Costa Rica reiterates its commitment to the preservation of marine biodiversity and its vocation to the rule of law
Costa Rica is a country internationally recognized for its leadership and its tradition of environmental conservation. The commitment of the government of Costa Rica has remained steadfast over several decades, resulting in the development of strong environmental protection policies, which are appreciated and valued worldwide.
Among the efforts put forth by Costa Rica, is the implementation of a formula that will allow an evolution in harmony with nature, in accordance with the recognition, inscribed in our Constitution, that is all people are entitled to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. Costa Rica's efforts have enabled the country to be one of the top 5 countries to further protect the environment.
Since the 1970s, the country created, and has since been strengthening, an extensive network of national parks that now cover 25% of the national territory. Costa Rica has complemented this effort with a variety of public policies that have succeeded in reversing the deforestation rate to the point that it was the first tropical country on the planet to see its forest coverage double, reaching now 52% of its national territory. Costa Rica recently signed the Nagoya Protocol, in order to expand the protected marine areas from minuscule levels up to a 10% of our oceans.
In regards to the protection of marine species, Costa Rica also stands out for its efforts both at the national and international levels. The commitment to the protection of sharks is supported in particular by extensive legislation designed to conserve marine wildlife, control fishing, and call for a sustainable use of resources.
Furthermore, Costa Rican legislation directly attacks the practice known as "finning", which involves cutting the shark's fins and subsequently releasing its body back into the ocean. Together with other countries in the region, Costa Rica has undertaken administrative, judicial and political efforts to eradicate this practice, as part of the "Regional Action Plan for the Management and Conservation of Sharks in Central America". Additionally, the country leads a proposal at the Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) to include the hammerhead sharks in a list that protects them from international trafficking trade. This effort has been supported by local NGOs, such as PRETOMA and MARVIVA, and international organizations such as TNC; and it has also benefitted from a growing support by countries such as Honduras and Colombia, that have joined our efforts within CITES in regards to the protection of this species.
Hand in hand with these advances, there are also limitations of personnel and resources to address the multiple threats towards the environment as a whole, and in particular to significantly advance in the fight against illegal shark finning. Despite these difficulties, the Costa Rican Judicial Tribunals recently sanctioned illegal fishing in national waters in exemplary manner, particularly within Cocos Island National Park, which is a World Heritage Site inscribed in UNESCO. There have been several criminal cases opened against national and international vessels that have been caught fishing illegally in protected areas.
Along with the points mentioned above and the credentials of our country in the areas of environmental protection and conservation, Costa Rica is also recognized worldwide as a country respectful of the rule of law, human rights and whose judicial system respects due process. Not surprisingly, Costa Rica is home to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
As for the fight against shark finning, in addition to the legal framework there is also a commitment of our authorities to combat this practice. It follows that the fight against this harmful activity, which is an obvious threat to the exceptionally rich Costa Rican oceans, must be undertaken in accordance to existing laws. No person, domestic or foreign, may violate the existing legal framework of our country in order to defend the causes he considers just, nor to usurp our country’s authority.
Paul Watson, a Canadian citizen, has been accused in the Costa Rican courts by Costa Rican citizens as a result of acts that he allegedly committed in 2002. He presumably put a ship at risk of sinking and threatened the life and physical integrity of those aboard. As in any other incident involving a land or sea vehicle incident, the affected may resort to the Costa Rican tribunals to present their grievances and demands.
The alleged acts for which Mr. Paul Watson is being judged in Costa Rica occurred in 2002 and took place in Guatemalan waters, at which time Mr. Watson attempted to take justice into his own hands. Mr. Watson’s attempt to sink the Costa Rican fishing boats was motivated by the Costa Rican vessel’s fishing with the purpose of finning. However, the defendant’s assumption has never been demonstrated.
On the contrary, what is demonstrated by a video prepared by his own assistants, is that he rammed his boat against the Costa Rican fishing vessel, and subsequently tied it to his own, allegedly causing injuries to the crew and threatening against their life and integrity. This is the account of the facts with respect to Mr. Watson, who after being required to appear before the Costa Rican judicial authorities to clarify the complaint of the alleged victims, disappeared from Costa Rican territory and did not show up to court when summoned. This has led to a warrant for his arrest.
With absolute respect for the principles of due process and judicial independence, the Costa Rican tribunals act independently from the Executive Branch.
Costa Rica is a country that offers sufficient guarantees of due process, without any political interference. The trial of Mr. Watson will be no exception.