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Costa Rica: Update to CRI38268.E of 6 December 2001 and CRI37424.E of 11 July 2001 on the existing laws on domestic violence in Costa Rica; training given to police; attitude of the police toward domestic violence

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 10 July 2003
Citation / Document Symbol CRI41541.FE
Reference 1
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Costa Rica: Update to CRI38268.E of 6 December 2001 and CRI37424.E of 11 July 2001 on the existing laws on domestic violence in Costa Rica; training given to police; attitude of the police toward domestic violence, 10 July 2003, CRI41541.FE, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Please consult CRI36656.E of 23 February 2001 concerning the attitude of the police toward domestic violence.

According to the director of the non-governmental organization Asociación Alianza de Mujeres Costarricenses, the 1996 Domestic Violence Law is a preventive law (30 June 2003). It establishes 18 different precautionary measures to protect victims (Costa Rica 1996, art. 3; United Nations 27 Feb. 2003, par. 1341). Furthermore, police who disregard the law are liable to criminal sanctions (ibid.; Costa Rica 1996, art. 20). The law allows authorities to take precautionary measures, including ordering the aggressor to leave the home, relocating the victim to another residence, forbidding weapons in the home, temporarily changing custody arrangements for children, imposing maintenance payments, taking inventory of moveable property in the family home, prohibiting the aggressor from accessing the victim's workplace, preventing the aggressor from threatening the victim's family members, issuing a police protection order under which the victim may seek help from the local police authorities, and awarding financial compensation to the victim (Costa Rica 1996, art. 3). These measures, which are in force no less than one month and no more than six months, are prescribed by a family court (juzgados de familia) after it has assessed the situation (Costa Rica 1996, art. 4 and 6). Three days after ordering a protective measure, the court summons the parties to a hearing to examine the evidence; when in doubt, the evidence is interpreted in favour of the victim (Costa Rica 1996, art. 12 and 13). The director of the Asociación Alianza de Mujeres Costarricenses, however, confirmed that, in practice, implementing these procedures is a lengthy process that does not offer protection fast enough (30 June 2003). Consequently, an average of one woman per week dies in brutal circumstances directly linked to domestic abuse (Asociación Alianza de Mujeres Costarricenses 30 June 2003).

According to the law, the National Women's Institute (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, INAMU) is responsible for establishing policy on domestic violence, especially with relation to the detection of cases of domestic violence, the procedures to follow, and the preventive measures (Costa Rica. n.d.). Seventeen offices divided amongst various government departments are responsible for enforcing INAMU policy (ibid.). INAMU is also responsible for sensitizing and training of police with regard to domestic violence (Asociación Alianza de Mujeres Costarricenses 30 June 2003). Despite INAMU efforts, however, women who file official complaints are not always treated well by police (ibid.).

INAMU offers four types of services to respond to problems of domestic violence (Costa Rica n.d.).

First, the delegation for women (Delegación de la Mujer) offers legal and socio‑psychological consultations to victims (ibid.). Ana Lucia Boza, a representative of the delegation, explained that, between November and December, the number of cases reported to the delegation decreases because it is more difficult for women to leave their homes due to the fact that their children are on holidays and their spouses are also often at home (La Nación 4 Jan. 2003).

The second service is a free telephone helpline, which affords women the choice of anonymity and offers them guidance in seeking help at specialized establishments, while taking the necessary measures to resolve emergency situations (ibid.). This helpline was created under the National Plan on the Prevention of Domestic Violence (Planovi), which has been operational since 1994 (United Nations 27 Feb. 2003, par. 1343). Between September 1997 and April 1999, the telephone line operators were able to help 16,870 individuals (ibid.).

