• 16 April 2021

    |

    Posteado en : Interview

    |
    facebook twitter linkedin

    “La evasión tributaria no es solo un tema de caja sino un tema de equidad”

    El experto Fernando Peláez Longinotti, responsable del área de estudios económicos-tributarios de la Administración Tributaria de Uruguay nos cuenta como el programa EUROsociAL+ de la Unión Europea, a través del área de Gobernanza Democrática liderada por FIIAPP, está trabajando junto a la Administración Tributaria paraguaya para reducir la desigualdad a través de la lucha contra la evasión fiscal.

    Sorry, this entry is only available in European Spanish. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.

    ¿Por qué la lucha contra la evasión fiscal es una herramienta tan potente para lucha contra la desigualdad?

     Nos encontramos en un momento crítico no solo en la región latinoamericana sino a nivel global en el que hay necesidades fiscales latentes. Y los sistemas tributarios producen unos resultados, pero nunca se está recaudando todo su potencial, en ningún país. Por ello, es necesario ver qué tipo de acciones podemos llevar a cabo para maximizar la recaudación potencial. Porque la evasión produce perdidas para el Estado y produce inequidad tributaria, unos pagan más que otros, no es solo un tema caja sino un tema de equidad. Es un círculo virtuoso que es bueno conocer para que la administración pública pueda tomar las medidas. Elevar la recaudación fiscal requiere una lucha sin cuartel contra el fraude porque permite identificar medidas para prevenir y reducir los niveles de evasión y lograr mejorar la eficiencia del gasto público en la prestación de servicios públicos, como en educación y salud.

    ¿Qué trabajo has realizado en el marco de EUROsociAL+ para la Subsecretaría de Estado de Tributación de Paraguay (SET) y cuáles son sus principales conclusiones?

    A través de una metodología elaborada por el Centro Interamericano de Administraciones Tributarias (CIAT) realizamos la medición del incumplimiento del impuesto de la renta empresarial para medir la trayectoria y el comportamiento de la tasa de evasión fiscal en el país. A través de este análisis logramos conocer qué porcentaje del impuesto potencial se deja de recaudar – que en el caso de Paraguay se encuentra dentro del rango de los países de la región – y conocer la tendencia de ese fenómeno. Además, a través del análisis de microdatos se pudieron identificar casos concretos de empresas con los que la SET pudo tomar acciones específicas para incrementar la recaudación.

    ¿Existe diferencias en el incumplimiento del pago de impuestos entre hombres y mujeres?

    No, no existen. Sin embargo, este trabajo, en consonancia con la transversalidad de género del programa EUROsociAL+, adoptó una estrategia de abordaje singular para incluir la perspectiva de género en la evasión tributaria. Los resultados revelaron datos de gran interés para el diseño de políticas públicas específicas para fomentar la igualdad de género mediante el emprendimiento empresarial femenino. Observamos que la proporción de mujeres empresarias es mucho más pequeña que la de hombres empresarios, en una relación del 35% de mujeres frente al 65% de hombres, y esa proporción se hace mayor en algunos sectores de actividad como en el agro, en una relación de 1 a 9. En cambio, hay sectores relacionados con oficios más vinculados tradicionalmente a la mujer donde hay una mayor representación de empresarias, como en el comercio, textil y hostelería, donde representan más del 50%.

    Además, al analizar el nivel de ingresos promedio, se determinó que las mujeres están concentradas en los niveles de ingreso inferiores. En conclusión, hay menos mujeres empresarias, tienen barreras de acceso a determinados sectores, y cuentan con ingresos más bajos. De cada 10 personas empresarias en Paraguay, 3 son mujeres frente a 7 hombres.

