that the groups do
FRM: And who else?
FM and DS: CIPAC
DS: Well right now because we are working with the Global Fund project, it is a question of
time. Before we were a staff of 5 in the country, now we are 15.
FRM: You are the only institution that has other locations in different cities. How do they work
in the rest of the country?
DS: Right now we do not, but we have groups that form and ask for information and we give it
to them. The Global Fund Project is open to a regional network, but that will not open for
another two years. The other thing we are trying to do is open a free 1 800 line to make ourselves
FM: We do not have a mechanism for complaints, but we do have a system of consulting.
FRM: At the personal level can someone come?
FM: We have a gay day, lesbian day and a day for bisexuals. People go on the web or come here
to consult about what they can do about HIV. The other thing that we offer, because we do not
have permanent lawyers, is referral to lawyers.
DS: The other limiting factor is the economic capacity of the person that comes.
FM: Just one consultation is 10,000 colones.
FRM: Changing the topic, what about the Ombudsman (Defensoria de los Habitantes)?
FM: In Costa Rica it is different from other countries - the executive authorities appoint the
Ombudsman. Some organizations propose that the Ombudsman should be elected by the people -
it could be done in a presidential election - but it should not be the decision of the Legislative
Assembly, it should be the people's choice.
DS: The problem is not political but it is also the huge influence that the church has within the
Legislative Assembly. A call from the Archbishop goes a long way.
FRM: Could it change the decision of who the new Ombudsman could be?
FM: It depends a lot on the strengths of the Ombudsman. It depends a lot on the advice he or she
receives from the Council, or the transparency in communication he or she has with his or her
working group. Usually the working group does not change. The area directors or the directors
themselves are the same people that have been part of a previous process, or of a prior
knowledge regarding specific positions of the peoples. The same happens in the Legislative
Assembly. The Ministers, the church has too much power, it is involved in everything,
negotiating everything, and even the strength of the Ombudsman depends on the security that he
or she brings, and future political interests.
DS: I believe that the Ombudsman, with respect to the Protection of Special Sectors and Women,
are open and very objective in their investigations. We have presented complaints against the
Supreme Court, the Ministry of Education, and against the President, and we believe that the
results are objective.
FRM: Are the recommendations implemented?
FM: They make recommendations but, for instance, we are still waiting for the Health Authority
to buy condoms for protection from HIV, even though the recommendation was made two years
ago. We are still waiting for the Minister of Education to implement the policy of sex education
and prevention from HIV; we are also waiting for the Minister of Public Health to do the same.
FRM: In individual specific cases it must be even harder to implement the recommendation.
FM: Of course it is difficult, we feel that the Ombudsman could give us an interesting space
after its recommendations, particularly before the Supreme Court. The resolution of the
Ombudsman could be interesting but it does not mean that the Supreme Court will follow in the
DS: The problem with the Supreme Court is that if you are not facing a death threat, then the
Court does not respond.
FRM: So it does not need to respond?
FM: It is given a 30 year time span to respond. If you do not demonstrate that your life is at risk,
the Supreme Court will not respond quickly. Now they finally admit that.
FRM: With all the experience you have had over the years in working in this sector do you feel
that the gay and lesbian cases that apply for refugee status merit the protection of the Canadian
FM: Yes. We have seen cases that have been really difficult. For example, a same-sex
relationship of lesbian women that had their liberties taken away from both families and were
abused in different ways by both families. I have had cases with gay men living with AIDS who
were fired from their jobs and then persecuted when the victims had openly shown their
sexuality. There is a specific situation in Limon at this moment; a complaint is being filed
against the Health Authorities due to the disclosure of the identity of an HIV positive patient. His
identity was made known to everyone in his village. The person working at a public school was
fired and after two or three years the Minister of Justice has not responded.
There are gay men that are murdered or receive death threats, the transvestite community who
continue being murdered and threatened should be protected by the Canadian government. These
people are not taking advantage of Canada. There are many people that know that the situation of
homosexuals is critical and delicate.
March 23rd 2004
Interview with Esmeralda Britton (Min), Minister of the Condition of Women and
President of the National Institute for Women (INMU- Instituto Nacional de la Mujer), San
Jose, Costa Rica
FRM: Like I was telling you, there are women getting to Canada who say they had problems of
domestic violence. So I have prepared a guide to ask some questions. The first is: What is the
magnitude of the problem in Costa Rica? Are there statistics? How are they collected?
Min: Well, we have different methods. Unfortunately we don't have a national database on this,
but we have an agreement with the 911 system, which is where emergency calls are reported.
The women, or persons in situations of violence, call this line and we also have another one
which is 800 303000 and is the one known as "Breaking the Silence." Women call here and then
from there we pass the statistics to the National Institute of Woman, which collects statistics on
this issue. Last year there were over 80,000 calls; there were over 100,000 between both lines
combined. This is the demand we have, but these calls are not like the 911 calls in the U.S.A or
Canada, where there are situations to report and the emergency is attended to. It is also a
consultation, because there are calls that might last up to an hour and 45 minutes. Sometimes the
person is in a crisis situation and you have to calm them, which can take a long time. The system
is used a lot; the people call to receive service. We have a team of operators and supervisors who
have knowledge of the issue of violence. They are functionaries of another institution but are
under the mandate of the Institute. We have an area that is called the Women's Unit and that is
where they are located. And in that unit we also serve women who have situations of domestic
violence or gender violence. That is where we see them if necessary but we only have one central
Only one, in that sense. There are lawyers, social workers, and the whole support system to give
integral attention to the mothers and their sons and daughters. There they attend to the situations
of violence that they present, other situations that are related to the issue, like child support. We
help them to process restriction orders before a judge, and we attend to over 600 women a year
in San Jose alone, where the only unit like this that we have, is located.
FRM: There is no other location in other cities?
Min: We have other locations and regional offices but for the specific subject of domestic
violence, there are only two persons in every office. In that sense, precisely knowing the
magnitude of the problem, the Institute, since the law of domestic violence was implemented in
1996, has developed a plan for the attention and prevention of domestic violence. This plan, later
on, became the national system of attention and prevention of domestic violence where 19
governmental institutions, ministries and NGOs participated. In this sense, the idea is to
coordinate efforts at an inter-institutional level in order to develop policies and mechanisms for
the attention of victims. This commission has been working since and we have been able to
develop a national approach, to create local networks with similar characteristics everywhere. If
NGOs exist locally, that work on the subject of violence, we also incorporate them into the local
network. At this time we as a country have 81 counties and we have about 59 local networks.
Well to have networks everywhere would be the ideal, but let's say that some regions or counties
have networks and others do not, because in reality, the same institutions, due to the problems
that occur, create their own local networks, and what we do is give them technical support to
work on the issue and to develop policy adjusted to the reality of the area where they are.
FRM: What is the attitude of Costa Rican society, in regards to this problem?
Min: It is still hard for people to be conscious of the magnitude of the problem, because this is a
problem that is not private, where really it disrespects and violates the rights of a person by
physical and psychological aggressions and other forms of violence. And it has been our constant
duty through the system to develop the social conscience about this through campaigns and
different mechanisms so that people first reinforced the culture of reporting the violations - in
other words, to break the silence. These situations should not be left for the privacy of a home,
hidden, in silence. Better to denounce and they must establish means for women who are victims,
and also to other members of the nuclear family. We have had success, in the sense that people
must denounce, know where to call, but logically there exist many aspects around that which are
permitting us to provide adequate attention to the victims and an awareness of the people around
FRM: You say that there is a very high a level of complaints, right? How does it materialize in
the process against the aggressor?
Min: It depends. We receive the report or complaint through the phone lines and at the women's
unit. Even still, there are women who arrive hurt to the health centers and about that, there are no
statistics. Though a sub register exists, that a woman comes in with a black eye and says that she
hurt herself on the closet door and those types pf things. That is why I tell you that we don't have
a national data system that could give us an idea of what the real magnitude is because there are
the ones who go to the health centers and there are the ones who go straight to the judge to
denounce them, and it could be that there is a mix, it could be that they have com to INAM or it
could be that they have gone to a health center, or the one who goes directly to the police, that
did make a telephone call but went physically to make another type of report.
FRM: How many of these cases are processed?
Min: In 2002 for example the number of reports that had restraining orders were 42,000.
FRM: 42,000 of the over 100,000 telephone calls?
Min: Every year the number of phone calls has increased. In the previous year, there were
almost 79,000 and before that 68,000 and this year there were over 100,000.
FRM: So then what is the reason for the woman not continuing with the proceedings?
Min: Well a lot of things. In reality, their financial situation. Sometimes they have to deal with
processes where there is no way to issue a restraining order, because sometimes the women don't
want that restriction to be issued because they think that nothing is going to happen. The man
goes and puts on a show for them, and tells them that it will never happen again and since the
women depend financially on the men, the aggressor stays in the house even though there is a
restraining order. That is one of the main problems that we have. Even though the judge issued
protection measures, the woman allows the man back into the home and then a lot of times you
get situations like the 29 women that died last year at the hands of their partners, who had
restraining orders. Due to a series of brutal murders that happened, especially at the beginning of
the year, I convened different government institutions that are part of the national system that we
have, which is responsible for establishing actions for the protection of the victims, to talk about
it. The members are Ms. Zarella and Mr. Juan Diego Trepis, who are members of the Supreme
Court; the Vice Minister of Security, Ana Elena Chacon, the Ombudsman (Defensoria de los
Habitantes) and some NGOs. They have worked very closely with us in all these processes. Of
course the INAM was present as well. I coordinated the commission. We meet once every six
weeks, depending on the subject or the problem that we have. We also invite the chiefs of other
institutions so that we can find solutions in the short run.
What we have noticed, for example, is that a man who is in jail with a preventive prison
sentence, because he disobeyed the restraining order or he brutally beat his partner and went to
jail. Most of them become very violent and a lot of them have promised that they will kill the
woman once they come out. Well, there was a case where the man, after he went to prison even
though he was not in for domestic violence, vowed that once he came out he would kill the
woman. He was in six to nine months and when he came out, that week he went to kill the young
women; he had announced it, so how do we prevent it? We have established measures, for
example, when you are going to release someone, you inform the police so that they can provide
better protection to the victim and so that they can advise the victim as well that the aggressor is
on the loose, so that she can also find better ways of protection. Unfortunately we can't have an
officer in every house.
FRM: Is the Institute the only organization that is mandated entirely to work on gender issues?
Min: We are in charge. Even though every one of the institutions has their own policies and
mechanisms inside the institutions that are part of the system.
FRM: Are there women shelters?
Min: We have three women shelters that are part of INAM.
FRM: What is their capacity?
Min: Well, they are small. They have a capacity of 11 or 12 families for each one, for women
and their children, and we only permit them to house women who are at risk of death; that is, if
we don't get them out, the aggressor will kill them.
FRM: How much time can they spend there?
Min: Well the protocol is that they can be there eight weeks, even though it depends on each
case. There are women that stay longer, some stay less. There are also social workers educators,
and lawyers, in order to make sure their basic needs are met. We try to have an integrated
FRM: Apart from shelters and collections of reports and another kinds of related assistance, are
there other mechanisms for women in situations of abuse?
Min: Well, only the national network as well.
FRM: You mean, the NGOs have their own women shelters?
Min: Some NGOs have women shelters.
FRM: How many women shelters do the NGOs have?
Min: I don't have an idea because some are registered under NGOs who work with women,
others are staff of our institutions, others don't register.
FRM: Then apart from the women shelters that you operate, you couldn't say with certainty that
there are more shelters?
Min: Well there are, we know, in some cases when we are at capacity, our staff check with these
shelters. Some are religious NGOs that work on the issue, so we place the women in these
FRM: Is there legal support for the women?
Min: Yes. With all our limitations, there is not a complete follow up that we provide to all
women. There are only two or three lawyers that go to the women shelters and they see 6000
cases per year. Sometimes we ask ourselves if we are the institution that should provide these
services or if it would be better to let judicial system handle it.
FRM: What are the mechanisms of follow up that you have?
Min: We have a protocol. We also did a survey, which is being processed by the University of
Costa Rica about women's experiences and the prevalence of gender violence. This pilot project,
which involved 100 women of different social status in all regions of the country, demonstrated
that 67% of women had been beaten by their husband or partner at least one time. Yes, 67% is a
very high number. This survey also reveals certain behaviors not only about women who demand
our services, but the great deal of suffering that women that are not seen by the institutions
directly endure. We also realized that a lot of these women are seen by the private sector and
they do not come to us.
FRM: What is the percentage of the national budget dedicated to work on gender issues?
Min: We are the national mechanism for the advancement of women. We have encouraged all
public institutions to open Women Offices. Not all of them have but we are in the process. The
idea is to coordinate with all of them. Also, we have women in the municipal offices. There are
81 municipalities and we have 53 offices. We also work directly in gender related components of
the municipal budget and the municipality coordinates actions directly with the Institute, not only
on the subject of violence but on the subject of rights in general. The goal of these offices in the
institutions is to promote the rights of women in different instances, not only in the case of
violence, or if their rights have been violated, but in all instances; that is, to have access to credit,
to health, employment, and equality.
FRM: The law that you have for domestic violence could be considered as a systematic apology
of violence against women? Do you agree with this?
Min: Completely. They do what they want with women, like taking candy from a baby! And this
comes from this situation; we introduced a Bill four and a half years ago in the Legislative
Assembly to criminalize violence against women. The First Reading was done 15 days ago, and
now it is in consultation with the Supreme Court on constitutional issues after which they will
bring it back to the National Assembly for the Second Reading. It is not that simple. It was stuck
there for four and a half years. It was filed, modified, improved, all kinds of motions were
introduced - there are still some members of the National Assembly that don't think that it is an
adequate Bill. There are members who think it is a discriminatory Bill because it only sanctions
violence against women and not violence in general and other types of arguments. On the other
hand, we still have women beaten physically and emotionally.
