Inter-American Rights Watch

IACHR Expresses Concern over the Human Rights of U.S. Sex Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Rebecca Buchanan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On November 13, 2020, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release expressing concern over the human rights of U.S. sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cat Hollis, Founder of the Haymarket Pole Collective. Photo Courtesy of OPB.

The statement called for the U.S. government to strengthen its guarantees that individuals engaged in sex work would maintain their environmental, economic, social, and cultural rights, particularly during the pandemic’s containment and mitigation measures. The IACHR reiterated its belief that the discrimination and stigma facing sex workers in the United States pose a great risk to human rights and dignity and must be eliminated.

In its press release, the IACHR drew on information from reports indicating that sex workers throughout the United States have experienced increased violence, discrimination, and poverty during the pandemic. The stay-at-home orders and social-distancing measures instituted in most U.S. states have severely decreased opportunities for income through sex work, leaving these workers unable to cover the costs of basic needs and essential services. When reaching out for help, individuals engaged in sex work have been met with dwindling opportunities for housing, a lack of accessible healthcare, and exclusion from many social assistance programs.

Sex work is criminalized in most U.S. states, leaving sex workers dangerously excluded from State registration systems, social services, and necessary healthcare provisions. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these unstable conditions, leaving sex workers especially vulnerable to the virus and its larger effects. Businesses providing sex work were banned from receiving U.S. Small Business Administration Loans, which offered relief to businesses struggling as a result of the pandemic because of a stipulation excluding live performances or services of a “prurient sexual nature.”

Spurned by the U.S. government, sex workers and the businesses that employ them have been forced to turn elsewhere for assistance. The Haymarket Pole Collective, an Oregon based group that advocates for Black and Indigenous strippers and other strippers of color, recently received a grant from the Oregon Health Authority. The $600,000 grant will be used to fund relief and wellness kits which will include mail-in COVID-19 infection test kits, in addition to other necessities.

The work of the Haymarket Pole Collective addresses the impact of sex work discrimination on minorities, which are often disproportionally affected by situations of emergency or social unrest. In its statement, the IACHR expressed fears that minority populations within the sex work community face rapidly increasing prejudice and discrimination during the pandemic. In particular, the IACHR highlighted the uniquely hostile situation of transgender sex workers who often lack government identification documentation aligned with their gender identity or expression. As a result, transgender sex workers “are exposed to the dual denial of various essential services, including health.” The IACHR called on the U.S. to guarantee that transgender individuals receive adequate care policies and health services respectful of their gender identity. 

Finally, the IACHR noted the increased potential for police violence against sex workers as tensions around the pandemic continue to grow. The IACHR urged the U.S. to implement training programs for police officers, medical officials, and social services personnel regarding the social, economic, and human rights of sex workers. If properly implemented, these trainings could provide sex workers with greater access to social welfare systems and allow for more accurate reporting on situations of sexual slavery, labor exploitation, and human trafficking.

For further information, please see:

American Psychological Association – How COVID-19 impacts sexual and gender minorities – 29 June 2020

Amnesty International – Include Sex Workers in the COVID-19 Response – 28 July 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Press Release: IACHR calls on States to guarantee the human rights of women engaged in sex work in the context of the pandemic – 13 Nov. 2020

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Program providing COVID-19 relief to Oregon sex workers meets overwhelming demand – 14 Nov. 2020

U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health – COVID-19 Prevention and Protecting Sex Workers: A Call to Action – 14 Oct. 2020

IACHR Condemns Sterilizations of Migrants Detained at ICE Facility in Georgia

By: Shane Kelly

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

GEORGIA, United States of America – On October 30, 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for sterilization procedures performed on detainees of the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, GA.

Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Specifically, the IACHR admonished the non-consensual hysterectomies and neglect of surgeons, which violated rights to personal security, family, and privacy afforded by the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, the complaint presented by human rights organizations describes the compounding harm caused by the risk of COVID-19 infection, experienced by those subjected to the procedures.

The complaint, presented to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by numerous social justice organizations, alleges that the migrant detention center in Irwin County, GA, has been sterilizing women with neglect towards general medical care, including a lack of effective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The IACHR has called for the immediate cessation of said practices, as well as investigations and prosecutions of those responsible.