  • 19 February 2021

    |

    Posteado en : Reportage

    |
    facebook twitter linkedin

    Community justice for greater social justice

    Democratising access to justice through community mediation is crucial to achieving greater social cohesion and social justice in Latin America

    Larissa Estevan is a community mediation agent “driven by my love and commitment to the city where I grew up”, Samambaia, a region of Brasilia. “I became a community mediation agent after seeing a group of agents who enabled horizontal dialogue between recyclable material collectors, a very precarious profession in Brazil, university students and state representatives. At that meeting I fell in love with the Community Justice Programme”, explains Estevan.  

    Every day, Larissa Estevan works to “provide spaces for dialogue, law and justice in my territory.” One such case was that of Doña Ana, who went to her in the middle of a pandemic because her son had been arrested and she did not know what to do. “She was desperate when she came to us. It had been a month since he had been arrested and she had no information about him, and did not know where to go or how to seek help. We listened to Doña Ana and took the case to an assembly of the Community Justice Programme so that together we could think about possible guidelines, referrals and contacts so that she could exercise her right to have information about her son. Finally we put her in contact with the Ombudsman of the Federal District. A few days later, she called to thank us because she had found out where her son was being held and the Ombudsman’s Office had already provided her with a public defender”. 

    “Certainly, as long as there is inequality of powers, social justice will be necessary. The Community Justice Programme works to ensure that our community enjoys at least some of the social justice to which it is entitled, ” said Estevan. 

    European Union programmes such as EUROsociAL+ are working for greater social justice in Latin America so that citizens can have legal services and, ultimately, a better life. Specifically, the Democratic Governance area of the EUROsociAL+ programme, managed by FIIAPP through its Inclusive Justice line, is providing technical assistance to the Community Justice Programme of the Court of Justice of the Federal District and Territories of Brazil with technical support from the Council General of the Spanish Legal Profession. 

    Laura Cárdenas, communication consultant in the Governance area of the EUROsociAL+ programme 

     

  • 05 November 2020

    |

    Posteado en : Opinion

    |
    facebook twitter linkedin

    Access to public information in Latin America and the Caribbean

    The recently approved Inter-American Model Law 2.0 of the Organization of American States marks a before and after in the management of an essential right for the strength of democracies. FIIAPP has contributed, through the European EUROsociAL+ programme, to the development of the legal text by providing technical support and promoting the incorporation of the gender perspective.

    On 22 October, the Organization of American States (OAS) approved the Model Inter-American Law 2.0 on Access to Public Information at its Annual Assembly. This policy framework, promoted by the OAS Department of International Law (DDI in its Spanish initials), has enjoyed broad participation in its drafting process and is of enormous relevance to Latin America and the Caribbean, since it incorporates cutting-edge standards and best practices for promoting transparency and the right of access to information.

    The Law establishes the broadest possible application of the right of access to information in possession, custody or control of any public authority, political party, union and non-profit organisation, which has to respond to requests for information on funds or public benefits received.

    As the DDI emphasises, the ultimate objective of the regulations is that “access to public information is consolidated as a tool that allows increasing levels of transparency and to fight effectively against corruption, promoting open competition, investment and economic growth, to generate the confidence of the population in its democratic institutions and empower citizens, including those sectors that are in a situation of vulnerability”.

    “This Model Law is intended to provide citizens with greater access to information which is in the hands of the authorities. Why? So that they have a better understanding of how the administration is managed and how the public resources that derive from its taxes are used. We also want it to influence management models that impact ordinary citizens because the right of access to information ranges from right up high to local governments”, underlines Dante Negro, Director of the DDI at the OAS.

    The European Union-financed EUROsociAL+ corporation programme, through its Democratic Governance area, which is coordinated by FIIAPP, has made a decisive contribution to the development of this regulatory proposal, through significant technical support channelled through the Network of Transparency and Access to Public Information (RTA) in spaces for debate and the exchange of experiences between guarantor bodies and promoters of the right to information, and through the systematisation of good practices provided by different experts.

    The regulation focuses on key factors such as the nature and functions of the guarantor bodies which guarantee this right, the regime of exceptions, the entities bound by the regulation, active transparency and the definitions and scope of the right of access to information. Likewise, it includes as an annex the Inter-American Model Law on Document Management and its implementation guide, prepared by specialists from the Sub-Directorate of State Archives of the Ministry of Culture and Sport of Spain on the basis of the RTA Document Management Model moved forward by EUROsociAL+.