FRM: What is the effectiveness of the restraining order?
Min: It is hard to say, or know. In some cases it is effective as long as at the time when the man
is removed from the house, he accepts that it is wrong and the relationship simply ends and that's
it. But in a lot of cases the man is too aggressive.
FRM: After the restriction order is issued does the aggression increase?
Min: Well I don't know if it increases, but it maintains at least. A lot of times it goes up in the
sense that the man is mad because he doesn't have that power any longer. He can no longer tell
her what to say, how to dress, where to go, what to do, and where not to go, and then in that
situation it makes him become a more violent person.
FRM: You have talked about 29 murdered women?
Min: Yes, the average in Costa Rica is 20 women per year and in the last year there were 29.
FRM: And of those 29 the majority had restraining orders?
Min: Yes, the majority.
FRM: But the police don't have any real way to be able to do follow up or effectively protect
Min: Well it's that there is a mix of different aspects really. One is that the person, who the
restraining order is issued against, does abide by the order - it is just a paper that says to stay 200
meters away. He throws it out and for him no one tells him what to do and that's it. The other is
for him to come close and convince the woman that he'll be a good man. He cries, and she
believes him, lets him in, and the man ends up abusing her again. Beyond this, there is also this
impunity because the man breaks the restraining order and nothing happens. Many times it is
reported to the police. If the police become aware of it sometimes they arrest the man. But a lot
of times the judicial system doesn't act.
FRM: Women who are in Canada also say that there is a problem with the police where they
don't pay attention to their calls for help.
Min: Well that has been modified. I cannot say that that is 100% true or 100% false. Really, and
especially in this government, there have been important efforts because, well, we have a police
force of 10,000 units where 850 are women and the rest are men, where many don't have an
adequate level of education, they have grade 6 or 7 and some the third year of high school.
Before, if you support the electoral campaign that won, you would be given the title of police
officer even though you wouldn't have the second grade finished. This, thank God, has been
changing. It is getting better. We have a police force more specialized with a higher level of
education which can make better decisions. But this is not enough. We find ourselves with a
police force in which possibly they are aggressors as well. The chauvinism is a part of every one
of these persons. There is a situation of violence that has started to be recognized as a problem
within the population. But before, if a woman went to the police and tried to file a report, she
was told, "Don't be stabber; surely you don't listen to your husband; surely you make him boiled
eggs when he wants them scrambled." That is to say, the police offer a series of arguments to
minimize the fact that the guy had beaten her. On the other hand, there are police in the towns
who are also friends of the aggressors, they drink together. And so it is another barrier. Without a
doubt, when you speak with Ana Elena Chacon, she is the one who is going to respond to this.
She is the one whom the Ministry has put in charge of domestic violence. Through her
intervention they've been able to have great advances.
First, we provide training to the police; train the trainers so that they could reproduce that type of
training on domestic violence. This was very slow because training for the police is very limited.
We have been doing it. We have been able to incorporate the training as a component of the
curriculum of the police academy. I believe they spend 90 hours on the subject of domestic
violence. At least the new police officers that graduate will have that kind of training. At the
beginning of this government, there were about 800 police officers trained and to date it is more
than half of the police force. Every month 200 more police graduate, not only in the subject, but
also in a series of mechanisms that the Ministry has, like the protocol on the issue of violence,
that is to say, what the police have to do when they receive a report of violence. This is a
fundamental aspect. We have developed a manual on sexual harassment. The Office for Gender
Equality was established inside the police department. A man is in charge - he is the only one
because in all other institutions they are women. There, because they are mostly men, one of
them was chosen so that he could talk to them in an easier fashion. The impunity is over. When a
police officer is charged with violence, be it for his wife or partner, he is denounced. We apply a
sanction, or there is an investigation started, and if guilt is proven, he can be fired. That is one
way. In the other, if there is a person who claims that a woman was being beaten and the police
officer didn't respond, he could even be fired for not acting, or at least he is given a suspension
while there is an investigation. This of course assumes that people act like they should to prevent
these types of situations from happening. For example, we have many cases where the police
have had to notify a child support order but the officer was a friend of the husband, so he would
call him so that he could hide so that he wouldn't be able to serve the notification. Or, they would
get there and talk, joke around, and all this while the poor women is hurt or waiting for the guy
to be notified, but it so happens they were friends. So when the majority of the complaints of
women come here we, I, send them directly to the office of the Vice Minister.
FRM: So when the police don't act you have a direct line to the Vice Minister?
Min: Yes. I pass a note with the complaints that I get, and she immediately acts, and opens a
process of investigation.
FRM: And at the judicial level is there any connection?
Min: At the judicial level, when I have the same situations, I direct the letters to the President of
the Supreme Court. The Court acts almost immediately.
FRM: What about sexual violence?
Min: In the workplace, there is a law. A law exists against sexual harassment in the workplace
and the complaints go directly to the Ministry of Labour but we also assess them when we get
them. In those cases, the Ombudsman (Defensoria de los Habitantes) has to act by law.
FRM: What is the attitude of the Ministry or the different institutions with respect to lesbian
Min: Well we don't oppose sexual diversity at any time. It is respected, like a right a person has
to decide what they want to do with their body. Here in fact half of the personnel are lesbians
and, not half but a great number are lesbians and…
FRM: In the frame of gender violence, is there a specific type of program for lesbians?
Min: Not as far as I know. I haven't had a single complaint of lesbian women who beat others.
FRM: No, I'm talking about when members of the society harm lesbian women.
Min: Ah, no. I also have complaints of those types, and cases really exist, but I have never been
aware of situations like this.
FRM: The aggressor in the case of violence against women, how do you define it?
Min: First instance, husband or partner.
FRM: And in second instances which would it be?
Min: In second instance, father or stepfather, and the third another family member, and in fourth
instance, other people.
FRM: All these types of problems come here to this institution?
Min: Yes of course, because women make complaints of all types.
FRM: And when there is a criminal report is it immediately referred to the Judicial System?
Min: Yes, right away. If it has to do with minors, they are attended by the PANI.
FRM: How is forced prostitution seen, as violence against women? Have you done a study about
Min: We don't really manage this type of data directly. We know that it exists and with PANI
this type of information is managed because in large part these girls are minors. In this country
prostitution is not a crime, it's legal, and if they are of age we have no place in that sense. Of
course we are aware that trafficking of women, in which there are great quantities of adolescent
girls who are trafficked, is happening. Another issue is the sexual tourist hotels.
FRM: Is this condition imposed on women, regardless of their age? Could this be seen as a form
of gender violence?
Min: Of course, it is in relation to poverty. It is very correlated with the level of education of the
people, and a lot of people who make profit from it. I refer to the Costa Ricans who promote this
for profit. They then promote that minors do this - of course there are people of age as well. But
you know that there is great tolerance at certain levels of society, where there is a notion that
women serve for this purpose. We found cases where even parents knew that their daughters
prostituted but they don't oppose it because the girl is bringing income to the home. There the
problem of impunity exists and the tolerance of the situations of abuse as well exists.
FRM: But the Institute is not studying this…
Min: At this time we are interested in all that has to do with sexual violence. On the subject of
violence, we have worked a lot more in the family sense than in other manifestations of violence.
At this moment the national institute of women is focusing on what are the manifestations of
gender violence like sexual abuse, forced prostitution, the treatment of women etc.
FRM: What is the attitude of the judicial system and the police with respect to crimes of sexual
Min: Well, same as the situations of violence. First, in the cases of sexual abuse it is more
difficult to denounce when these situations appear inside the family. A lot of times a girl or a
teenager is abused by her father or by a close person, first where it is possible that the mother
was abused as well. And that is why it is considered something normal, especially in the case of
the poorest, where the level of education, culture is limited. There are certain behaviors that are
seen as normal. So women are there to satisfy the male and it doesn't matter the age if it is 7
years or 30, it is the same. If he wants it, it is there.
FRM: Also where they live is very crowded.
Min: And of course it promotes this type of behavior and it makes it seem totally normal.
FRM: There is lack of understanding at different institutions in terms of sexual abuse?
Min: No. I say that because at the time when someone makes a complaint, someone acts on it.
The problem is educating people first so that they don't permit this type of behavior, second to
complain, and then there exists the threat. There are other situations that don't allow the victim
the make the claim.
FRM: I will describe a case which we have in Canada - it is a 13 year old girl. She reported a
teacher. The girl was tricked into a classroom in which this man kissed her in front of witnesses
who made sworn statements where they said that she provoked the teacher. They take the sworn
declarations to the judge and the girl's report did not proceed. But it's a crime either way. The
sworn statement saying I saw a teacher kissing a 13-year-old girl should be enough to condemn
Min: There exists this situation of tolerance when the man has more credibility inside whatever
situation, than if a woman, no matter what age, dares to make a complaint. There will always be
other people around the abuser who are going to support him, out of fear, because they behave
the same way. For these reasons it puts the girl who is the victim in a very vulnerable situation.
We see that it is harder when it happens to minors precisely because they are girls who have no
way of defending themselves.
Logically, if the abuser were a poor devil who also abused a girl with a lot of money, he has to
lose of course. But the situation of power that is given, for example in the school, with a student
there, it is the teacher who has everything to win. Although I think that this stage that our country
is in is one that is very difficult for children. We are talking about 29 cases of women being
murdered. We can also talk of 35 kids and teenagers, men and women who were murdered,
something never seen in the history of our country. There have always been 5 or 6 cases but last
year was something out of nowhere, that without putting aside the situations of sexual abuse that
is seen often of boys as of girls. This gives us another story of what is being lived in our country.
There is also hope in the fact that people are coming forward, and these situations are no longer
being permitted. For example, now if you are in our country for a couple of days you would hear
about a lot of situations of abuse of children by priests in the press. This is something that you
wouldn't see, and especially with boys, possibly because they can't get pregnant. We also know
of girls who got pregnant and the joke is that the child is of the Holy Spirit because they have no
father. But now we get complaints. Before you didn't. There is great impunity and the girls are in
a state of great vulnerability because they can't claim the paternity of their children, and also they
must take sole responsibility for the pregnancy, to be able to have the child. Anyways, the
situation of harassment that you see normally is that the one who complains is never believed.
Attachment # 5
March 23, 2004
Interview with Dr. Zarella Villanueva (ZV) Member of the Supreme Court of Costa Rica
FRM: The theme is domestic violence. What is the magnitude of the problem in Costa Rica? Do
statistics exist? How are they collected? What do you think is the magnitude of the problem?
ZV: Well the statistics that we are able to use in our cases are provided by the judicial system.
There is a monthly obligation by law to submit statistics of cases before the specialized domestic
violence court. The judicial system has dedicated resources to specialize in these cases. There is
at least one domestic violence court in every capital city of any province. There are about 70
courts in the country that issue protection measures. So I can tell you that there are statistics, by
province, by court. I can tell you all about them because I have them with me. They are since
2002. In 2000, there were 7000 cases and it is increasing. In 2001, 9000 cases, and it reached
46,000 requests for protection in 2002. But don't be frightened by those numbers, I am happy
that at least people are searching for a means of protection.
FRM: What is the attitude of the Costa Rican society towards this problem?
ZV: We have evolved to the point where we see domestic violence as a problem. The
hierarchies, the high level authorities, see that it is a type of violence, and that it is necessary to
confront it with integrated methods that include the whole society. I think that now it is
considered to be a problem and one that we must confront. In some governments there has been
action, in others less. Above all, in politics we can see a distinction between the legislative and
the executive branches because it is in politics where everyone wants to put a flower in the pot
and pretend. But institutionally speaking, the judicial system, and I am a witness of it, has been
working seriously with consistency and we are the sustainable part of the state in this.
FRM: Doctor, what is the relation between homicide and domestic violence? Do you see a
ZV: Well yes, of course. The homicide of women in a lot of cases is a product of domestic
FRM: Do you have any type of percentage for this?
ZV: At this time I don't have the exact details. I only know that we had about 26 deaths last year
- women who have been murdered by their partners in cases of domestic violence.
FRM: Has there been an increase in the number of murders with respect to the previous year?
ZV: I can't tell you. Now, what I can say and it is painful, is that the latest cases have died under
protection measures. Yes, we limited ourselves to provide them with protection measures. The
means of protection is a piece of paper. The administrative police must enforce this piece of
paper. There are two big gaps. One is the accompaniment of the victim during the process. The
one that is not accompanied does not have the need of a lawyer; she is not accompanied and
there is no support group. The psychologist and the social worker support the judges in their
decision. The second gap is related to follow up, which is part of what the law has delegated to
us. This is left to the police and there has not been social work follow up on the part of the
judicial police. We have failed in the follow up as well as the other state institutions. The women
shelters that exist are too few. There is not enough.
We have made a proposal that the IMA (Women's Institute), which is a social service institution,
provide economic support to the victims of violence, so that the victim can move on from the
conflict. We still have not gotten there yet. This is a step. We have made a step forward in
creating awareness of the problem, and I think the need is known. We have taken a step in
creating specialized tribunals. We have taken the step so that measures can be taken and they are
FRM: But there are problems with implementation and the effectiveness of the measures?
ZV: Exactly. There is a new practice of criminalizing violence against women, but there has
been internal resistance because the hierarchy of the judicial system has not wanted to see
women as victims under the criminal code. Women are the greatest absence. There has not been
a gender perspective in the criminal code. This has been our greatest weakness.
The Supreme Court has different divisions. For me the most conservative division is the criminal
one, the one that says this is not my problem, domestic violence is not mine and it is not relevant.
The attitude is that we already have a family law where we judge family matters. Families go to
the Office of the Attorney General and they are not given importance - the Office insists this is
not their problem. So we were forced to create inside the criminal court a parallel system to deal
with these cases. Yes, we had to create domestic violence courts because the criminal division
has not wanted to assume this historically. This is a problem of mindset, which has not changed.