Third, since 1993, the INAMU has coordinated the program on shelters for battered women (ibid., par. 1344; Costa Rica n.d.), which provides accommodation; food; medical, psychological and legal assistance; and education re-insertion for minors (United Nations 27 Feb. 2003, par. 1344). It is also worth noting that these shelters were established for women in emergency situations who have no other recourse (Costa Rica n.d.). From September 1997 to April 1999, 284 women and 498 children received assistance through this program (Untied Nations 27 Feb. 2003, par. 1344). Two shelters were in operation, each with the capacity to house 10 to 12 women and their children (Costa Rica n.d.). According to the director of the Asociación Alianza de Mujeres Costarricenses, there are now three shelters, but they lack funding and are not enough to meet the demand (30 June 2003). In fact, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women is concerned about the lack of institutional support – especially in financial terms – for domestic violence programs (United Nations 27 Feb. 2003, par. 1346).

Fourth, the INAMU offers a legal advisory service during the legal process in cases of [translation] "femicide" (femicidio) (Costa Rica n.d.).

After studying the situation for four months in 1999, a Costa Rican congressional committee concluded that the police were unable to control crimes and often "improvised" investigations (CAR 30 Apr. 1999). There is no coherent policy for controlling domestic violence (ibid.). According to the committee's report, this situation gives criminals "absolute impunity" (ibid.). According to Agence France Presse, however, Costa Rica has adopted legislation to end impunity for perpetrators (30 May 2000). Today, according to the director of the Asociación Alianza de Mujeres Costarricenses, the police can detain a perpetrator for 24 hours following a complaint (30 June 2003).

According to the director of the Asociación Alianza de Mujeres Costarricenses, the current legislation often does not go far enough to help the victims (no ayuda muchas veces) (30 June 2003). INAMU admits that, although the law is [translation] "fundamental for the protection of women, often the results are inadequate because it does not fall under the penal code and therefore does not imply criminal sanctions" (Costa Rica n.d.). Therefore, if the act of violence itself is not considered an indictable offence, the aggressor goes unpunished (ibid.). In the case of murder, [translation] "femicide" is not recognized in Costa Rican legislation, so the murderer is charged with homicide (Asociación Alianza Mujeres Costarricenses 30 June 2003). A bill introduced in 1999, which is still under consideration today, proposes to criminalize domestic violence (ibid.; Costa Rica n.d.; Tico Times 26 Nov. 2002). However, Supreme Court judges are examining the possibility of empowering police officers to order protective measures (La Nación 13 Feb. 2003).

Deaths in situations of domestic abuse are often the result of extremely violent assaults: women are burned, cut up with machetes, shot with spearguns, and so on – often in front of their children (ibid.). The newspaper La Nación noted several cases of domestic violence, including an incident in February 2003 in which a woman named Kembly Jimenez Leon was killed with a speargun by her common-law spouse, despite the protective measures that had been ordered more than a month earlier (La Nación 15 Feb. 2003a). The young man was sentenced to six months in preventive custody (ibid.). Kembly's death was the fourth femicide in 2003 (ibid. 14 Feb. 2003). There were 24 femicides in 2002, including the case of Marlene Aguilar Molina, who was killed by her husband (ibid.15 Feb. 2003b). In 2001, Marlene Aguilar Molina separated from her husband and filed a domestic violence complaint (ibid.). In May 2002, she was granted a restraining order that prohibited her husband from harassing her and approaching her home (ibid.). Despite this, during that same month, her husband attacked her with a kitchen knife outside her home (ibid.). He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay compensation to the three children (ibid.). In another incident, a family court judge received threats from a perpetrator after she determined in March 2003 that his wife was living in a dangerous situation and should be given access to a shelter (La Nación 21 Feb. 2003). The judge was compelled to take precautionary measures and, in the end, the perpetrator was convicted for not complying with the protection orders issued by the judge (ibid.).