The complaint is corroborated by testimonies from a former nurse, multiple detainees, and an independent medical team. The former nurse describes some shocking stories, including one of a detained immigrant woman who underwent surgery to have one of her ovaries removed because of a cyst, only to awake from anesthesia with a total hysterectomy. The medical team’s report found records of nineteen migrant women who experienced negligent care, discriminatory treatment, and dangerous environments considered inefficient in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

In the international context, the IACHR invokes the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decision in the Case of IV v. the State of Bolivia, where the court recognized the autonomy and reproductive human rights of women in their lives and bodies. The IACHR also looks to the “Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Human Trafficking, Resolution 01/20 on Pandemics and Human Rights,” for recommendations and guidelines in remedying this issue.

These violations of migrant women’s rights come amidst a time of harsh scrutiny of ICE’s procedures in its operations of detention centers. Other violations made public include: deplorable living conditions; lack of separation in a global pandemic; and deprivation of the right to freedom of religion. The IACHR is further concerned with the lack of response from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Human Services following the publicity of the conditions by the press, the submission of the complaint, and the IACHR’s condemnation. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has also recently urged action from the inspector general to investigate the allegations.

For further information, please see:

Reliefweb – IACHR Expresses Its Concern Over Reports of Sterilizations and Surgical Interventions Without Consent in Migrant Detention Centers in the USA – 30 Oct. 2020

ICDC – Lack of Medical Care, Unsafe Work Practices, and Absence of Adequate Protection Against COVID-19 for Detained Immigrants and Employees Alike at the Irwin County Detention Center – 14 Sept. 2020

CNN – Whistleblower Alleges High Rate of Hysterectomies and Medical Neglect at ICE Facility – 16 Sept. 2020

The IACHR Brings Freedom of Expression Violations, Against Indigenous Broadcasters, to the Attention of the Inter-American Court and the Government of Guatemala

By: Christian González

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

GUATEMALA – Two recent cases involving actions of the Guatemalan government against local indigenous radio stations have been reported and brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the Inter-American Court”) and the Government of Guatemala, by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Anastasia Mejía Triquiz, the director of Xolabaj Radio and TV, was arrested by police on September 22nd, 2020. Photo Courtesy of The Coalition For Women In Journalism.

The first involves the legal obstacles faced by four local stations operated by indigenous people, including access to radio frequencies and criminal consequences imposed on any unauthorized operations. The second involves the arrest, detention, and delayed hearing process of indigenous journalist Anastasia Mejía Triquiz.

On April 3rd, 2020, the IACHR presented a merits report to the Inter-American Court regarding four Guatemalan radio stations, each operated by a different indigenous ethnic group. These four are: a station based in Sumpango operated by Kaqchikel Maya, a station based in San Miguel Chicai operated by the Achí Maya, a station based in Cajolá operated by Mam Maya, and a station based in Todos Santos Cuchumatán operated primarily by Maya of Mam heritage. The IACHR found that the Guatemalan government placed legal barriers that prevent access of radio frequencies to local indigenous communities and caused indirect discrimination against them.

Guatemalan law dictates that radio frequencies are assigned to parties that can produce the highest financial offer, making it essentially a bidding process. The IACHR asserts that this burdens indigenous communities due to the fact that many suffer from poverty and cannot afford to make competitive offers. This in turn disenfranchises these communities from lawful radio broadcasting. Article 13.3 of the American Convention states that “[t]he right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies…. or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.” According the IACHR, the Guatemalan government has violated Article 13.3 by imposing these funds-based restrictions, effectively preventing indigenous communities from preserving and sharing their culture and language through community radio stations.

Furthermore, Guatemalan law criminalizes unauthorized operation of radio broadcasts as a theft offense, which the IACHR views as an additional burden on indigenous communities and as government censorship, a violation of Article 13.2 of the American Convention. The IACHR has compiled a list of remedial recommendations for the government to follow that include increased access to radio frequencies, refraining from the use of criminal law against indigenous communities, and full reparations to those communities already harmed. The case is pending in the Inter-American Court, which is currently waiting on receipt of written arguments from parties.