    Throughout the work processes EUROsociAL+ also ensured the incorporation of the gender perspective, the norm being one of the first legal instruments of the Inter-American System to incorporate said vision from its conception. ​

    As Gabriel del Piazzo, President of the Executive Council of the Unit for Access to Public Information of Uruguay (UAIP) (Presidency of the RTA), points out, “the Model Law 2.0 has the added value of gathering the experience of the guarantor bodies of Latin America, whose responsibility it has been to implement the access to information laws over the last 10 years”.

    The Model Law thus becomes a reference to be followed by States in order to improve regulations, guidelines and internal procedures for transparency and access to information. From the moment that the 35 States of the Americas endorsed it, they acknowledged that it is necessary to reach that standard. For citizens and organised civil society, it implies being aware of the standards that their State could potentially reach and thus being able to demand processes for the elaboration of norms or policies aimed at reaching that standard.

    This EUROsociAL+ action is aligned with the 2030 Agenda, especially with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6.10 (to guarantee access to information), 16.5 (to considerably reduce corruption and bribery), 16.6 (to create effective and transparent institutions at all levels of accountability), and SDG 17 (to promote alliances to achieve these objectives).

    Borja Díaz Rivillas, Senior Expert in Democratic Governance for the EUROsociAL+ Programme at FIIAPP 

  • 21 July 2020

    |

    Posteado en : Opinion

    |
    facebook twitter linkedin

    Criminal defence in police stations, a lesson learned from the “social outcry” in Chile

    In this post, Chilean National Defender, Andrés Mahnke, talks about the progress made in Chile's criminal defence with the EUROsociAL+ project

    The so-called “social outcry” started in Chile on 18 October 2019 and transformed the country’s agenda, not only because its citizens demanded it, and because it exposed the activities of public institutions which now, more than ever, were struggling to cope with hitherto unseen scenarios stemming from the demonstrations.

    The Chilean social outcry attracted international interest, since it included loss of life and hundreds of people with ocular mutilation, numerous complaints of serious human rights violations, and destruction of public and private infrastructures, among other consequences. As a result, the country received visits from representatives of several international human rights organisations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

    In all these areas, Chilean justice and its actors had to take action, monitored by the justice system and the close scrutiny of an empowered citizenry and the international community. In this context, a series of adjustments and learnings took place, which started to become visible during the first quarter of 2020, and which had their acid test during March of this year.

    However, this story had an unexpected twist, which dominated all scenarios and modified all agendas: the SARS-CoV2 Coronavirus, which causes the disease known as Covid19 . A few weeks after the disease reared its head in Chile, it forced a change to the electoral calendar for the beginning of the constitutional process and caused something which was unthinkable just weeks earlier: the end of mass social protest in public spaces. People went home and the streets were empty, in the same way as happened almost all over the world.

    But reflection on the changes to the justice system and the lessons learned from the ‘outbreak’ must not stop. In fact, they have become even more essential to resume the fluidity of public activity when the health emergency ends. Nor does the outcry seem to have disappeared, rather it has been put on hold with a few resurgences due to the lack of food during the quarantine. Everything suggests the social and economic impact of the pandemic will exacerbate existing inequalities. Therefore, this period has been an opportunity to integrate our learning and anticipate future scenarios.

    In the social protest scenario, one indirect effect was connected to the work of the different actors in the criminal system facing an unprecedented challenge in terms of coverage and operational capacity, because of the notable increase in the number of people detained and processed.

    Between 18 October and 13 November 2019, the Chilean Public Criminal Defender’s Office – a public institution that guarantees the right to defence and which is made up of 722 officials and 524 external providers – attended to 20,645 people under arrest, an increase of 25.4% compared to the same period of the previous year.