For example, the Court is consulted on the law criminalizing domestic violence, and we have to
make a report. My report is in favor of the law, and the criminal division is against the law. In
the end we were seven who said how the judicial system is affected and in all the areas. The
nation must consult the Supreme Court, in everything that is related to the different codes or
regarding the institutionalism of the state. As a minority sector, the criminal division was
opposed, because they are very happy, thinking this is not a problem of theirs.
FRM: Do you agree with the law criminalizing domestic violence?
ZV: What I think is that the law envisioned an area where there has not been a will to apply the
criminal code. With or without the new law we could apply the criminal code right now and be
more effective. But this area is led by people who don't see this, who do not see the specific
situation of women. So, this law comes and tells them to pay attention. From this point of view I
FRM: What happens with the abusers when there is a protection measure? What is the
effectiveness of the protection? What is the judicial work with respect to abusers and prevention?
ZV: Everything is specified in the law and it is the following: To put him out of the house, issue
a restriction order, and support the family. The police must enforce them. What really happens
varies. We have seen cases where people have died, so the effect of the protection measure is
negative. The most dangerous time is when the protection measure is issued and we do not have
the institutional mechanisms either to follow up on them or to protect them. We continue
working on tests to study how dangerous the man is.
FRM: What do you do with the aggressors?
ZV: This is not contemplated in the law. I am working on a Bill related to this, just let me tell
you. They are going to be referred to therapy, there is none right now; there is none around here.
Then, we will increase the importance of the victim. First, we must strengthen the victim, and
then the rest. We haven't been able to even help, as we should, the ones who are dying, so we
can't develop much on the other side. We are working on this. The Minister of the Condition of
Women is working on a program of anger management and we are working with the police and
with the Arias Foundation on a protocol for dealing with the aggressors. But this is not
mandatory by law. We have learned that the victim is not put in therapy if they don't want it.
FRM: What is the level of law enforcement with respect to domestic violence? Do you believe
that it is really effective?
ZV: The law is lacking, it is lacking a lot. Look, I can tell you that one time my husband came
and he told me about women that did not receive protection because it was hard to enforce it.
The law was stopped due to constitutionality issues and the judge's question of the Supreme
Court. According to the judge, he fixed the marriages, reconciling them, until one died, then the
person could be charged. It was discovered that he had acted as a marriage counselor, like a
reverend or a priest. These are all the things that we have been eliminating and we have created a
conscience. So, as to tell you that with all the critics one time my husband came to tell me what
happened to an architect friend. He told me that the man got home and his wife told him, "They
are looking for you." He went out and it was the police, and he told them but you are in my
house. And it didn't matter; they had to get him out. And when he told me, I said, "That is great!"
I love it when someone tells me that the police enforced the law. Well but we are talking of one
person who understood that the police went, told him and got him out, because there are different
levels of this. Some people are very aggressive; there are many levels, right?
FRM: And when there is a restriction order against the aggressor, do they comply with it?
ZV: I think there is an effort to enforce the measure but it is very hard.
FRM: What are the police recourses for this?
ZV: You see, we have a judicial police force which is repressive. It belongs to the judicial
system. As you know here there is a characterization that the judicial system has everything; we
have the OIJ (Judicial Police), and the Public Ministry, for historical reasons, is in charge of civil
FRM: You have an Administrative Police, do you not?
ZV: No, we have the repressive police. Once the crime has occurred, the one who goes to
investigate the case is the repressive one. But the administrative police belong to the public
sector and they provide for the security of civilians. The preventive police force is the one that
has to enforce the measures; it is not ours it is the Administrative Police. The Ministry has a Vice
Minister in charge of domestic violence, who has trained these groups. About 84% of the calls
made to the Administrative Police are because of domestic violence. So, it doesn't stop just being
paper. I think that there is an effort, but it is not sufficiently effective. I think something needs to
complement it; we need to find other means of integration. I think inclusively as a citizen in what
is possible we must organize, like we are organizing ourselves with the police against robbery.
We have to organize ourselves for this as well!
FRM: What is the percentage of the judicial budget expended on women and violence?
ZV: We can't specify it. No, you can't specify the percentage, not in this area or in any other, it is
one of our problems. We can't specify what percentage. We have tried, we are in the process for
this but we haven't been able to do it.
FRM: I am done with the questions, do you have any other comments? What do you think
should be done? What would be the emphasis to resolve this?
ZV: We need more emphasis in the accompaniment of the victim, in the follow up, in economic
support, in the creation of women shelters and other measures to give them an exit.
FRM: You mean there are women shelters but there are not enough?
ZV: They are not in all places.
FRM: And the economic measures don't exist?
ZV: They don't.
FRM: You mean, that a person who suffers violence goes back home?
ZV: Out of necessity, certainly.
FRM: Do you think there will be a change?
ZV: Well look, I have 15 years as Member of the Supreme Court. When I began, this was an
issue that was not talked about, the country didn't see it, not even as an issue of a few. I see that
the country has advanced in the well being of the family. Now it is clear that domestic violence
is a problem of public health and of human rights, I think we have advanced.
FRM: In Canada, like I told you at the beginning, we have cases seeking for protection, Costa
Rican women who allege that there is no effectiveness in the frame of the measures of
protection. Do you think they have reason for this?
ZV: Well I believe that there could be exceptional cases that are of that gravity, like to leave.
But, we have ways around here. Maybe…, not so long ago I had a 25-year-old woman, and it
hurt me a lot because what she did was sell flowers, she left the guy, the guy not only took the
kids, he took the house, which was also hers, and took her investment in the flower business, and
she told me "I am the one who suffers violence and I have nothing." What can I tell her? There is
a means of protection. I couldn't help her or even advise her. She had an uncle who was a social
worker and also a lawyer working with the ministry of education, who had the possibilities, the
knowledge of what the country has to offer, and it hurt when the girl told me, "I have nothing.
No family. I don't have a job. I lost my investment, everything." And what can I do if there are
such extreme cases. I think there needs to be accompaniment.
The law determines measure of protection in serious cases. The protection measures are issued
right from the beginning. There is a hearing eight days later in which the other party is informed,
and confirms the protection for six months. It can be extended for six more months. This makes
the victim come not only once, but twice. The reform which we are proposing, inspired from a
visit that the judges made to Minnesota, is that the hearing is only needed if the accused requests
FRM: Why do you limit the protection for one year, is there any basis for this?
FRM: Was it six months and then you extended it to a year?
ZV: Well, the philosophy of the law says that they are temporary measures. In criminal matters,
we are starting to have a centralized record of all domestic violence cases. Some people that had
resources, like some journalists that request protection measures here in San Jose. The husband
comes to San José because the process around here is faster, so it is the wife who is ordered to
leave her home. This is what was happening. We are working so that the judge will be more
careful when someone is requesting the eviction of a woman from her home. The internal
centralized registry of cases may be used to assess how dangerous someone could be based on
status as a repeat offender. There is a way for this, and I have been working towards a
computerized system. You know that this is a third world country. I tell you this with no novelty,
but we are working towards internal communication and to be able to create a system that can
follow cases with repeat offenders.
FRM: Do the preventive measures affect the freedom of aggressors to exit the country?
FRM: Thank you very much.
Interview with Lillian Gomez, (LG) Sexual Crimes and Domestic Violence Department
Attorney General's Office, San Jose, Costa Rica
FRM: We have received cases in Canada of domestic violence and sexual abuse that state that
they are not given sufficient protection and the process is too long. Based on this we have made a
questionnaire that I will read to you so that you can tell me what you think.
What is the magnitude of the problem in terms of domestic violence? Are there any statistics?
How are the statistics collected? What is the Costa Rican society's attitude towards the problem
of domestic violence?
LG: When we talk about domestic violence, we are not just talking about a local or national
problem, but an international problem too. One of the most misunderstood problems in society is
domestic violence. For one, we have kept it invisible for years, neglected, and limited the issue.
We have indicated that it is a private problem that should not pass that sphere. Fifteen years ago
we began to detect that this is a public health problem. The state must intervene because it is a
public health problem and a serious economic problem. The medical attention given to people
that have suffered from domestic violence is very serious and painful. The government
intervenes up to that point. In Costa Rica it is a big problem and I cannot pretend that the
problem does not exist because we would be erasing a big part of human history.
First let me say that the Costa Rican government has intervened. That is why we are creating a
law that will protect the victims immediately. It is not a criminal law but a law in the family
courts. I can tell you that the objective of the investigation should be that the Costa Rican judicial
system has given this problem great importance.
FRM: Do you have any statistics on the amount of cases?
LG: There really are a lot of cases. I can tell you that since my office started in 1998, there have
been 10,000 reports in the metropolitan sector of San Jose alone. We have very few reports of
sexual abuse, and the majority of reports are of domestic violence situations.
FRM: Of these complaints, how many have been processed and how many decisions have been
LG: I am convinced that the criminal system will not solve this problem. The victim of domestic
violence is stuck in what is called the cycle of domestic violence. The last part of the cycle is
when the abuser asks for the victim's forgiveness and promises never to do it again. It is usually a
type of victim that loves the abuser. It is usually a mother who knows that if the abuser is in jail
then no one will feed her children. They do not want their husband or partner to go to jail. We
have a group of people who are specialized, are conscious of, have studied and analyzed the
problem. We have been able to understand what the victims are going through from that point of
view. Many times we have to interview the victim at the hospital because of the brutal beatings
she has suffered. It is in that moment when the majority of women make a report to us. When she
leaves the hospital the pressure from the family begins, forcing her to withdraw her complaint.
The victim comes to us and asks us to free him because he has promised her not to beat her
again. That is how we get reports after reports. I saw something that for me is really important
which I have talked to our authorities in regards to a change in the law. In California USA, the
responsibility of the criminal charge is not completely left to the victim.
I believe that this is what we have to do in Costa Rica. There are cases, such as homicides, where
we do not even have victims anymore. Where the cases are severe, such as the abuse of
authority, disobedience of the authority, the State must prosecute them even without a victim's
report, but the extent of minor crimes, which are very common in domestic violence cases, are
not prosecuted by the state without a victim's report. All the types of situations that are
characteristic of the first cycle in domestic violence do not reach a verdict because they are not
prosecuted by the State without a victim's report.
FRM: Now that you have finished your explanation can you give me a number?
LG: There are very few cases that reach a verdict because the victim withdraws from the case.
We have some cases that reach the courtroom but we classified them as "the deaf cases" in which
the wife refuses to talk against her husband in the courtroom. The children also refuse to go
against their father, which is a right under the Costa Rican Constitution. The judge lets the
person go free as if nothing happened.
FRM: Costa Rica did a really good study about the homicide of women (femicidio). I would like
to ask directly, what is the connection between homicide of women and domestic violence, as
well as with protection measures?
LG: Since the 1990s domestic violence has increased in Costa Rica. Today it is alarming
because approximately 20 women per year were killed, but last year it was 28 women that were
killed. The feminist movement in Costa Rica believes this is due to not having a criminal law
against domestic violence. I believe it is their focus. We have a criminal code that punishes the
wife or husband or common law partner up to 35 years in jail for killing his or her partner. This
has never been an element that has stopped domestic violence in the past. The statistics, I
believe, for a country with a population of three million citizens and up to four million with all
our immigrants, is low.
I will tell you what happens with the protection measures. On one of our trainings on domestic
violence, there was a family judge. When I was talking about protection measures, a family
judge lifts up his hand and tells me he wants to tell me what he thinks about the protective
measures program. An 80-year-old woman went to him asking for protection measures against
her 45-year-old son because he was abusing her. The judge attended her personally and he told
the lady, "I will give you a restriction order so that he does not mistreat you again." The judge
gives her the paper and says, "Here Miss is your restriction order." The lady, of lower education,
grabs the paper, turns the paper around, looks at the paper up and down. The lady says to him,
"Are you sure this paper will defend me when my son attacks me again?"
The problem is that the protection measure is just a paper. A copy of that paper goes to the police
and another to the victim's family so that when the victim is going to be hurt he or she must call
the police immediately. You are not forbidding this abuser to come close to the family and
beating the victim again and that is it. I am only talking about family court orders. There are no
preventative jails to stop the abuser. In our case we have the ability to send the abuser to one of
our preventative jails. The problem is that the victim comes back to withdraw the charges. This is
a cultural problem. This is a problem that has to end and has to be addressed from childhood. We
have to create new generations that have not been touched by domestic violence.
FRM: Before we go into that can you tell me the difference between the Administrative Police
and the OIJ? In our countries that type of police force does not exist, it is a very special situation
of Costa Rica. Maybe you could tell me the mandates of both police forces and why both police
forces play a role in domestic violence?
LG: Costa Rica's history is very different from other countries' histories in the sense that Costa
Rica is the only country in the world that does not have a military. In Costa Rica we only had a
civil police force, but in 1975 another type of police force was formed which is called the
judicial police. It is a technical police force that only does the investigation of crimes. That is the
FRM: In the case of domestic violence which police intervenes?
LG: The Domestic Violence Court knows of all the actions whether they are crimes or not.
When the judge dictates a protective measure and this measure is considered delicate, they
automatically have the legal obligation to communicate it to the authorities so that we can act.
The victim has to file a report with the police if it is a private crime. We have to first call the
victim so that she can file the report. The law requires us to make sure the necessary actions are
taken to prevent any major crime from happening.
FRM: Is the domestic violence law in Costa Rica apologetic of the crime of domestic violence?
LG: It is apologetic because it is a cultural question. This is a patriarchal problem where
historically the man has been given power over the woman. In ancient Rome the law gave the
husband the right to discipline his wife as if she were a child, to beat her into submission. This is
a cultural problem that has been projecting itself from generation to generation. One of the best
examples I always use is an incident that happened to me in the supermarket. A mother is
walking along with her child no older than 5 in a baby carriage. The boy insists on pulling the
carriage by himself. The mother tells him that he can't. His response was that he can because he
is not a girl. That in itself is violence against women, that a 5 year old is saying that he can
because he is not a girl. He has grown up hearing this all his life and has followed it so when this
cultural problem is solved the man is furious because he sees it as in-house problem and sees it
as an invasion of his privacy. He believes that it is something that must be dealt with between
husband and wife and no one else should interfere. This mentality is very slowly changing but it
has reached every sector in Costa Rica.