On October 22nd, 2020, the IACHR Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression released a statement to the Guatemalan government regarding the arrest and detention of Anastasia Mejía Triquiz. Mejía Triquiz is a journalist of K’iche Maya heritage and the director of the Xolabaj Radio and TV stations based in Joyabaj. On September 22nd, she was arrested by the National Civil Police on charges of sedition and attempt with aggravated arson and aggravated robbery, though further justification of these charges has not been given by the government.

The Office believes that Mejía Triquiz’s arrest is possibly linked to her coverage of local demonstrations against the alleged corruption surrounding Joyabal Mayor Francisco Carrascosa’s use of COVID-19 relief funds. Her coverage and criticisms of Carrascosa were broadcasted on Xolabaj’s Facebook page.

Mejía Triquez has been detained for 31 days without a judge’s official order of pre-trial detention. Her first statement hearing has been postponed twice, and it seems she will have been detained for a total of 37 days before her first hearing. The Office alleged that this as a deprivation of her personal liberty and freedom of political speech, and acknowledges the indirect censorship effects this has on other indigenous broadcasters. In its press release, the Office called on the Guatemalan government to respect the expression and liberty rights of Mejía Triquez and to guarantee her a diligent investigation of the charges brought against her.

The Office stated that it believes that Mejía Triquez’s arrest and the above pending case in the Inter-American Court constitute an ongoing effort by the government to quash the freedom of expression rights of indigenous community broadcasters throughout Guatemala.

For further information, please see:

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Press Release: The IACHR presents case involving Guatemala before the Inter-American Court (Spanish) – 25 Sep. 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Report No. 51/18, Petition 1779-12: Indigenous Kaqhikel Maya People of Sumpango and Others vs. Guatemala (Spanish) – 5 May 2018

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – American Convention on Human Rights – 22 Nov. 1969

Inter-American Court of Human Rights – Case Information: Indigenous Kaqhikel Maya People of Sumpango and Others vs. Guatemala (Spanish) – 5 Aug. 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression – Press Relese: The Office of the Special Rapporteur considers inadmissible the delay in the detention process of indigenous journalist Anastasia Mejía Triquis in a pandemic context and calls on the State of Guatemala to respect and guarantee her right to personal liberty and due process of law – 22 Oct. 2020

Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos – We demand the release of the journalist Anastasia Mejía in Guatemala (Spanish) – 21 Oct. 2020

Facebook – Xolabaj Radio – Last Updated Oct. 19, 2002

Nicaragua’s Proposed Foreign Agent and Cybercrime Bills Target Independent Media and Human Rights Organizations

By: Elyse Maugeri 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – In late September of this year, President Daniel Ortega’s ruling party introduced two new bills to Nicaragua’s National Assembly. These bills are the Proposed Foreign Agent bill and Cybercrime bills. The aim of the new legislation is to severely restrict freedom of speech and limit the critics of the Sandinista party.

Inside of the Nicaragua National Assembly. Photo Courtesy of Prensa Latina

Human Rights Watch has noted the bills’ likeness to similar laws in Russia. Those laws have notably been condemned by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, as a violation of international norms; and have been the subject of litigation in the European Court of Human Rights more than once.

The Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents is aimed at human rights organizations and media outlets operating in Nicaragua. These organizations fear that this law targets them specifically as many of them depend on foreign-based funding.

This bill requires any person or entity receiving funding directly or indirectly from abroad to register with the government as a “foreign agent.” They also must register if they work for or represent the interests of a foreign government, foundation, or business. If they fail to do so, the consequences include fines, cancellation of registration, and seizure of property. Furthermore, if these “foreign agents” are found to have intervened in any domestic political affairs, they will face unspecified legal sanctions.

The Special Law on Cybercrimes is aimed at criminalizing those who spread “fake news” and other critical speech on the internet. Its provisions include lengthy criminal sentences for anyone found “publishing or disseminating false or distorted information” or any expression that “promotes hate and violence.” Prison sentences are also outlined for any person using technology to disclose classified or “personal” information and for anyone “praising” criminal activity. The terms used are not further defined in the bill, leaving them up to interpretation.

Nicaragua has ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). Under these, countries may only limit free speech when necessary, and the limitations must be done proportionately. Both of the new bills work directly against the goals of the ICCPR and ACHR and are largely inconsistent with international law.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern in a statement in which it highlighted Article 13 of the ACHR, which establishes the right to freedom of thought and expression. They further point to the 2011 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet of the IACHR and UN Special Rapporteurs that promotes freedom of expression as it applies to the internet, allowing only for limitations in circumstances in which international law would allow such as national security.