    These increases, however, were even greater during the initial days of the crisis. Between 20 and 28 October, a period during which much of Chile was under a “state of constitutional exception”, the institution registered 10,712 defendants undergoing detention reviews, representing an increase of 70% compared to the same period in 2018. Furthermore, whereas on average there are between 600 and 650 daily detention reviews in the country, at that time they increased to 1,100 daily hearings, reaching a peak of 2,508 detention reviews on 21 October.

    Beyond this work, an initial conclusion showed that an indeterminate number of detainees were not assisted by public defenders, either because the Public Ministry had decided not to transfer them to detention review, or because the police did not report that they had been arrested. This meant that there was no jurisdictional control of these activities and there were no records.

    This triggered a contingency plan in Public Defence to attend to people detained in the police units, because by institutional design, defenders are in contact with the detainee just before the detention review hearing before the supervisory judge. Although public defenders set up informal service centres in police stations and other police detention facilities, this gave direct coverage to only 105 of the 900 police stations in the country.

    This gap need to be filled urgently, since numerous people’s rights have been violated, as described in reports from the human rights organisations who visited the country.

    Institutionally, the Chilean Public Criminal Defender’s Office activated different measures, such as strengthening the dissemination of rights , coordinating with the rest of the actors in the system, and opening channels for collaboration with the police, among others.

    However, the main initiative that followed the period of social crisis in Chile stemmed from the support lent by EUROsociAL+, European Union programme managed by the FIIAPP, whose specialists are currently collaborating with Public Defenders to prepare a ‘Criminal defence protocol for the initial hours following arrest‘.

    Its main objective is to find a means to provide coverage that guarantees the right of detained persons to a defence lawyer in the shortest possible time, thus protecting their right to technical defence. Furthermore, as international organisations that promote and protect human rights have revealed, the presence of a defence lawyer is a safeguard to protect the detained person’s other rights, particularly to prevent torture.

    These actions enable comprehensive, effective achievement of the institutional mission to guarantee the right to defence of any accused person at all stages of the criminal process, preventing violation of rights and strengthening judicial detention review, providing public defenders with more tools to appeal against the punitive power of the State on an equal footing before the courts of justice.

    The objective is always the same: to reinforce institutional commitment to the rule of law, a peaceful society and democracy in Chile, a task for which we are grateful to have the steadfast, permanent support of European cooperation.

     

    By Andrés Mahnke M., National Defender (Chilean Public Criminal Defender)

    In relation to the work done together with the Chilean Public Criminal Defender’s Office, the EUROsociAL+ programme has just published a diagnosis of the criminal defence of people in the first few hours of detention in the Latin American country.

     

     

  • 16 July 2020

    |

    Posteado en : Opinion

    |
    facebook twitter linkedin

    Experimental and behavioural economics methodologies applied to public policy evaluation

    Marta Monterrubio, a specialist from the Triangular Cooperation project for Public Policy Evaluation in Latin America and the Caribbean, tells us about this discipline in the context of COVID-19

    As part of the EVALÚA project led by the FIIAPP and financed by the European Union, a methodological guide to the experimental and behavioural economics methodologies applied to public policy evaluation has been prepared. The author of the guide, Diego Aycinena Abascal, a professor at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá and a visiting researcher at the Economic Science Institute at Chapman University in Orange, has compiled some of the most significant findings of behavioural experiments since the discipline was created 50 years ago, with the aim of making these easy for decision-makers to access and use.

     

    What is the impact of biases and non-standard preferences during the COVID-19 crisis?

    Classical political economy holds that human beings are what is known as “homus economicus”, which basically means that we make decisions by weighing up the cost and the benefit of our actions, so that the latter outweighs the former. However, since the mid 20th century, experiments have shown that the courses of action that we choose tend to deviate from this model.