FRM: You are sliding away from the question. I asked you about the concept of apology.
LG: I believe it could be taken as an apology to the crime. In many of the cases it functions that
FRM: Is it in the sense that the judge is being a form of mediator or how does it work?
LG: In the intra-family environment in Article 42 of the Criminal Procedures Code it states clear
and concrete protection measures. What I was indicating is that a judge in this country cannot
negotiate a thing. The judge in a domestic violence case cannot counsel the victim or the
accused. The judge's job is to provide the victim with a protective measure without any proof.
The judge cannot say, lady come back another time because I am busy. The judge has to
automatically dictate the measure in favor of the victim.
In my opinion we have to step out of the judicial parameter and open ourselves to more
alternatives. I do that here in the Attorney General's office. For example, if a woman comes into
my office and I want to issue a protection measure for her, which is different from a preventative
measure because the accused is not staying in jail, I make a phone call to the Administrative
Police and tell them the situation of the case explaining that a copy of the measure has been sent
and if they have not received it yet they will soon. I tell them to keep an eye out and if there is a
call from the woman they must react immediately.
FRM: I have understood that the protection measures last from six months to a year. Why is a
year the magic number, why is it not longer?
LG: That is a good question and it should be directed to the national legislation because is a
FRM: Is there a reason why it cannot be handed out for more than a year? What happens if the
problem continues? What happens after a year and what does the woman do if she has already
LG: She must start the process all over again. In any case, the victim begins narrating situations
of violence from 18 to 20 years ago. For me these legal knots make the victim come again and
again to file a police report and tell her story every time.
FRM: Is there a special technical method to investigate domestic violence?
LG: We as the Attorney General's office have a specialized police. We work with a police sector
that only works with the cases that we see which is domestic violence and sex related crimes. It
is the police that have been consistently dealing with the problem. Since they understand and
know the problem the victim is treated differently. When the program began I had a university
victim that had been raped. The police arrived at her house and knocked on the door but the girl
was not at the door. The only person there was the employee so he left a message with the
employee telling her that he came to talk to her about the rape she had suffered. When the
domestic worker found out the whole neighborhood found out. There are things that
unfortunately have to occur to know what is wrong and begin strengthening the police force in
the concept of domestic violence. This gave us the ability to specialize a police unit that would
respect the victim and know what to do and not do with the victim.
FRM: How many police officers are involved in this special unit?
LG: There are 12 police officers for the San Jose Metropolitan area only for the investigation of
domestic violence and sex related crimes. Here at the office, we had to build cubicles for the
victims to wait in, to avoid that they wait outside with everybody else. They are not interviewed
in front of everybody. We ask what happened. Why are you crying? What did they do to you? In
order words, we have cubicles for the victims that we are helping.
FRM: In terms of domestic violence, what are the support and follow up mechanisms that the
Attorney General's office has?
LG: As soon as a victim comes into the office a social worker or a psychologist sees her
depending on the situation. We also have an interdisciplinary team, which is a forensic team
composed of psychologists, social workers and doctors. The interdisciplinary team intervenes
immediately with the victim who gives us an idea of the social situation and the problem she is
We also have one shelter for when the victim comes in with a serious problem. In Costa Rica
there are only two shelters, which complicates the matter because we are not able to receive the
family, just the victim. So then we have to ask what happens to the children. This does not
prepare us to meet all the demands that exist even though we have put a lot of effort into it. For
example in police delegations we have created offices for women but if a person decides to kill a
woman we do not have the necessary resources to stop it from happening.
FRM: What is the percentage of female workers in your office in terms of the gender problem
and the police?
LG: I will tell you that I see this as an interesting situation. When this Special Attorney
General's office opened, the Attorney General of the Republic said that he wanted women to run
the office. I told my boss, let's put a man in the office. We are confronting the situation with
strength and presenting ourselves in a way to influence the judges and open their minds to
completely change the situation. Before it was really difficult to ask the judges for a preventative
prison term in cases of domestic violence because they question everything. They would say,
why are you asking me to do this? This is simply a matrimonial problem. Why should he be in
jail for such a small thing? We made them see that these small problems escalate into homicides
and the whole lot. Everything is starting to change. Today in the Attorney General's office, the
majority of us are women, there is only one man. The office is composed of five women and one
In the police force there are more men than women and the men are conscious of this fact.
Something we have seen and experts have said is that when a man goes up to the abuser and tells
him that what he is doing to his partner is incorrect he hears him. When a woman confronts the
abuser and talks to him, for the abuser it is as if the victim were speaking to him.
FRM: I believe that a woman talking to a man about any sexual situation may have a restriction
in confidence. My last question about domestic violence, do you think there are cases that merit
special measures like the victim leaving the country to find protection in Canada?
LG: I do not believe that it would have to be specifically to Canada but any country really. I
believe there are situations that need that sort of protection. We do not have the capacity to
protect a lot of the women. I will tell you something, but I am not sure if you know the region of
Central America, Dominican Republic and Paraguay. The Dominican Republic has one of the
strongest laws against domestic violence and still 159 women are killed per year. When I saw
this statistic I thought to myself this must be impossible. Why do so many women die with laws
that condemn almost all perpetrators?
FRM: Is it the effectiveness of the law, which is the problem in the Costa Rican judicial system?
LG: Yes it is in regards to how the law works and where it fails. I would say that in Costa Rica
we have the same problem as the Dominican Republic, which is in how the law works, in
practical terms it is its failure. We do not have the resources to really protect women. But I must
say that we have to look at every case through a magnifying glass and we have to be very careful
in all these cases.
FR: Can we communicate with you when we have domestic violence cases so that you could
give us your opinion.
LG: Yes, of course. But you would have to find out where the case is located.
FRM: Let's move on to the subject of sexual abuse, sexual crimes and organized crime. What is
the magnitude of the problem of sexual crimes in Costa Rica?
LG: The abuse presents itself both inside and outside the family. Inside the family, sexual abuse
in Costa Rica is a serious problem.
FRM: Are we talking about fathers, boys, step-fathers, brothers, uncles that are sexually abusing
LG: It is a problem that is here to stay and we cannot ignore it. It is a problem that worries me a
lot and I have tried to make it known in all the avenues that I am familiar with. I believe we are
doing our best to see how to fight sexual abuse. When a sexual abuse case happens within the
family, definitely it is very rare to receive a report. The victims do not file a report with the
authorities. The inter-family sexual abuse cases are lower according to the statistics, but in reality
it is considerably high, but it is hidden. Could you explain to me what type of sexual abuse cases
would be accepted by Canada because the laws against sexual abuse are very strong? If you do
statistical studies you will see that the amount of people in jail for sexual abuse crimes is high.
The level of impunity that may exist in Costa Rica is a global problem because like many
judicial systems around the world the law is not perfect. There will always be impunity cases for
FRM: How many sexual violence police reports do you have on average? Do you have a number
you could leave with me ?
LG: We only have one statistic which deals with all domestic violence and sexual abuse cases.
Obviously the intra-family violence is much higher and the sexual crimes are high, but not as
high as the intra-family violence crimes.
FRM: How many processes are really penalized?
LG: A lot and I have the number with me. Six out of ten cases are condemned. Sexual abuse
cases have an interesting way of being carried out because they are usually done in private,
where no one will see. The victim must file a police report and in many cases the victim does not
report it. What I want to say is that this number is not one that can be considered real. I can say
that 35% of all cases that we receive are sexual abuse cases but I know the number must be a lot
FRM: What are the judges' attitudes? I mentioned early that there are times in which judges use
declarations that the minors provoked the situation.
LG: That kind of attitude worries me. I do not know any case like that, but in Costa Rica a
person is given sexual liberty at the age of 15. At the age of 15 a person can have sexual relations
with whomever they want as long as there is no money involved. A person can receive money
for sex at her/his 18th birthday. If the person is of age the law will always protect her/him if there
is money involved. If the person is older than 12 but younger than 15 and has sex with a 40 year
old person it is a crime in Costa Rica.
FRM: What about a child that is under 12?
LG: It is statutory rape.
FRM: How about between the ages of 12 and 15?
LG: Between the ages of 12 and 15 it is depends on the individual case whether or not it is a
crime. It is no longer considered statutory rape.
FRM: What is the relationship between sexual abuse crimes and other crimes such as death
threats? Is there any type of statistics in the combination of both?
LG: The cases of sexual exploitation worry us the most because it is run by organized crime.
These types of organized crime have all the money. I would say that the pornography industry
makes more profit than narcotics. I am looking at a hit and run case where the victim was
waiting for the bus and the guy driving the car ran her over. If you tell me that in Canada you can
help these victims you should because in Costa Rica we have no form of protecting women that
have been exploited sexually. Here there is no protection.
FRM: The victim gets death threats because the mom and dad push for her to file a complaint
with the police. The family gets direct death threats to drop the case. Do you think that happens?
LG: Listen, I think that I can explain it better if I use an example. We have just had a case where
the culprit was an ex-judge. An investigation was done, processed, and he was found guilty. He
moved sky and earth with the family and the victim and now he is in jail. I just know that there
are influences that help, and I do not know, I do not want to be unjust with the family because I
do not know what they are going through. Maybe these people are really living this situation and
really merit help. What I am trying to say is that the people have to file a complaint with the
police and then it must be investigated, but there are many times when people do not file a
complaint and then criticize the system. I will tell you why. In Costa Rica there was a teacher
who raped a boy and a report was filed against him. Let me first say that this is a problem that
would stay within the school. A complaint would have been filed with the principal, the teacher
would be transferred and that would be the end of it. When we find this out we have a law that
forces the principal, teachers and whoever knows of the sexual abuse to file a report with the
police. If they fail to do so, they could be held criminally responsible and prosecuted.
FRM: What types of protection measures are given to the family and victims of a sexual crime?
LG: In Costa Rica, a protection program does not exist for victims and families that have
suffered from sexual crimes. We have a project within the Legislative Assembly but this is
geared toward sentencing an abuser to up to eight years in prison or whoever wanted to obstruct
the process, whether it is by intimidating the witness or the family.
FRM: Protection measures do not exist in any area?
LG: No, protection measures do not exist in any area. In Costa Rica there is no protection
program for witnesses. If something was to happen and I moved to my grandmother's house,
which is an hour away, in what way would that protect me? Costa Rica is so small that we cannot
hide from anyone.
FRM: Do you have any information on the assassination of witnesses?
LG: Yes, of course I do.
FRM: Do you have a number, any statistics?
LG: It is not that high. But I believe that as soon as it exists in any state, measures must be taken.
The problem is that we have not been able to get a number.
FRM: Have you thought of resettling the witness to another country?
LG: Just now that you have come to interview me, I realized that these victims are looking for
help and that you as a system may have the ability to help them. It has been up to now that I
realize that some victims and their families should be resettled to another place. I looked at a
case where a powerful foreign man came to Costa Rica looking for children. He took the victim
with him to Panama and the victim made a phone call from there to the police pleading for help.
The police acted and we mobilized ourselves. The victim was rescued and brought back to Costa
Rica. This really worries me and hopefully we can get allies within the international community
to do something about it.
FRM: Do you think that organized crime in relation to sexual crimes has the power to
LG: Of course, I myself have had to use protection. But let's finish the taped interview if you
want to ask me questions about my personal security.
Interview with Rosalia Gil, (RG) Minister for Children and Adolescents and President of
the National Board for the Infants (PANI- Patronato Nacional de la Infancia)
FRM: What is the magnitude of the sexual abuse problem against children in Costa Rica?
RG: In Costa Rica there is sexual abuse against children. PANI is by law the institution in
charge of protecting all of the abused children in the country. We decide what to do with the
children and what tasks to follow. All of the sexual abuse cases against children must be
reported. In Costa Rica, in the child and teen code, it clearly states that sexual abuse against
children must be reported. The abuse is directed to the Attorney General. A person in the
national territory can report the abuse. This is not because it is instituted. In Costa Rica the
amount of reports of abuse against children has increased. We attended to 20,000 cases of all
types of situations where the risk of a child was involved last year.
FRM: What is the type of police report that you have received?
RG: We receive all types of police reports, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, negligence,
and sexual abuse.
FRM: Which type of report is highest?
FRM: At what level is sexual abuse?
RG: Sexual abuse I think would be third. The first is negligence, physical abuse and then sexual
FRM: What is the procedure when you detect an abuse such as sexual? Who do you refer it to?
RG: We send it to the Attorney General's office to do an investigation.
FRM: To a special Attorney General's office?
RG: We have a judge for minors, one for adolescents and a family judge. The Attorney General's
offices are throughout the country. All these matters are judged in the corresponding court. The
code for children in 1999 states that in an investigation process of a police report, where the
victim is under age, there cannot be any mediation or conciliation. In the material of Adolescent's
Rights there cannot be restrictions. There are special procedures for children and this special
FRM: What are the protection tools and mechanisms that you have for a child?
RG: We have a high protecting legislation for children under which the Juvenile Criminal Code
and Child and Adolescent Code falls. We are a part of the International Foundation for the
Rights of the Child. We have the paternal responsibility law. If you examine our legislation in all
these regards, the Cost Rican legislation seems to be at the vanguard for the laws against sexual
assaults and domestic violence.
FRM: Do you have shelters for children?
RG: We have 40 institutional shelters and work with 100 NGOs that protect children with their
alternatives. In 2003 we attended around 600 children that ended up in these shelters. We are
housing 1,686 children at non-governmental organizations; 1,342 in places supervised by us, 444
in places not supervised by us, and with guardians and foster parents there were 2,805 children,
and we gave back 896 children to their nuclear family.
