The Various Natures of Costa Rica

By Anne-Claire Gayet

5 juin 2012, me voici à un mois et cinq jours après mon arrivée au Costa Rica, et deux semaines après le début de mon stage à la Cour interaméricaine des droits de l’homme.

Before starting my internship at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, I had the chance to travel a little bit in Costa Rica. This trip has allowed me to familiarize myself with Central America, being my first time in the region. It has also given me the chance to know more about Costa Rica of which I knew few things before my stay here, except that it hosts the Court and that it was the first country to have abolished its army, in 1949.

I was amazed by Costa Rica´s luxuriant nature, its generally warm climate – so enjoyable after a winter in Quebec – and the tropical rains in the afternoons. I fell in love with the local fruits: it is wonderful to pick coconuts directly from the trees, find mangos on the ground, buy excellent pineapples for a very good price (2 or 3 for 1000 colones or approximately 2 dollars, etc.), discover new fruits like guavas. I met nice Ticos (the people from Costa Rica), often through the accommodations where we stayed. On a more personal note, travelling outside San José has allowed me to feel more comfortable and less insecure in Costa Rica: numerous warnings received prior to my stay here had made me somewhat uneasy and caused me to be cautious both regarding my belongings and the people I would meet.

Travelling and meeting with Ticos also gave me a sense of some issues in Costa Rica. I observed, for example, marked demographic, social and cultural differences between the Pacific coast and the Caribbean one. I first observed a difference through the denigrating reactions of Ticos from the Pacific coast when I told them I was planning to travel to the Caribbean coast. When I arrived in Cahuita, I noticed the large presence of Black people, contrary to elsewhere in Costa Rica. Mainly of Jamaican origin, many of them spoke Pidgin English. The music in the bars – so loud that everyone in the streets could hear it – had a clear reggae influence. The food offered was also of Caribbean inspiration (with the traditional sauce with coco milk). The Caribbean coast offers clearly another aspect of Costa Rica.

The current demographic and cultural differences between the Caribbean coast and the rest of Costa Rica today reflect the history of exclusion of the Black people in Costa Rica. Until 1949, Black people were prohibited from going to the West of Costa Rica.   Trains from the Caribbean coast to San José had to stop at Siquirres in order that the Black technicians and drivers would get off the train, to be replaced by “White” workers.  Although abolished a few decades ago, this segregation seems to have left scars as far as I can observe after a few weeks in Costa Rica.

I was glad to start the internship after knowing a little bit more about Costa Rica. Since I arrived at the Court, I have started to work on a team composed of two lawyers, and another legal intern from Seattle. As we mentioned in our training session before departure, as interns we arrive in an environment where there is already work in progress, with specific deadlines and challenges. Actually, the lawyers informed us that it was a particularly tense moment for them, as the next session of the Court would take place from June 18th to June 29th and as they had to transmit to the Judges the projects of decisions before the session. They also informed us that our team would mainly focus on three cases until the end of August, either building on the work of previous interns or investigating new areas of the cases.

So far, I have read in depth the different writings of the cases, from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the victims and the State, and done specific research on two of them. One investigation was related to the duty to consult Aboriginal people in case of exploitation on their lands, in the jurisprudence of other Latin American countries and the Commonwealth. My small exposure to Aboriginal cases in Canada while at McGill has been helpful!  I had to summarize the different criteria developed by the SCC related to the duty to consult, in order to support a possible decision of the IACHR.

My second main task was related to the issue of forced displacement in another case. I had to write a memo on whether or not there has been a violation of article 22 of the American Convention on Human Rights (on the freedom of movement and residence) for a group of people who left their village after a bombing, and who returned there only a few weeks or months after.

Our job will likely be different in the coming weeks, as the atmosphere and the work in the Court seem to very much influenced by the sessions of the Court. I look forward to it!

Working at the Court is also the chance to meet persons from different countries of Latin America, the US and even France. Lunch breaks and post-work events are an excellent opportunity to learn about others’ lives, personal and professional aspirations, and to reflect on my own choices and plans. À suivre!

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