    Non-standard preferences, non-standard beliefs and non-standard decision-making

    These concepts show that human beings do not always behave in a rational manner, because we are influenced by biases, intuitions and false beliefs. One very common behaviour is loss aversion (bias) which implies we would rather not lose now than gain more later. Myopic loss aversion is a combination of the above with risk, and can prompt us to act in ways that lead to a negative medium-term result. Our perception of loss is completely different to our perception of profit when a risk is involved, as shown by the theory of the prospects. When faced with a risk, we would rather not lose now rather than make a profit later. Otherwise put, when faced with a potential loss, we take risks, but when presented with a possible gain, we look for security.

    Present bias and self-control problems involve inconsistent behaviours and show that our willpower has limits. We might make a decision and then put it off more or less indefinitely. This frequently manifests in spending money to make up for a lack of motivation or action, for example, by buying “miracle products” instead of starting the diet we had planned.

    Observation of social norms suggests that when choosing a course of action, we consider more than the potential losses and gains. We also consider whether the action is in line with what our peers (our social circle) tend to do and consider appropriate in such a situation. Because of this, our decisions are influenced greatly by the societies in which we live, which can weigh more than result of the cost/benefit equation.

    Hindsight bias is the tendency for people with knowledge of an outcome to falsely believe that they would have predicted the outcome of an event, exaggerating the similarity between their ex-post beliefs and their beliefs prior to an informational event.

    Prominence preference, although an irrational strategy, steers people to choose the most striking option or one that stands out for spurious reasons, such as aesthetics or a prominent physical position (supermarket shelf, for example).

    Ultimately, many of these phenomena (self-control issues, social preferences, social norms, over-projection of preferences) can be chalked up to emotions and feelings. Psychological literature reveals the role of emotions as a mechanism that mediates our behaviour. However, these psychological findings have recently begun to be incorporated into public policy.

     

    Biases, false beliefs and non-standard preferences during the COVID-19 crisis

    They influence our decisions and daily lives more than we think. For example, since the pandemic appeared we have seen loss aversion bias influence many governments’ decision-making, particularly in the beginning, when they were still ignorant of the magnitude of what lay ahead. Many put off imposing draconian isolation measures for fear of economic hardship, failing to grasp that the initial losses would avoid having to pay a high price later on. This is closely related to the prospect theory, which includes the previous bias in a risk situation. Other biases like optimism and the illusion of control have also been common, causing many people to resort to futile remedies, pseudo-science and superstition, and the spread of an enormous number of hoaxes and lies about the pandemic.

    The hindsight bias stated above is frequent, among the multitude of opinions around us, to the extent that one might be forgiven for thinking that almost everyone already knew what was going to happen and which would be the best decisions to make right from the start.

    Social norms have clearly influenced our behaviour during confinement, with non-compliance or stricter compliance with the rules conditioned by what has been happening in the immediate environment (family, neighbourhood, municipality).

    We have also seen some political or social leaders urging disobedience with regulations, questioning their effectiveness or legitimacy, albeit on a more psychological than economic level. Authority bias makes people predisposed to believing that if an authority gives us permission to break the law and even cross the moral line, we feel prone to do so, which has recently happened in certain cases.

    The optimistic bias leads us to project our own wishes onto objective data. As already mentioned, which has been observed during the de-escalation. We tend to think that the risk is lessening, causing people to stop taking precautions which are clearly necessary if we analyse the data carefully.

    These are just a few examples of how we behave irrationally and take irrational decisions, both large and small. Understanding this irrationality and the mental shortcuts we make can be helpful when we make personal decisions, but it is crucial for public policy decision makers.

     What are nudges?

    Nudges are behavioural statements frequently used to promote public policies. Nudges are designed to influence our decisions by modifying the decision-making architecture, without substantially modifying incentives or restricting options using premises of behavioural economics.

    Nudges have become extremely popular because they are suitable for making low-cost statements based on soft or libertarian paternalism without resorting to prohibitions or restrictions. There are several successful documented cases of statements using nudges, for example, to encourage organ donation, quit smoking through commitments, reduce OR deaths with check-lists, improve loan repayment rates with personalised reminders, increase compliance with tax payments, among others.