FRM: Changing the subject a bit, one of the new problems is trafficking humans, and in
particular children, by organized crime. What is your experience with this problem?
RG: All the information that we have about this was taken by the United States. There they talk
about all the actions taken by the country, which talks about all the implementations of the
international law for the prevention of trafficking and nationally we have a commission against
the sexual exploitation of children that deals with trafficking a bit. At the migration level there
has also been important restriction measures for children leaving and entering the country.
FRM: What are the special measures taken in terms of protection when a victim is rescued from
organized crime, for example?
RG: To tell you the truth there is no record of trafficking in children like there is in other
countries. We have Guatemalan and Cuban children in Costa Rica that are victims of trafficking.
The Attorney General is investigating their case. The hidden cases of trafficking children are
from children coming from Guatemala to Costa Rica with the intention of adoption.
FRM: Do you have a number on forced child prostitution?
RG: We have a national plan on the eradication of commercial sexual exploitation of children
FRM: The question is more direct. I was talking to the Attorney General and she was talking to
me about a lot of forced prostitution cases and trafficking. My question is if the Attorney General
is referring to these cases? What is the relationship between PANI and its function to protect
RG: We file a report with the police. There are many trafficking cases in Costa Rica. What I was
telling you was that I do not know one in particular because we have not received one.
FRM: Okay, but there is a sexual exploitation problem in Costa Rica and victims exist. There is
an investigation under way about criminal networks that are related to this case by the Attorney
General, etc… They have become aware of victims that are minors so my question is towards the
function of PANI in this regard.
RG: They bring us the children and we protect them. When we know about a case we report it to
the Attorney General. It is the judicial system that is in charge of investigating. Its function is
investigating at the penal level. PANI's function is to protect and prevent. We dictate protection
measures and give people treatment when they are detained. When the situations are at that level
and the crimes require that the Attorney General investigates, and when they determine that there
are victims that are minors, they keep them and refer the situation to PANI. Then PANI dictates
the appropriate protection measures.
FRM: Your mandate states that you must intervene no matter the migration status of the person
in Costa Rica?
RG: There is no distinction. The Convention of the Rights of the Child establishes the obligation
of State to protect children.
FRM: What is the presence of PANI at a national level, outside of San Jose?
RG: We have 28 local offices around the country and 48 children and adolescent branches where
there are protection offices. At the national level there are 40 shelters.
FRM: Do you know of any death threats towards families that report sexual abuse cases to the
court because I have been looking for that information? There are people in Canada that say that
for the person to get impunity, so the person is not taken to court, they receive death threats from
the aggressor. I asked the Attorney General and was told that they did not have any record of
RG: I think people are using this to get refugee status.
FRM: One of the objectives of this trip is to know if there are specific causes behind this.
RG: In the judicial system there may be weaknesses and limitations in Costa Rica, but
throughout the last few years there has been a great effort to make adequate the legislation that
regulates children. For example, the Child and Adolescent Code establishes a really curious
question, which is not seen in other countries, which is that a public servant such as a doctor or
teacher is committing a crime against a minor if the professional becomes aware of a crime
against a child and he/she do not report it to the authorities. This has encouraged the culture of
FRM: I completely agree with you that one of the most advanced judicial systems in Latin
America is Costa Rica. My questions are geared towards the effectiveness of the law. If PANI
received a bigger budget, there would be a more effective protection towards children. That is
what happens to us also in Canada. When an organization does not have the resources it needs to
function, there automatically are holes within the system.
RG: But we receive enough resources.
FRM: So you do not feel that you have a problem with resources and because of this you are
able to effectively protect children?
RG: If we had more resources we would do more. But we do have an effective protection
program for children.
FRM: Do you have an effective mechanism for the protection of children?
FRM: I do not have more questions, thank you.
Interview with Lic. Marco Porras Arraya, (MP) Lawyer and Notary Public, Ayala, Porras
and Associates. Alajuela, Costa Rica
FRM: Sir, how effective are the protection measures used in domestic violence cases in Costa
MP: It's not effective. The measures of protection once issued don't pass for more than an
illusion. The truth is that the capacity of enforcement protection measures is linked to another
report; if the measure is disobeyed what proceeds is the submission of a report of disobedience to
the authority, which is an ordinary criminal procedure, and the procedure could take up to two
years for a sanction, which will not even result in imprisonment.
If the person lives in the same house, the law on domestic violence states that you can remove
the aggressor from the house of the victim, but that does not apply indefinitely. If he does not
respect the restriction order the most that can happen to him is another complaint of disobedience
to the authorities.
FRM: What is the sentence for disobedience to the authorities?
MP: It is six months to a year, which would not send him to jail because any person without
previous offences receives a non-prison sentence for at least three years. This means leaving him
free with conditions. They would never face even an hour in prison.
FRM: What is the procedure for the victims of domestic violence? Is there any legal help from
the state to finance the costs to obtain a lawyer?
MP: Well, the procedure of domestic violence doesn't require legal representation. The judge
ruled that the victim does not need to bring a lawyer. If she wants to be accompanied by legal
counsel she can, but it is not mandatory. Unfortunately the staff at the court here (in Alajuela) - I
speak of here because I know it - are invaded by the numbers of reports to be processed, so that a
report that is made directly to the court without legal representation is like it wasn't made.
FRM: It is not effective?
MP: Yes, but it will take so long. It will not be taken how it should be because no one is vigilant
of the proceedings. Normally people seek a legal representative so that at least we can be all over
the judge watching that the proceedings are done according to law.
FRM: What happens with the police? What is the effectiveness of the police? What is the level
MP: Domestic violence cases are submitted at the Court against violence, a preventive measure
is issued immediately. Then, the victim goes to the rural police or guard, to their local authority,
to present the document so that it may be effective so that in case the aggressor comes to the
house the police can act immediately. The police, the most they can do in this type of case is, if
the person is harassing the victim again, they can take him away, but taking him without
arresting him. They can't arrest him so they just take him away. If they don't take him all they
can do is intimidate him by telling him about the charges that can be laid if he disobeys the
FRM: What happens when there are injuries?
MP: If the situation goes from "simply" domestic violence to injuries - call it small, serious or
dangerous - in those cases the procedure is no longer domestic violence. The judge within
domestic violence declares himself incompetent and then he passes it to the Attorney General's
Office. In those cases the crime is typified by the injuries.
FRM: What determines when it is no longer domestic violence and it is moved to the criminal
MP: The seriousness of the injury. If a not serious injury that produces incapacity of less than 5
days, it is not even considered. Longer than 5 days of incapacity than it becomes minor injury,
longer than a month goes to be serious, and if it leaves any mark or permanently incapacitated,
then it is dangerous.
FRM: When do the police in the strict sense intervene?
MP: When it changes to injuries. Depending on the seriousness of the injury, the one who
intervenes is the Judicial Police, the OIJ, which does the investigation as an injury, because that
now is a crime. Then domestic violence, as it is, is out of focus.
FRM: The Judicial Police investigate minor injuries?
MP: If it is a minor injury, like a black eye or a broken tooth, in that case it is taken to forensic
medicine for an assessment and to determine how many days of incapacity there will be. That
can be done by the Court Against Domestic Violence as well. From the results of this exam, it
will be determined if it will be taken to the Attorney General's Office for criminal persecution or
to the Domestic Violence jurisdiction. In this case there could be another possibility. If it results
in a very minor injury, which is considered a contravention of the law but not a crime, the
implication is just a fine. We are talking about a 30-day fine, where a day fine represents a day's
salary. I don't know if I am answering your question but there exist various possibilities. If you
do not go under the domestic violence jurisdiction, you are not protecting the victim, or
protecting the home, or protecting the children, no. If you do not use the domestic violence court
and move to criminal proceedings, the victim will not necessarily get a preventive or protection
measure, and by being a non-serious criminal offence, because it is a minor injury or very minor,
it does not merit a restriction order against the aggressor under the criminal code.
FRM: What is the attitude of the domestic violence judges?
MP: Like I told you, there has recently been a revolution in this regard because there have been
more than 20 murders so far this year.
FRM: Murdered women?
MP: Women and their children. The most recent was a man who killed his three children and his
wife, and then he committed suicide. This is what it has come down to.
FRM: Did all the murdered women have restriction orders against their husbands?
MP: Yes, all of them had restriction orders, because this is the norm. Like I told you, to get the
order is easy, you don't need a lawyer. You can go straight to court. But the effectiveness of the
order is null, in reality it does not give them any protection.
FRM: Then even if the judge issue a restriction order, that by law must be issued at the
beginning of the process, this doesn't guarantee anything?
MP: The order can't be denied to anyone. Look, it is a simple document where you are warned
not to come close to even your own house, their place of study, or place of work. What happens
is the order does this, it is a simple warning and in the case of disobedience the only thing that
can happen is another complaint, then we land in a vicious circle.
FRM: What is the level of impunity here?
MP: Very high. Costa Rica is a country of rights, and the highest right is based on the principal
of innocence. This means that if there isn't sufficient proof that you have committed a crime, you
are going to be set free. The index of impunity for me is very high, it's around 75%.
FRM: Does this relate a lot on the economic condition of the aggressor?
MP: Yes, a lot. Here you have alternatives - that's how they're called - where the aggressor, even
though he has committed a serious crime, serious enough where we could include homicide, they
could come up with an economic settlement for the victims. Through the Institute of Conciliation
or the Institute for Reparations to Harm, they could end up not even going to jail. It is in the
criminal process where the institutes exist where practically, like a university professor said, you
buy out the crime. It is the belief that sending the person to prison doesn't remedy anything. On
the contrary, if you pay the victim or victims, in that sense obviously not to the dead person, but
to their closest family member, there would be higher reparation and a harsher punishment,
FRM: What happens to the restraining order? Why is it for 6 months, a year maximum?
MP: Because like I explained to you earlier, one of the measures is to take the person out of their
home. This could even mean removing the aggressor from his own house, which the aggressor
might have bought. Then you would be denying them their own property. This is a game of
interests. If it is true that you have to protect the interests of the victim, these measures are
temporary restrictions; they can't be permanent because they would restrict a lot more rights. For
instance, I could take over a house that was not mine, just by prolonging the measure.
FRM: What access do you have as a lawyer to the victims in different women shelters?
MP: The Women's Institute has shelters, there is no doubt of this. You could say that there are
means. What happens is there is also the issue of social status. A person of the middle class, and
as we understand it, the social classes are very different in Canada than in Costa Rica. Evidently
you have a higher standard of life. The social classes in Costa Rica are very clear, there is the
rich and the poor. So these women shelters are for the most part filled with the poor, and
normally with people who don't have anything to eat, who have illnesses, are completely ruined.
FRM: They are inside the cycle of poverty?
MP: Extreme poverty. So then the middle class, whom I mentioned earlier, are people who have
their jobs, are well off, who don't have many extravagant things but live well. Then a person of
middle class who is coming out of a situation of domestic violence and goes into an environment
of extreme poverty, like in the shelters for women that the institute has, will live a degrading
experience because she will be treated like everyone else there.
FRM: It is sounds as if the shelters are for women and not for children?
MP: There is not another way. We do not have the resources. Here in Costa Rica, I can assure
you that the local court receives 200 reports of domestic violence daily. They are the busiest
courts of the country. Since this court opened, all the women go there to make reports, so the
resources are not enough.
FRM: Are people losing trust in the law?
MP: Yes and not only in this respect, the credibility of the law in Costa Rica has been left on the
floor. First, it is evident because of the quantity of murders with nothing happening. And second,
because the procedure is so distressed, it abandons the application of the law and leaves people
to choose other methods, like leaving. If there were other methods it would be totally different. A
very aggressive woman might kill her husband.
FRM: Is this a form of self-defense?
MP: Well in that case it is self-defense. According to the criminal code it could be considered
FRM: Have there been cases like these?
MP: Yeah sure…
FRM: Do you know what kind of support the law provides to women, the victims? Is there any
psychological support, follow up?
MP: What the law said, what the paper said is that the law against domestic violence will fully
protect the victim. What happens is that, like I tell you, it is just a paper because reality is another
thing, with 250 women hurt daily it is almost impossible to have psychologists ready to attend
them every day. So there is a backlog and finally there are situations where they haven't even
asked the victim, before going to the hearing, how she is feeling, not even that. I can assure you.
FRM: What is the level of cases that go to the end?
MP: Generally, you go to the hearing and you get a judicial resolution in 90% of the cases. It is
not often that the couples reconcile, which would be the normal case and then there is no interest
in going to these measures. But generally it gets to this because when a person is determined, or
at least that is how I see it, if the victim is determined to externalize it and express it before a
judge, it will get to the end.
FRM: The Attorney General told me the opposite. She said that in the great majority of cases,
more if they are transferred to the criminal court, the women change.
MP: Well, but we are talking about different things, one thing is the criminal and the other is
FRM: How many cases of domestic violence do you have in your office? How many do you
have at the criminal court?
MP: In about three years, there have been 40 cases with criminal components.
FRM: And without the criminal component?
MP: Around 200, not precisely. In reality, I'm devoted to litigate on the streets. That means I
take whatever cases I want to take, then every day they come to consult me here, they tell me: he
hurt me, hit me, insulted me, gave some type of abuse to my child, all of this can also be brought
as domestic violence.
FRM: What is the protection of the children in all of this?
MP: It is exactly the same, because the domestic violence intervenes, be it the victim called
woman or the victim called child of either man or woman.
FRM: What is the President of the National Board of Infants (PANI - Patronato Nacional de la
Infancia) participation in all of this?
MP: The law states that PANI must help the minor and that it be facilitated by a lot of things, but
for practical reasons, PANI is pinned to the wall. I apologize if this is ever heard by PANI. PANI
is also insufficient. If PANI had 10, 100 cases to attend, it would be perfect. But PANI is notified
of all concerns of the country which has to do with a minor, call it divorce, legal separation, or
whatever, where there is a child PANI will be notified. I can assure you that they receive the
notice and file it in the best of cases, if not they throw it out.