The number of cases of reported domestic violence has been increasing since the 1996 Domestic Violence Law was adopted (United Nations 27 Feb. 2003, par. 1341). According to INAMU, reports of domestic violence in Costa Rica increased by 25.9 per cent between 1998 and 1999 (CAR 20 Apr. 2001). In 2000, 32,646 cases of domestic abuse were reported – 6,209 more than in the previous year (United Nations 27 Feb. 2003, par. 1341). Seventy per cent of these cases, however, were dropped at the victim's request (ibid.).

A study published in 2000 by the Inter-American Development Bank found that 75 per cent of women in San José suffer psychological abuse, while 10 per cent are victims of physical abuse (CAR 24 Mar. 2000). A survey conducted by the United Nations Campaign for the Human Rights of Women found that, in a sample group of 80 female victims of domestic abuse, all reported having been beaten during a pregnancy, and 7.5 per cent of the women suffered miscarriages as a result (ibid.). A 10‑year study by the University of Costa Rica indicated that "domestic and sexual violence in the region has caused more deaths among women than AIDS or malaria" (IPS 23 Nov. 2001).

The rate of domestic violence is also related to the woman's race (United Nations 27 Feb. 2003, par. 1347). In fact, domestic violence is more widespread among interracial couples where the woman is black; black women also tend to be more reluctant to file official complaints (ibid.).

Although Costa Rica has signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, it has yet to submit reports to the United Nations on how the Convention is being applied (United Nations n.d.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France‑Presse (AFP). 30 May 2000. "Domestic Violence Still a Global Problem: UNICEF." (NEXIS)

Asociación Alianza de Mujeres Costarricenses, Costa Rica. 30 June 2003. Telephone interview with the director.

Costa Rica. n.d. Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres (INAMU). "Violencia de Género." [Accessed 30 June 2003]

_____. 1996. Centro Nacional para el Desarrollo de la Mujer y la Familia. Ley contra la violencia domestica No 7586. [Accessed 27 June 2003]

Central American Report (CAR). [Guatemala]. 20 April 2001. "Domestic Violence Hurts Economy." (Inforpress Centroamericana)

_____. 24 March 2000. "Central America: The Home is Still a Dangerous Place." (Inforpress Centroamericana)

_____. 30 April 1999. "Costa Rica, Congress Says State Fails to Address Crime Problem." (Inforpress Centroamericana)

Inter Press Service (IPS). 23 November 2001. "Rights-Latam: Subtle or Brutal, Violence Against Women Persists." (NEXIS)

_____. 24 November 2000. "Rights/Women-Latam: Abuse Still Rampant Despite New Laws." (NEXIS)

La Nación. 21 February 2003. "Jueza pide protección tras caso." [Accessed 2 July 2003]

_____. 15 February 2003a. "Dictan seis meses de prisón a pescador." [Accessed 2 July 2003]

_____. 15 February 2003b. "Cárcel por asesinato." [Accessed 2 July 2003]

_____. 14 February 2003. "Pescador mató a mujer con arpón." [Accessed 2 July 2003]

_____. 13 February 2003. "Planean acelerar medidas contra los agresores." [Accessed 2 July 2003]

_____. 4 January 2003. "Más mujeres fallecieron por agresión." [Accessed 2 July 2003]

Tico Times [San José]. 26 November 2002. Amanda Schoenberg. "Marchers Support Proposed Law."

United Nations. 27 February 2003. Human Rights Commission. Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective. Violence against Women. (E/CN.4/2003/75/Add. 1) [Accessed 27 June 2003]

_____. n.d. Division for the Advancement of Women. "Country Reports." [Accessed 27 June 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted

Attempts to obtain information from the national institute for women (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, INAMU) were unsuccessful.

IRB Databases

Internet sites, including:

Casa Presidencial [Costa Rica]

Centro feminista de información y acción [Costa Rica]

Isis International

Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM)

Ministerio de Hacienda [Costa Rica]

Red Feminista Latinoamericana y del Caribe Contra la Violencia Doméstica y Sexual

Women's Human Rights Net

Search engines:


Way Back Machine

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