    However, nudges must be designed carefully, otherwise they may be ineffective, counter-productive or used for other purposes. Some of these biases may lead us to overestimate the likelihood that nudges will be a success. The statements that lead to success get the most attention and those that fail are often ignored or forgotten. In addition, it has been seen that the effects of some statements are short-lived and the lack of long-term improvement is ignored. Therefore, the likelihood of success of a behavioural statement or a nudge is only as good as the behavioural foundation on which it is based.

     

    Behavioural experiments applied to public policies.

    Behavioural experiments have been widely used in consumer affairs, political marketing, investment and finance, and other fields. Their application to public policy, in terms of design, management and evaluation, is far more recent. However, there is some experience that allows us to extract some important learnings:

    1. Experimental data is replicable insofar as it allows knowledge to be built based on previous findings. This facilitates a cumulative and systematic process of experimental learning. Consequently, a store of generalised knowledge is built that supports the design of public policiesand makes them relevant and viable.

     

    1. The findings of these experiments allow us to observe variables directly, something that would not be possible otherwise. For example, observing antisocial behaviours that people would try to conceal outside the laboratory (it would only be possible to observe complaints), such as taking money earned by third parties, or filing false income statements to avoid taxes and obligations.

     

    1. Field experiments can be used in an enormous number of subject areas, for example, they have been successful for evaluating actions aimed at increasing electoral participation, measuring corruption in educational qualifications, measuring reductions in water or energy consumption and to increase recycling and determine responses to improve tax compliance.

     

    1. There are different types of experiments. By their nature, laboratory, artefactual, and framing experiments are cheaper and have a comparative advantage in helping us understand mechanisms and giving us valuable information before implementing a policy or programme through scale testing. Experiments in the natural field have a comparative advantage for evaluating the impact of previously implemented policies and programmes, and for accurately measuring their effects on the specific population of interest in its natural context. Their approaches can be complementary, as has been seen in combinations of artefactual field experiments with natural field experiments.

    The Methodological Guide is a tool available to institutions to help select the most suitable type of experiment and for dissecting the roadmap for implementation, defining the steps for development and describing the advantages and limitations.

     

     

     

  • 11 June 2020

    |

    Posteado en : Opinion

    |
    facebook twitter linkedin

    COVID-19 and the prison system in Latin America

    Iñaki Rivera y Alejandro Forero, del Observatorio del Sistema Penal y Derechos Humanos de la Universidad de Barcelona, cuentan su experiencia trabajando junto al proyecto europeo EUROSociAL+ en coordinación con la AIDEF

    This project seeks to promote access to justice and healthcare for people in prisons who today live in overcrowded conditions, suffering from inhuman and degrading treatment and even torture.  The experts tell us how the pandemic has further exacerbated prisoners’ poor living conditions, generating a prison emergency in which the right to life cannot be guaranteed, and they leave us with a series of international recommendations to deal with the problem.

    About a year ago, in February 2019, we published an article in which we reported on the work done by the European Union EUROsociAL+ Programme in coordination with the Inter-American Association of Public Defenders (AIDEF) in designing of a Regional Model of care for victims of institutional violence in prisons. At that time, we were already announcing a project to create a System of Registration, Communication and Comprehensive Care for Victims of Institutional Prison Violence (SIRCAIVI) in several Latin American countries. We hoped that if it was implemented as a new public policy, it might be very useful in promoting true access to justice and health (physical and mental) for those who may suffer inhuman or degrading treatment and even torture in jails.

    This project was recently launched by EUROsociAL+ in Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica, in coordination with the Public Defenders of these countries.  Those of us who have been working on these issues for years at the Observatory of the Penal System and Human Rights at the University of Barcelona know the importance of permanent monitoring of prisons to promote a revaluation of the fundamental rights of people in custody. The project was already important in fulfilling that purpose then, but the current health emergency caused by Covid-19 in prisons has turned it into a priority.