FRM: Then it is only when there is imminent danger?
MP: When there is a report that the child is a victim of violence or abandonment, they have the
option of sending a social worker to investigate, and they do it. I know what they do because I
have seen it several times. But in reality it is not in the majority of cases.
FRM: In the majority there aren't enough resources to do it?
MP: Yes, not because of negligence. I say it is due to limited resources.
FRM: Is there any reason why Alejuela has more cases than any other part of the country?
MP: One of the reasons is that we are the second largest province in the country and we have a
large population. Of what I told you about the culture that is still today in Alajuela, yes, you still
notice in Alajuela people living in isolation in the rural areas and it is still a small town in the
city. It is still very chauvinist. Female liberation in this case has brought about domestic
violence, because from the moment the man feels invaded in his space, and in his authority, it
will lead to violence. This the general culture here in Costa Rica. In Alajuela, we can count on it
due to the type of town we live in. But it is general.
FRM: Do you counsel certain clients to leave the country?
MP: To be honest, I have had two cases of this sort. The lady decided not to leave and to
confront the problem. The truth is she confronted the problem and she was still beaten, because
this lady was hit hard. Inclusively I think then it is better not to act, she decided not to continue
with the case, I think she left to the southern zone, I don't know where. She left here inside the
country but I don't know where. And the second would be someone I told, if you don't leave he
will kill you. And he will kill her, because like I told you, the effectiveness of the measures will
not give you the sufficient protection to stop the aggressor to have access to kill her. This is more
if we talk about a person's economic strength.
FRM: Do you think there are still women who do not come forward?
MP: I almost mentioned that to you a while ago, when you asked me how many cases get to the
end. When I told you that the majority does get there, it was because once there is a decision to
say it, they're on their way to the end. But of 100 women beaten, 10 come forward. Because the
aggression inflicts all the senses; psychological, patrimonial, physical, sexual, in all senses, in
this country I think there isn't a woman who hasn't been hurt. There are different levels of course.
But the ones that come forward do so because they have had enough. And from that, we are
talking about a 10% effectiveness of the measure, and that is very few. In reality it is not enough.
FRM: Thank you.
MP: With pleasure.
Interview with Ms. Ana Helena Chacon, (MS) Vice Minister, Ministry of Public Security,
San Jose, Costa Rica
FRM: We have refugee cases from Costa Rica in Canada, so my interview will be about the
reasons why these persons are leaving and if there is justification or not and what is your opinion
on that respect. For example, one of the themes that they use is domestic violence. What is the
magnitude of the domestic violence problem in Costa Rica?
MS: It is serious; it is a violence that is seen in a lot of homes in Costa Rica. Like in the year
2003 we had around 35,000 cases of domestic violence. The administrative police are making an
eminent effort to give attention and prevention, even though I think the violence is a reflection of
a social decomposition that countries go through. All over the world, I have looked for models
where they have lowered the level of domestic violence to see it there is something that we could
apply here in Costa Rica, like to look for an alternative and it is not easy. There are un-leashing
factors of violence, but I think that maybe what merits most is that Costa Rica is a country that is
doing something about domestic violence, who has a specialized police force for domestic
violence, that the police force of men and women officers is 50% trained in what is the law of
domestic violence. All of this permits us not only to be more sensitive but also, from a technical
point of view, to prevent impunity towards the victim. We have improved but we sadly still had
29 women die at the hands of their aggressors last year. These are realities which we must
confront, the 29 women who died, some had restraining orders, some didn't. The reasons why
they died is because a lot of the women violated the conditions of the restraining order as well.
They permitted the aggressor to come back to the house and from this you get the death. This
tells us as well that breaking the violence cycle is more complicated because we are dealing with
feelings; it is not only a financial dependence. There are persons who don't have that financial
dependence but there is an emotional dependence towards the partner.
FRM: What would be the place in which the reports for domestic violence are in regards to other
types of reports?
MS: The reports for domestic violence are in first place.
FRM: What is the procedure? There is a restraining order, but in the end it is just a paper that is
not necessarily effective for different reasons of resources. What is your opinion about the
effectiveness of the measures of protection?
MS: Well, definitively, when you see that a woman has interposed it and then you have to go to
pick up her corpse, it is clear that it didn't work because it didn't protect her life. There are
various things: from the psychological point of view, we could say that the measure has different
elements, the one where it orders the aggressor not to go near the victim. This has a particularly
effect when he has a domestic violence behavior, as to say, he has a relationship of unequal
power with her and that he is capable of killing her as he has been mistreating her. Where there is
a history of aggression, that goes into a growing spiral so, the fact that he received the restricting
order infuriates him into a manner where they end up saying, if she is not mine, she's nobody's,
and I have to kill her. A lot of them, after they kill her, they commit suicide and we think it is
because their reason for living is over, because it was based on this bad relationship. This is more
complex than just to say it is a police matter. We must understand a bit of the phenomenon to see
what the police can do. What happens is that I always encourage the victim into pressing charges
because silence is not the solution.
What we can do inside the judicial framework is: when there is a restriction order and we see the
suspect close to the house, we transfer his case to the Attorney General and a preventive prison
warrant is issued because he falls under the crime of disobedience of authority. So, you get a
reaction from the police. We take the suspect out of circulation for 3 to 4 months, which is the
time he is in prison.
FRM: Is the preventive prison procedure effective?
MS: Yes, it is. From the moment in which the Attorney General passes it to the judge and the
judge issues the preventive prison sentence, the aggressor can be within custody in the same 24
hours. The problem is, and I would like to mention a detail on how we are working this: the
problem is that the aggressors are not detained so, preventive prison is not issued. I also want to
tell you from a practical point of view, this doesn't come to solve the problem because it is just a
temporary measure. It works at the moment and maybe for the following 3 months, but when he
gets out he comes right back. We have to analyze the problem from two perspectives: from the
victim and from the aggressor. We can no longer be enforcing a policy of single attention for the
woman who is being hurt because that way we won't be able to break the cycle. Because, if the
woman is able to leave him for any given reason, he will reestablish a new relationship, using the
same pattern of conduct. Then we have to question and teach both genders without landing in
sexism of all men are bad or that all women are martyrs or victims and to interrelate in a way that
it is not violent.
So, at the institutional level we, have 2 options: at this moment there is a non-governmental
organization that offers therapy for male aggressors, with good results. We do not believe that
with three sessions, the aggressors will go out and break the way they behave, my father,
grandfather, my great-grandfather, etc. So then it is not easy to break the cycle. The ministry of
public security has a program for police officers with a history of domestic aggression. I can't
permit a double standard on this subject and that we have aggressors prosecuting aggressors.
When I have a complaint against an officer, which is common, that he is an aggressor with his
family, instead of moving to fire him, I think, that it is one thing that is not going to solve the
problem. We are going to submerse him in poverty, and he will be more aggressive and will
blame the woman. So we give him the option to have treatment. He is asked to attend 40 hours of
workshops on stress and anger management; to control their aggressiveness. They are also
monitored by our psychological department.
FRM: And I imagine that they are removed from the area of violence…
MS: That's right, they are removed from the area of domestic violence and we prefer that the
attention to domestic violence be managed in this form. I would like to tell you how we manage
and analyze the common phenomenon because I think both things are important. This ministry
firstly has had an increase in the amount of women who want to become officers, which is very
high in the last 3 years.
FRM: What is the percentage?
MS: It went from 0% to 8%. If you see the police graduations, I would love to take you to one.
Of the last 3 years, the first one had zero women and with that in mind last week there was a
graduation and there were 28 women out 200 that graduated, which is a very important number.
The policy for gender equality has been created; this office manages this policy. We have much
stronger rules in relation to harassment, sexual included. This harassment is part of the culture of
institutions that have been at the hands of men for many years and where women are now
admitted. Also we have tried that the cases of domestic violence, where possible, are looked into
by male and female officer together, but not in all places is there a woman to play a role. We
have been training in a waterfall form, which means that every month this ministry has 30 new
officers that graduate from the subject called "Feeling, thinking and confronting domestic
violence". This is an intensive course where we have very concrete training manuals. The ideal is
that in a couple of months, in every station, there will be people trained for the issue of domestic
We have created a position inside the police called promoter against domestic violence. One for
every county, I mean one from every municipality. Those promoters are already sensitized, they
are the ones who tend to the violence, take statistics and elaborate projects of prevention. We go
to schools, we take promoters against domestic violence, art, music that has to do with non-
violence, and we explain to kids what are the 4 types of violence that can happen: physical,
sexual, psychological, and patriarchal. We ask them if they live with any of these types of
violence, we tell them that we don't like having our hair pulled, to say things at a child's level.
We explain that if they repeat the pattern of violence that they have learned, they won't improve
anything. We have found unfortunately that that there is sexual abuse in the schools, which is
why we work in a network. We try to refer these children, take them out of the nuclear family;
we do this weekly throughout the country. That way, we do civic police operations, where we
assist the community halls, talk to the communities on the subject of violence and we have asked
the Catholic church and other religions to give us permission to go and talk in their churches,
cults, and temples about the theme of domestic violence. This has given us a better image as a
police force. When a sermon finishes, a police officer goes on to talk about domestic violence
and we give a bit of material, so that they can call us in case a woman is experiencing violence.
At the statistical level, we are paying more attention to the repeat offenders to do the evaluation
of risk, which gives us a very important chapter in all of this. Then if one man has hurt a woman
15 times, she is in tremendous risk. The judicial system of this country does not have a database.
If it happened to Juan Perez, and the attorney general treats it as if it was the first time that Juan
Perez hurt his wife, they don't notice that he can kill her at any moment because he has beaten
her several times. I have written a letter to the president of the Supreme Court to so that our
officer can see the Attorney General's criminal files of every one, to know what is the state of
that file and how many processes he has or had against him. In that sense, the Attorney General
and the different judges can assess the risk better and much wider than before. Another thing that
I have asked the judicial system is that, in the moment that an aggressor is released from
preventive prison, or that he has demonstrated to be extremely aggressive in his time in prison, to
advise us so that we can make the family aware and to add to our rounds of surveillance, to
protect the family.
Of course, all these things are insufficient because we are a force of 10,000 officers doing
everything. In this society we must put our hand over our heart and accept that our society is
violent; accept that we are a society with a high percentage of acts of violence. In 19% of the
reports, the people who provoked the violence were Nicaraguans, and 1% of other citizenships.
80% were Costa Ricans. The immigrants account for around a third or more of the work we have
to do in attending to the violence.
When we assist a woman in this manner, we try to send a man and a woman because when you
get there, the level of aggressiveness is tremendous, the masculine force versus the masculine
force. A lot of times it is necessary to disarm them, if they have a knife, whatever they have in
their hand. The woman feels more comfortable explaining what happened to another woman;
sometimes we find them half-naked, so that is where the policewoman steps in. We don't send
male officers to avoid incidents and comments from their part, like: look how pretty is this lady,
etc. That way we ensure that the police force shows good ethics. We can take a blanket to cover
her, we take her to the hospital if necessary, and we refer her to the INAMU and its network.
FRM: Do you have any type of support program?
MS: We have the support systems that are managed by the INAMU. As a police force we have
the protocol, which is very clear and states what we do in every one of these cases.
FRM: But is there any mechanism of follow up?
MS: Yes, we do them through the statistics like the repeat offenders' information. First we make
the risk evaluation: which tells us if a woman is at high risk. The number of times she's been
beaten, if she is pregnant or not. When they are pregnant they could be hurt more, if she is an
older woman, an older adult, or at least the man is significantly younger than her, the financial
situation. We take into consideration all of these factors and we return periodically to their home.
The promoters are constantly checking the neighborhood police posts. They know what goes on
in their neighborhood. The aggravated woman is visited, is invited to meetings, she is left with
personal cell phone numbers of the promoter on her case. The promoters are really buying into
FRM: Everything that you are saying is clear. There has been an increase in the complaints in
the last years. Do you think that this reflects in the increase of domestic violence or is it simply
the increase in consciousness of the people who speak out?
MS: In the consciousness and the complaint, I believe that the violence has been intrinsic in our
lives. As to say throughout history, if you talk with grandpa for example and ask him if he had
violent neighbours, you will notice that it happened, because throughout history women have
been made on one side and the men on another for centuries. I think that when we use these types
of reflection with the oppressors and we tell them, well look, you always have to be the better
one, the more providing, the most accomplishing with your four girls (because he has a
girlfriend, wife, etc.) he feels that he can't accomplish this with all of them sexually, that he has a
great load and is then more aggressive. The social burden that has been placed on men
throughout history is very large. Women have assumed a role in which they are normally judged
for the good, for the sweet, for attention, submissive, so then it is something that is not solved
from night to day, this is something we have been dragging throughout history.
FRM: You have explained very well all that you have been doing. Do you think these resources
and programs that you have implemented will reduce the female homicides?
MS: I would really like to be able to manage these indicators but there is too much data. We
always count how many of them die but we never know how many we save to get here. With the
small resources that we have, these women are constantly being helped; we have to take them to
women shelters form north to south of the country. In my personal car, I get them out, because
really it is an important commitment. I don't have a crystal ball to know that if I left her there for
2 more days she would have died, but I do believe that the female homicides that occur are
important numbers. And we haven't been able to lower it. Last year was really bad, really bad, 29
dead women, and this year we already have 8. I think the work will be seen more in the long run,
because it won't be a police response to put out the fire. The work has to be done from the
education side, and I insist that it is there where you really need to have a resolution to personal
and labored conflict in a mediated measure. We now have an automization of information and
means of communication, which are fighting the violence, because our children are exposed to
the internet which is a valuable instrument to obtain information but it can also be a very
destructive instrument (videos that are seen, which are slogans, in which they teach people how
to torture and kill). The means of communication give a tremendous presence in public opinion
to people who do negative acts and not to people who do positive acts. Our youth have very few
models of positive conduct to follow. I really want to tell you that this effort that we have made
in public security during these 2 years which have corresponded for me to oversee the program
on domestic violence, in the long run will have results. Even though, today I am still extremely
dissatisfied because I continue to see a lot of domestic violence and how many times are we
going to pick ourselves up.