The decision by the Nicaraguan government to introduce these bills has only intensified international concern. Since 2018, journalists and independent media outlets have been targeted by the government. Emmanuel Colombié, of Reporters Without Borders stated recently, “we totally condemn this outrageous and unconstitutional bill designed to step up censorship and intimidation of Nicaragua’s independent media. The national assembly must reject this draconian legislation, which would provide Daniel Ortega’s government with a new repressive tool for silencing its critics.”

For further information, please see:

Associated Press – Proposed Nicaragua law could muffle dissent – 23 Sept. 2020

Human Rights Watch – Nicaragua: Ortega Tightening Authoritarian Grip – 8 Oct. 2020

IACHR – The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression express concern about new legal threats to freedom of expression and indirect measures against the media and journalists in Nicaragua – 7 Oct. 2020

Reporters Without Borders – RSF and PEN urge Nicaraguan legislators to reject “foreign agents” bill – 29 Sept. 2020

The “Disappeared” in Colombia

By: Anthony B. Emmi

Impunity Watch Staff Writer 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Commission) has referred the case of Pedro Julio Movilla Galarcio to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Colombian government allegedly disappeared Movilla Galarcio on May 13th, 1993.

Mr. Movilla with his daughter, Jenny.

Movilla Galarcio is one of 120,000 reported missing persons to have allegedly disappeared during the bloody 52-year conflict that gripped the nation between 1954 and 2016. Many citizens of Colombia remain in danger as fragmented combatant groups continue to clash throughout the country.

Examination of the specific circumstances surrounding Mr. Movilla’s disappearance revealed compelling evidence suggesting that he was disappeared by the State. As a union leader and leftist, Mr. Movilla fit into a group of people which was highly targeted throughout the conflict. Around the time of the disappearance, people like Mr. Movilla suffered high rates of execution and forced disappearance. The Commission notes further that a person of Mr. Movilla’s profile is labeled an “internal enemy” of the state in government counter-insurgency manuals.

In addition to these broad factors, Mr. Movilla and his family were surveilled, and strangers often warned him to be careful of his safety. In terms of surveillance, the State security forces created intelligence files regarding Mr. Movilla’s political and union activity, along with an alleged link to a guerilla organization. The State provided no explanation for the intelligence it gathered on Mr. Movilla.

After Mr. Movilla disappeared, evidence points toward the possibility of a cover-up effort. The State denied the habeas corpus meant to locate Mr. Movilla simply because his specific place of detention was not listed, an obvious impossibility. Investigation efforts into the disappearance were characterized by inefficient proceedings, which have left the investigation in its infancy more than 25 years later. The State did not make efforts to locate Mr. Movilla until 15 years after his disappearance. The combination of the specific circumstances and the broader historical context led the Commission to the conclusion that the State forcibly disappeared Mr. Movilla.

Directly regarding Mr. Movilla, the Commission found the State violated Articles 3 (Right to Juridical Personality), 4 (Right to Life), 5 (Right to Humane Treatment), 7 (Right to Personal Liberty), 8 (Right to a Fair Trial), and 16 (Freedom of Association) of the American Convention on Human Rights (Convention). Regarding Mr. Movilla’s family, the State is in violation of Article 5, due to the extreme mental anguish suffered as a result of the disappearance.

The Commission has also made five recommendations for action to be taken by the State. First, the State should create a method to compensate Mr. Movilla’s family in both a material and immaterial manner. Second, the State should provide mental health services for Mr. Movilla’s family. Third, it should attempt to find Mr. Movilla or uncover his story and deliver his remains if the search yields them. Fourth, see the criminal investigation of Mr. Movilla’s disappearance to its conclusion, exercising proper diligence. Finally, take measures to prevent this conduct in the future, such as eliminating the use of the general profile describing Mr. Movilla in counterinsurgency manuals.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – World Report 2020: Colombia Events of 2019 – 2020

International Commission on Missing Persons – ICMP Colombia Infographic- 1 Sept. 2020

Organization of American States – IACHR refers case on Colombia to the Inter-American Court – 2 Oct. 2020