Costa Rica: a “multiethnic and multicultural nation”

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    It’s no news that Costa Rica is country of diverse ethnic origins, but this week minority groups are finally getting their recognition.

    On Monday, August 24th, President Luis Guillermo Solis signed a long-overdue amendment to the nation’s constitution declaring it no longer just a “democratic, free and independent republic,” but a “multiethnic and multicultural” one as well.

    [quote_center]“This important step recognizes Costa Rica as the cradle of many cultures and ethnicities, which have enriched our country and will continue to do so,” said Solis.[/quote_center]

    However, the motion did not pass overnight. In fact, the Legislative Assembly had been debating the matter for over 15 years. Even so, it seems fitting that the grandson of an Afro-Costa Rican woman should have the honor of signing in this “historical act of justice.”

    Demographics at a Glance

    According to the 2011 census, Costa Rica has a largely mixed population, with few individuals identifying with any one specific ethnic group.

    Indigenous Rights

    It’s a lucky coincidence in the same week Solis amended the constitution to be more representative, Costa Rica has also agreed to finally take the first steps to align its national legislation with Convention No. 169 (C169) of the International Labor Organization. This convention — which has been called the “most important operative international law guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples” — was actually ratified in Costa Rica in 1993, but it hasn’t been until now that C169 has been put into proper play.

    C169 is by and large a product of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.N.’s  Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The preamble even refers to the documents directly. Since these organizations have no official legal power on their own, the Convention relies on individual states to accept its challenge. Once accepted, or ratified, countries have one year to “to align legislation, policies and programmes to the Convention before it becomes legally binding.”

    Monday’s decision specifically dealt with Article 6 of C169 guaranteeing indigenous peoples a say in projects and bills that could affect them before these projects and bills are voted on or approved.

    [quote_box_center]1. In applying the provisions of this Convention, governments shall:
    (a) consult the peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, whenever consideration is being given to legislative or administrative measures which may affect them directly;

    (b) establish means by which these peoples can freely participate, to at least the same extent as other sectors of the population, at all levels of decision-making in elective institutions and administrative and other bodies responsible for policies and programmes which concern them;

    (c) establish means for the full development of these peoples’ own institutions and initiatives, and in appropriate cases provide the resources necessary for this purpose.

    2. The consultations carried out in application of this Convention shall be undertaken, in good faith and in a form appropriate to the circumstances, with the objective of achieving agreement or consent to the proposed measures.[/quote_box_center]

    The reform set forth by Costa Rica’s Special Commission of Reforms of Regulations states:

    [quote_box_center]“the legislative assembly will consult the Indigenous [communities] that live on an Indigenous territory, via their representative bodies, in order to obtain their free and informed consent before approving any project that affects this land or territory and its resources, especially in relation with the development, the use or the exploitation of mining or water resources, or any other type. The representative bodies will have to respond to the consultation within a month following its reception.”[/quote_box_center]

    While the initiative still needs to be voted on in plenary session, the recent actions of the Costa Rican government show the country’s moving in the right direction.

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