I want to tell you that the society responds in a more fervent way and a lot more against this
violence when the corpses are accompanied with corpses of children. We have been negligent or
we just didn't care when we would pick up the corpse of a woman.
FRM: Do you think that in special cases, you could suggest to a woman to leave the country for
MS: I think that nothing else could be said. Nothing is enough when you are talking about the
life of a person. I don't know a place in the world where the police assures the 100% physical
safety of the residents in their territory so, in some moments, some person must flee to another
country, and everybody has the right to do so. The doubt I have here is, how much truth is there
in the claim for Canada? Look, we are also very bright. Canada is a place that is very desirable to
live, that the people can find other job opportunities. Canada has social indicators that are better
than ours. It can be abused, but one must verify, because you don't want the just to pay for the
sinners, by not presenting precedent. Look if you really have a history of violence, where your
life is at risk, I'm almost sure that there must be something at the different courts, police reports,
witnesses, etc. you have to check.
FRM: Lets move on to the subject of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse of children: what is the
magnitude of the problem? The grade? Are there any statistics?
MS: Well, it is serious. I know that last year we received 20,000 cases. There is no data that we
have in the public force, but I do want to tell you that in the case of sexual abuse, generally it is a
family member, someone known, a special person. Sexual abuse is committed by a relationship
of unequal power. It is not that often that a person comes out of a dark alley, takes a kid and
rapes him; it is more often in a private context.
FRM: What is the procedure for sexual abuse cases? Do the judicial police come in immediately
or the administrative police?
MS: It could be anyone of the two, it depends on where the complaint is made. But if we see it
first, what we do is look for the suspect, because we are here to prevent impunity, and then if we
get to a house where we have been told that there has been sexual abuse, we take the accused and
we send him to the judicial system, which would be in charge of all the procedure, even
detention until we get to the truth of what happened. We inform the PRESIDENT OF
NATIONAL BOARD OF INFANTS ( PANI - PATRONATO NATIONAL DE LA
INFANCIA), if there is a minor that has to be taken out of that context. If it is an uncle or
grandfather or a relative, but you talk to the mother and she is completely in control of the thing,
then there is no reason to separate the child from the mother.
FRM: What are the measures of protection for the victim?
MS: If he is not of age it is not the Attorney General who dictates the measure in the court. If he
is not of age it is a jurisdiction of the PANI
FRM: Child prostitution? Sexual commercial exploitation, what is the magnitude?
MS: It is also serious. It is serious because the sexual commercial exploitation responds to a
phenomenon of social inequality. The majority of the children that come, that are in exploitation
are children (I could assure 100%) who have lived through domestic violence. Then the cause of
why these minors are found in this state of vulnerability, the worst form of work, a form of
slavery, is a response of wanting to leave a violent home. They are found in the streets, by the
pedophiles that hunt for these children. This theme is of great importance for us. We started to
work on this in March of 2002, and in November of 2002 we generated the first network and is
with great shame to recognize that Costa Rica is a country where this crime exists and it wasn't
registered. On the contrary there were other administrations where this was estimated that it was
a small number of people affected by this. We think that there is a high number of these crimes
happening but to confront the problem, first we must accept it. Everybody has jurisdiction on
this, the administrative police, the judicial police, the PANI. This problem is attacked with
prevention, attention and repression. The administrative police are the repression front. When we
are able to do an investigation, we bring all the proof to the Attorney General so that we don't
FRM: Are there murders of witnesses?
MS: I don't know of any cases. There have been threats to witnesses, in this case we have
knowledge of two witnesses: Morales de Oran, whose testimony was very important to find
different guilty persons, who is getting protection for 24 hours. The witness is at a women shelter
of PANI but we provide the protection.
FRM: What is the abuse of authority of the police in these cases? I have been given information
in different interviews in where the victims are asked for sexual favors. What is the level of the
MS: In the first place, we want to clean our appearance of this, and we have started to fight
against corruption and we have worked not only with minors but with women sex trade workers,
above age, which is legal in Costa Rica. I personally am distributing a flyer where I say that if
the police does appear, they have to have his name and if he does detain them he has to have a
reason; they can't detain her for this (for being a sex trade worker) and if they detain them for
other reasons, probably the only thing I ask is that they make the complaint. I understand that it
is very hard when you are not an officer to say there are police officers involved in corruption of
something. We are doing other things to prevent it.
FRM: But what is the level of complaints, and is there abuse, or are there others?
MS: The police officer is a public servant; he is not the authority. They have a legal framework
and they must work under those conditions. Every time that one of them has been charged for
doing something against a boy or a girl, from physical mistreatment to sexual abuse, we proceed
to report the incident to the Attorney General. We proceed to fire the person as we have done
with cases that have been very well documented. Percentage wise they are very few cases
registered in our disciplinary department.
FRM: I have been told as well of an abuse of authority and the sexual coercion in the context of
homosexuals, lesbians, and adult prostitutes.
MS: Not precisely, when an association of female sex trade workers called me, I assisted as a
defender of the women; I saw that they might be mistreated in some way. But for example, a
prostitute is seen in front of a restaurant, and the owner comes and asks them to get them out of
there because they are bugging the clients. Then the police come, and they tell them: lady please
walk away, you are not allowed to stay in this place, to offer your services. It is very well
explained to the sex trade worker that she can't sell drugs, because we have had cases of them
selling drugs or showing their privates, because this is really a contravention and it is not
permitted, you understand. Then it is explained that this is not allowed. But if they are in the
open exercising their profession, we don't have a reason to detain them. In the case of the
transvestites, the transvestites in a lot of cases commit illicit acts and we can see this. If they are
exercising prostitution, without committing illicit acts, we have no reason to intervene. But when
we are told that they have robbed or assaulted someone, because there are persons which have
been forced, not only those ones but there are some that are armed, who are violent, then we
must proceed, it is our duty. I doubt that you say that Costa Rica could be a place where the
accepting of their sexual preference would be a problem; I don't see it like this. I come from a
generation where taking a sexual preference be it gay or lesbian doesn't create rejection. My
grandmother who is 95 said that in San Jose they pointed at you and called you fag! Not today, at
a personal level I have the honor to have friends who have a different sexual tendency than I do
and who are people who deserve all my profound respect as my friends, professionals in their
environment, good human beings, and I don't see how we are going to have a homophobic
FRM: Is there any training on homophobic issues?
MS: There is no sensitivity training on homophobic issues.
FRM: I will explain why I ask this question. I was in CIPAC and they say there are no
documented cases because homosexuals are just happy walking out free from the situation they
found themselves in with the police. Police extort and ask sexual favors and in turn the
homosexuals get their freedom. There are threats and male officers sexually abuse lesbians. A lot
of them are still in the closet and therefore do not report any abuses done towards them. If they
do report them then they are forced into the open. There is also huge impunity towards the
criminals of homophobic crimes. They believe that there is abuse and the abuse is constant
because of the homophobic nature of the police force. Do you consider your police force
MS: No, not the people that I know. I do not know the 10,000 police officers but in general I do
not consider them homophobic.
FRM: Is there any indication that you could tell such as we have this or we do not have this?
MS: We have had conversations on this topic. This department has taken an approach to open up
to populations in society that may find themselves in vulnerable conditions, especially where
human rights are concerned. We have made the human rights banner our code. We want to lead
this ministry with precisely that focus. The focus is on the individual and the right to define his
or her own sex. We are in the process of constructing this policy, which will be integrated in
about a month and a half. This will leave a replica for all those that work within the police force.
I have asked and the press has asked me to make the police reports anonymous so that the
women do not feel compromised that we are going to come with the truth of the acts and an
FRM: Who does the investigation when there is a report?
MS: We have an inter-disciplinary legal department, with a series of inter-disciplinary functions.
Above all we have lawyers, criminologists, and instructors where the investigation takes place. I
can't tell you that I feel 100% satisfied with the contingent; above all due to the number of
offenses, we have not enough personnel to resolve them.. I wish that we were faster in the
resolution, but when there is this type of offense I maintain confidentiality. They can report the
incident to me via telephone or mail.
FRM: And if the accusation is proved then what happens?
MS: There is a very clear sanction for the functionary and it depends on what was true.
FRM: But this is a crime?
MS: Exactly; it is a crime.
FRM: So it is refered to the tribunals?
MS: That has to be. So then of sexual abuse, if there has been sexual abuse, it is a criminal
offence, and has to go to the attorney and they are in charge and there could be a sentence of jail
time. Then, what we do is to fire the person as these persons we don't like.
But I want to tell something related to minors. We do not transport them in our patrol cars from
one place to another. It is mostly done by the functionary of PANI, to protect them from anyone
that might want to harm them on the way. Precisely, when I started here, I was told that in some
situations the officers would ask teenagers for sexual favors before they got to the delegation. So
the way to prevent this is that the person in charge come from PANI and transports them. In a
case when the person from PANI doesn't present himself, I ask that there be 3 officers.
FRM: In everything that we have talked about, could you be more specific in turn to the
program of witness protection. Because there isn't one as much as I have investigated, are there
some mechanisms that you use?
MS: Yes, to us, the court, the judicial system has put a person under protection. Then they come
to meet with me and ask me if we could in cases of persons who are in some danger give them
protection. I have said that of course, I think that it is our duty, we can't forget about impunity
because we have valorous testimonies. I have talked with the minister; with persons from the
judicial system and we have established that the moment they ask for it we move to protect them.
FRM: What is the capacity of resources that you have in order to give this service?
MS: For example like I told you or they ask for it like in the case of the two minors and those
two minors are being protected by the police. In the case where they don't ask for it we search for
ways to do it.
FRM: In how much time do you think that you could dispose of this type of measure?
MS: Well, the ideal.....
FRM: And is it physical protection?
MS: There is police, we put one officer.
FRM: Has there been murders of witnesses?
MS: As far as I have statistics, no, but the statistics of these murders are followed by the judicial
system, not us. It is important to see the index of homicides that Costa Rica has, because Costa
Rica has an index of 6.5 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants. The ratio of homicides in
Costa Rica has gone down; of those 6.5 out of 100,000 I haven't heard of one person being killed
to prevent a declaration. I can tell you the number of those persons who are in the ratio have died
due to homicide.
Now we have found deaths that have not been clear. I can tell you that out of the 100% deaths
that are seen in Costa Rica we are not the entity in charge of the clarity but, of the ones that we
don't know who killed them, it could be that one of the cases that you mention could or could not
FRM: Is the security of the population a problem in Costa Rica?
MS: Yes it is a big problem.
FRM: Is the problem getting worse?
MS: We are making a study in which we would have a survey of 2,300 people. It is over 100
questions, in which we try to measure not only the security but also the perception of security
and violence. I think that this instrument will be a very valuable instrument, because it is being
managed with a margin of 2% that would give us an X- ray. It will give us ideas on how to
visualize the citizen's insecurity in Costa Rica. I can say that there is an enormous perception of
insecurity provoked by different factors, because we know people that are victims of a crime,
right, a lot of us don't know. Because the means of communication gives every one of these
crimes an extensive coverage. This is to say if you measure the perception of citizens' insecurity,
after a kidnapping even if it was the only one of the year, I can assure you that people will try to
say that they are susceptible to a kidnapping. If I measure it, and above all this act was given 15
to 20 minutes of coverage in every one of the news reports, the radio mentions it, the newspapers
also are going to talk about it, then … but if I think it is a problem, then of course it is a problem.
FRM: Is part of the problem the lack of trust in the police? A lot of people have talked about
having no confidence in the police; do you think this is part of the problem?
MS: I think that there are people who do trust. I can't tell you that the police has been in good
hands all the time and as a result never committed an act or not. In a sense one is to say yes, to
do something, when you get to the police saying that you have been robbed and you expect to
see a contingent of men chasing after the suspect. Catch him or not, you feel assured because the
police responded. But if you go to the station, and they tell you that today there is no police, no
horse, no motorcycle, and I can't do anything, then you feel unprotected. And it also could be
because there have been scenes of corruption. I want to tell you that we are in a fight against
corruption and that we must do it from different fronts, that we are doing it, that we are letting go
questionable persons, that we are systematically trying to get the officers to take a doping test,
because we don't want drug consuming officers. Obviously there are those who start to drink that
leave the calls for later. We use a lot of mechanisms so that the police are in the community for
the community, that all of our police force philosophy is unity.
A couple of years ago this police was fortified, to use a military term, that we don't have a
military, today we have the obligation to be riding in motorcycle, bicycle, on foot, on horse, and
all the officers have their name and code on the left side of their chest so that people can identify
them. Every time I go to the communities I tell them. Please, you people have more eyes than I
do, denounce. So then these two perceptions exist, one of the old police which had that and
another is of young people who are more capable of having a police career to stick to, lets put it
in a better way, with the expectations of the citizenship. Very recently this ministry put in the
career of police officer. A politician was this, and the one who had glued flags, the one who had
helped them, even though there were no education requirements, would go in and from the night
to the day he was an officer from being a shoemaker, butcher, farmer (with a lot of respect to
these professions) they would transform from this to a police officer with a gun and everything.
Automatically, you became the authority.
FRM: This has changed?
MS: Yes it has changed, there is a process of selection and recruitment in where you test the
psychological part, in where you test their physical condition, in where you have academic
requirements, and a police career exists.
FRM: Is there police desertion due to insecurity?
MS: No, at least not from my knowledge having been in charge of the legal disciplinary
department for two years. There never has been an officer come to tell me they are leaving
because they are scared to be killed by the mafia here.