    If a year ago we were already aware of the serious situation of overcrowding in prisons in Latin America, where the average ratio of prisoners to every 100,000 inhabitants was 387 while the world average was 144, one year later, we have seen some systems that have broken almost all growth records worldwide. Since 2000, while the prison population in the world has grown by 24% on average, in Latin America it has grown by 121% – 67% in Central America and a spectacular 175% in South America.

    Prison emergency

    But the problem is not only quantitative, but also qualitative, where this extreme lack of space is compounded by serious deficiencies in health, food and safety, generating unhealthy environments where it is easy for diseases to spread and where conflicts between prisoners themselves and between prisoners and prison staff also make prisons places where institutional violence is the norm. It is not surprising that we have witnessed the sad news of riots and fires in prisons resulting in the deaths of tens or hundreds of people. Not surprisingly, in several countries the prison situation has been publicly declared a “prison emergency” or an “unconstitutional state of affairs”. Therefore, if the region’s prisons have become a time bomb since the beginning of the 21st century, where their collapse does not even guarantee their inhabitants the right to life or physical and mental integrity, the appearance of COVID-19 only serves to accelerate the countdown.

    The combination of this new health emergency with the structural existence of extremely high levels of prison overcrowding in Latin America sounds an alarm that must be addressed immediately. Numerous international pronouncements have been published in recent weeks in that direction. From the United Nations, its High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called out forcefully for a demographic reduction in prisons. The same has been said by the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture. At the European level, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has drawn attention to the responsibility for ensuring the right to health in prisons. Regarding Latin America, both the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have published statements, recommendations and warnings about it. All these pronouncements (from organisations such as Amnesty International, Prison Reform International and Human Rights Watch) coincide on: the need to promote alternative or extra-penitential measures; the need to broaden the concept of the right to communications between these people and their families; the consideration that a prison term in the current circumstances and in countries with prison overcrowding may lead to the submission of prisoners to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which must be combated, and; the need to strengthen prisoners’ right to health.

    International Human Rights Law emphasises the “special position of guarantor” in which States find themselves with respect to the rights of people in prison. This means that it is their obligation to guarantee the health of prisoners, as well as to fulfil the measures required by free society, such as those of social distancing. But in overcrowded prisons, this is simply a pipe-dream. There is no alternative: public action plans aimed at drastically reducing the imprisoned population must be implemented.

    International recommendations

    The Magistrate of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the prestigious criminal justice expert Raúl Zaffaroni, states emphatically that we cannot deceive ourselves: “Thousands of human lives are at stake here and no one will be able to claim ignorance of this in the future, since we are all fully aware of the illegality of those sentences in such conditions of serving time, and if we do not do the right thing now, it is because the possibility is being wilfully accepted of the death of thousands of people, more than half of whom, in our countries, are not even convicted. We are facing a catastrophe and the states that allow the death of thousands of people in their overcrowded prisons would be internationally responsible, without prejudice to their authorities being responsible for large-scale crimes involving the abandonment of people. Let us not forget that letting thousands of people die, with a clear awareness that this would inevitably be the result of their inaction, omitting the urgent measures demanded by all the responsible bodies in the world, would be a typically wilful behaviour of mass abandonment of people, clearly characterised as a crime against humanity”.

    Faced with such a panorama, we believe that the implementation of SIRCAIVI should include actions aimed at reducing the impact of the pandemic in prisons in Latin America. Especially insofar as it can directly influence the concept of institutional prison violence. It is in this sense that the Public Defenders of Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica (where the SIRCAIVI will be located) can see that their role of protecting the rights of people in prison will be strengthened as they take on the tasks of registering incidents caused by the pandemic, monitoring their evolution, and offering information to these people and their families.

    Specifically, compliance with international recommendations can and should be monitored. These measures are also being demanded in European Union countries, with different degrees of acceptance.

    The pandemic is global. Avenues used to deal with pandemics must also follow a common roadmap, which is the one that emerges from the international recommendations. