I am currently on sabbatical at the University for Peace in Costa Rica where I am researching the contribution of the Inter American Court of Human Rights to peace. The University for Peace was established to provide higher education for peace with aim of promoting understanding, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence, stimulating cooperation among peoples and lessen obstacles and threats to world peace. The Head of the Department of International Law is Mihir Kanade who just published a book with Routledge titled The Multilateral Trading System and Human Rights He offers a new theory, raising the possibility of a goverance space framewrok to analyze the linkages and normative relationships bewteen the multilateral trade system and human rights. He discusses the right to development approach in order to suggest the way forward towards sustainable development. His perspective is innovative and quite timely during the situation of flux in the world system. Another researcher in his department is Mariateresa Garrido, who researches the persecution of journalists.
The Inter American Court of Human Rights has just celebrated its 40th Anniversary, hence it is a good opportunity for reflection about the role of regional courts and the current challenges regarding human rights and democracy. It hosted a seminar which included fascinating presentations in Spanish. Panel III includes some presentations on the other regional human rights courts in English, including an intriguing perspective by Judge Ganna Yudkivska on the impact of Security and Populism on Human Rights. She was complemented by Judge Raul Zaffroni of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights who bemoaned the weakness of states in the face of the enormous power of corporations and the the impact of excessive national debt, the emergence of political economic crimes, and the impact of corruption and impunity upon human rights. Further issues included whether the Court should include representatives from every member state of the American Convention to increase interest among states, the role of the Court in protecting oppressed and vulnerable groups (including women, indigenous people, children, and migrants), challenges regarding the increased role of non-state actors, the lack of adequate financing, and the lackluster political will to support human rights, democracy, and the rule of law across the world. Perhaps the most moving panel was that composed of the victims who pursued their cases, patiently waiting years for justice, and appreciating the opportunity to have their stories be told. Karen Atala is actually herself a judge from Chile, who lost custody of her children on account of choosing to live with her lesbian partner. Macarena Gelman is the daughter of Argentine parents who were forcibly disappeared; she herself being raised without knowing her true identity for 23 years. Paticia Gualinga is a member of the Sarayakv indignous community which challenged the Ecuadoran state for granting oil exploration concessions on their territory. Irma Monreal lost her daughter to femicide in Mexico and Ms. Thiessen lost her 14 year old brother to state terrorism in Guatemala. Their testimonies confirm the continued importance of the regional human rights courts to respond to the ever-changing span of human rights violations. Juana Ines Acosta explained the perspective of states, herself representing Colombia before the Court in various cases. She indicated that states understand that they have human rights obligations and that there is a common aspiration to uncover the truth. She explained that the reparations orders have had an effect of strengthening national institutions, and hence states do not “lose” human rights cases, because they also benefit from the decisions.
Costa Rica is an intriguing country of lush tropical plants, monkeys, tapirs, volcanoes, waterfalls, chronic traffic, and cordial people. Although this country has no army, there are concerns about decreasing levels of civic trust due to the persistent problem of past corruption and impunity within the government. The rush of Nicaraguans escaping political violence has prompted cases of xenophobia. Costa Ricans call themselves Ticas and Nicaraguans are Nicas, it it ends up sounding somewhat like a Dr. Seuss book, but confirms the importance of recognizing that xenophobia is not just a problem in the North. The new President of Costa Rica Alvarado called for the society to uphold peace and not fall back upon hate. This year will prove fruitful in understanding the complexity of pursuing internal and external peace.