SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: November 20, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):University of Costa Rica

Region & Country:Americas | Costa Rica

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 20, 2019, police fired tear gas at students from the National University of Costa Rica (UNA) protesting proposed cuts to education spending.

In October 2019, it was reported that Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly proposed a nearly fifty percent cut to the budget for the Special Fund for Higher Education (FEES), a national budget for higher education institutions. Additionally the Ministry of Finance ordered an increase in the percentage of funding from FEES to go to university infrastructure. The developments sparked protests by students, faculty, and administrators of Costa Rican universities, including UNA and the University of Costa Rica (UCR), who demanded that the government refrain from cuts to education spending and ensure the their universities’ institutional autonomy.

On November 19, students used tires and other materials to erect blockades outside UNA’s campus as part of a protest leading up to a vote on the national budget. Later the next day, police attempting to disperse the protesters fired tear gas, which reportedly resulted in injuries to some of the students According to reporting by Teletica, authorities claimed that police intervened when protestors allegedly declined to heed orders to leave.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the use of tear gas in an effort to restrict nonviolent student expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Costa Rica is a party. While police have a responsibility to maintain order and security, they also have a responsibility to ensure that their response is proportionate to the circumstances, and to refrain from measures that endanger students and protestors or restrict the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. In addition to the harm to the campus community, the use of force against campus protests undermines institutional autonomy, freedom of expression, and democratic society generally.