FRM: Obviously you have never gotten information of that regard?
MS: Yes I have had officers who come because they are being threatened by so and so. But if
they are threatening them we must go in with more enthusiasm.
FRM: Is there desertion?
MS: Few, very few. I don't have the percentage. Obviously if we don't have indexes of
unemployment that can be so alarming like in other countries in Latin America, but they are
important. This gives (the officers) work stability, benefits, public attention, that every year there
is a monetary recognition for service, there is a statute of professional career, that if you pass
from sergeant to captain you have a better salary so the people are very interested.
FRM: What is the problem with organized crime? It is speculated that in all the Central
American countries there is a relation with organized crime of different sectors of the police.
MS: I think there is. There are officers who have committed crimes, and paid for their crimes.
The mafias manage a lot of money, the narco-trafficking mafias which also manage the illegal
sex trade. A lot of times probably, I cannot put my hand on the file for all police officers because
an incorruptible officer who received offers to give information may want to think about it. But
we have demonstrated that once they are found out they are fired at that moment. That we are
impeccable, so as to say that there are more honest officers than dishonest ones and above all,
this is true particularly at the highest level. Just look at the minister Rogelio Gomez, who is a
very honest man. Take another one, my partner Maria who is also vice minister. I have seen how
every one of us has flown the flag of ethics and I believe that it is the best thing that we can do
once we are in the public function. We have to confront corruption. There are a lot of things that
will unite around this fight against corruption and I believe that there are a lot of countries that
are paying a huge price for keeping corrupt policies, like Argentina.
FRM: Have there been officers charged with a relationship to drug traffickers or with organized
MS: Not that I know of, well, we would have to ask the judicial system, but for the 2 years that I
have been here, I haven't had any officer, because I will tell you the recruitment process of the
police to control drugs is so strict, that only a small number are chosen.
FRM: What about trafficking?
MS: Well the trafficking of persons is an important theme. We are pushing legislation on
trafficking in our territory. We are pushing for the training of the border police so that they could
be stricter, particularly when minors are involved. Without a doubt we have very good
communication with INTERPOL, and with the missing children center in Washington.
FRM: Casa Alianza, does it have a function?
MS: Casa Alianza has a function of denouncement that is very important for this ministry and
every time one of the complaints is seen as a matter of importance like any other complaint.
They participate with me in the team of sexual commercial exploitation, which I manage from
this office with the Attorney General, Mrs. Lillian Gomez and with the specialty unit and with a
capacity of a lot of officers but obviously Casa Alianza has been a sourceof a lot of cases for us
to investigate. And we have now found the guilty party. He was cited a few days ago, maybe less
than a month. We solved a case that had been a complaint on the part of Casa Alianza, and we
have done the investigation in less that 2 months and a half, which is record time.
FRM: Thank you.
Interview with Gloria Valerin, (GV) Member of the National Assembly, Former Minister
of the Condition of Women.
FRM: We have refugee claimants from Costa Rica in Canada. My interview will be about the
reasons for people leaving Costa Rica and if they are justified in doing so or not and your
opinion on the matter. Do you believe that women who are victims of domestic violence must
exhaust all the Costa Rican recourses before deciding to leave the country to seek protection
GV: Let me start off by saying that she would file a police complaint against the aggressor and if
the aggressor is determined to kill her it could be counterproductive. The experts on domestic
violence against women know that every case should be analyzed in its context and there has to
be a specific approach depending on the case. There is no possible way to apply the classic
solution provided by international law, when a fundamental right is at risk, to these types of
cases because there are so many different situations and each is special. For instance, when the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sees a case of political persecution, they do not
invite the person to exhaust all their internal resources in order to be processed by them. They do
not obligate the victim to do that because they would be putting the victim's life at risk if they did
that. This is not necessarily a special case for the protection of human rights.
FRM: Today everyone says that there is a progressive judicial system in Costa Rica -there are
protection measures - but everyone also says that there is a failure in carrying out those
protection measures. What is your opinion?
GV: Let me explain. The protection measures are issued within family law jurisdiction. For
example, the family judge gives the aggressor an order not to come close to the residence of the
family. The Ministry of Security receives approximately 34,000 complaints a year due to
violation of these protection measures. This means that it is a high percentage, I'd say about 97%
of the prevention measures are violated by the aggressor. Why does this happen in Costa Rica?
Because the disobedience of authority in the criminal code is a minor offence. To start with, a
warrant is never issued against the aggressor for reasons of disobedience of authority. Then, the
file has competed with fraud crimes, robberies, homicides and so on. Third, there is no
preventative jail in this kind of crime, and there is practically no protection for the victim who, in
the end, ends up back in the hands of the aggressor. We have to understand that the problem of
domestic violence is one of power and when one has the power but cannot exercise it, he can
react more violently against the victim than before. 90% of the assassinated women in Costa
Rica were given protection measures.
FRM: Do their children end up dead as well?
GV: Yes, the children end up dead. It is easy and understandable because this is a system that
does not guarantee the necessary protection for victims of domestic violence. It does not
guarantee the necessary protection of a fundamental right, which is the right to life. The bill that
went through the first debate is going to update the Criminal Process Code.
FRM: Could you expand a bit more?
GV: The penalization of violence against women contains a reform to the Criminal Process
Code. It increases criteria for preventive prison and states that the Judge can order it to the
dangerous aggressor when there is threat to life. Technically the judge would have to take into
account the criteria provided to him/her from people that know about gender violence and who
understand the intra-family violence. The Supreme Court has made a great effort not only to
inform judges on domestic violence issues, but also to give the judge the judicial power to have a
technical team with an understanding of the topic of violence to support him/her on when these
kinds of measures could be an issue. This project is still waiting for the report of the Supreme
Court and then, has to go through the second debate at the National Assembly.
I have no doubt of the constitutional merit of the proposed law. But you also know that on the
topic of gender the opinion is not generalized. These generalized differences of opinion could
create a series of problems that can force the Supreme Court to decide that certain things must be
changed in the Bill, maybe because it is considered too open. They could say anything, although
I hope they do not need that.
FRM: Could the court say that gender is a discriminatory term?
GV: The Supreme Court has established in many opportunities that the positive discrimination is
possible in the constitutional sense because it deals with bringing equality to conditions that are
FRM: The judicial system needs implementation. Tell me what do you feel is the role of the
police in relation to domestic violence.
GV: The Costa Rican government has not invested enough in the topic of domestic violence.
The police, the Minister of Public Security, who is actually on his second consecutive term,
understands the problem of the female victims. More than half of the effective police have been
trained to deal with gender violence. In other words there has been a change in the police. This is
what should be a fundamental part of the public policy to resolve and prevent the problem.
Unfortunately there is a lack of resources and not all of the police force has been educated. Even
if the whole police force were educated, it does not always have the means necessary to help the
victim. It continues to be the number one problem for the police. There are communities where
domestic violence has really escalated. For example the area of Barranca en Punta Arenas. 90%
of the complaints the police received are for domestic violence, which is a number that has
impact. Even though there are concerned persons that as public functionaries invest resources on
the issue, the truth is that it is not enough to guarantee the safety of the majority of women, to the
extent that INAMU does not have the necessary resources. When the Ministry of the Condition
of Women was created there already was a shelter for battered women. Now that facility was
moved but I do not know where. When Jose Maria was President and the Ministry of the
Condition of Women had not been created, they had already opened a shelter for women in
Limon. When I was the Minister of the Condition of Women under Miguel Angel Rodriguez, I
provided some resources to the Limon Shelter and founded another shelter in Punta Arenas. That
has been the same since. That administration has not even proposed the opening of a new shelter.
FRM: Talking about the police, their resources and effectiveness, they have told me that 8% of
police officers are women. That has just recently started and they will continue increasing it.
What is the position of women within the force?
GV: This Minister has not just tried to incorporate women but to give them the possibility to go
up the ladder. It is not just involving and incorporating women and keeping them in subordinate
places for the rest of their lives. It is about incorporating women so that they get the chance for
equal conditions and have the same possibilities as their male co-workers. The thing is that
changing the police force does not take a couple of years. I recognize the work that Rogelio (The
current Minister of Public Security) has done and is worthy of being recognized, but there is an
obvious need for more work. The protection measures will not be effective even if they have
done some work on the terms of the police. It is a topic that requires more work. If the penal
code had in itself how to deal with this, there would be no need to push for this project to
penalize violence against women. The penal code is the expression of the most repressive part of
the State and the State has a patriarchal view. We have to deal with a repressive law under the
patriarchal system. I will quote Argentinean Jurist Azparonni who I think is right. He said that
the judicial system has too big of a debt to women. On the one hand, the system visualizes
women as objects incapable of committing a crime and, on the other hand, it denies them the
capacity to discern. Our code is based on a military tradition inspired by the code from the
province of Rosario, Argentina that had a military code, which provides further reason why the
criminal code is not the solution. For us it will be easier to push for a Bill that classifies domestic
violence inside the criminal code. But it is not about this, it is about getting to all the forms of
violence that operate in society against women. Even the ones that are really subtle most of the
time and are considered normal. It has been difficult to convince people that this is necessary,
that they are all forms of violence against women. For people to accept the paternal violence is
very difficult. It is difficult to understand that the patriarchal family, the patriarchy of women
and children is a form of making them submit to certain types of conditions that are inhumane.
This has been difficult to understand.
FRM: Is there abuse of authority by the police?
GV: I suppose so. I do not have news because the ministers these past years have been very
right-wing. For example, two police officers were fired because they were aggressors not in their
jobs but in their houses. This has happened because Rogelio has worked with women from the
Women's Institute in charge of this topic. This allows there to be work that is better and based on
the knowledge of the problem of violence. It has allowed him to go deeper in many aspects not
only at his job.
FRM: On the other hand, has there been an increase in homicide of women from last year to this
GV: I believe the increase, it has not been completely proven, is due to the end of the public
education campaign. But you don't have to go extremely deep into the analysis to notice that if
there were a permanent campaign in the media that tells women to be careful, that they have to
report, about all the services available for them, and from one moment to another that campaign
goes under. What has happened to INAMU? And then they say you murdered them.
FRM: So the campaign of INAMU has disappeared?
GV: It has not completely disappeared because once in a while they go on the air. It is not the
same way as before. Before we would not pass a week without being on television or radio or
newspapers. Not one week passed when this topic was not on the air. Not one week went by
when they did not work with civil society to prevent and stop the problem.
FRM: Are the women losing from the lack of effectiveness?
GV: Women are losing from lack of effectiveness and the big problem is that women are in a
trap. 90% of the women went to the judicial system, got protection measures and it did not work.
A lot of people will say that is horrible and will not want to file a report with the police any
longer. This is what happens in many cases because they do not win anything by making a
report. If one files a report or not, the same thing is going to happen, they are going to come and
kill you. Here we have a judicial system that does not bring justice to half of the population. The
number one cause of death for women according to Amnesty International is the injustice they
are facing here.
FRM: What is the Church's involvement in all of this?
GV: The church has also made some changes. The church was changing a bit for a while and
understanding the problem of domestic violence in Costa Rica and at a certain point it even
collaborated. In Costa Rica on August 2nd we have a pilgrimage to go visit the Virgin of Los
Angeles. This is the biggest act by the Church the whole year. At that event someone from the
Church said, "Women suffering from violence from their husbands must understand that the
Church does not go against them because they do not have to go on in enduring that violence."
That was a big step forward. What happened is that this new Archbishop is not interested in
politics; he is not interested in any topic, much less violence against women. We cannot expect
support from the Church in general because its views change depending on the particular Church
person in front of you. Before it was generalized that women came to the priests to talk about
their problem at home. The priest would respond that they could not leave because matrimony is
a cross and we each have to carry our own. Now not all of them say that. You find some priests
that are conscientious and others do not care. A lady from Nicoya had to do the baptism course
14 times because she has 14 godchildren. The priest each time would say the same thing that the
woman has to follow what the man says and if the man hits you, you have to continue living with
FRM: This is my last question. In Canada we are receiving Costa Rican victims of domestic
violence. They say that the protection measures are not effective. Do you feel there is a reason
for these women to leave the country and seek protection in Canada?
GV: They have every right. In this country if you are a woman receiving death threats no one
can give you protection. You are subject to being killed if you are a woman in the case of
domestic violence. We have a system that has big gaps and is lacking important protection
resources for women and as a society. As a State we do not have the resources to build an
effective system. We have managed that the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity, which has under
its jurisdiction communications, financially support an initiative of INAMU to have staff from
the Women's Institute working on the 911 line. When you tell a woman when she phones that all
the shelters are full and that we do not have the necessary resources to help her, it is ridiculous.
When I was a Minister, I went to the police to file a complaint against the judges that were
committing crimes, which is unheard of in this country. I told them Judge So-and-So had failed
to recognize the need for protection measures for a woman because he said that the husband had
the keys to the house and he was not able to take them away from him. Absurd sentences such as
this one put women in danger. This has changed in the courts because we have a group of
women there. The female members of the Supreme Court have managed to change the President
of the Supreme Court. We have been making people more aware. Even with all these advances I
cannot guarantee an integrated protection system towards women. I cannot assure it. If I were in
the victim's shoes I would leave.
FRM: The first question I asked you did not get recorded so I will ask you it again. In Canada
they believe that a Costa Rican woman must exhaust all the resources of the law back home
before a case can be taken by Canada and protection applied. What do you think of this logic?
GV: The person or persons that say this do not know what they are talking about. What they are
asking the victims to do is put their lives at risk. Every domestic violence case is different and a
lot of the times asking the victims to exhaust all the judicial measures is putting them in even
more danger. When you have a system that is not effective what you do is make the aggressor
angrier because he is losing his position of power. That is what makes them decide to kill
someone. Forgive me, and with all due respect, the people that decided that in Canada do not
know what they are talking about.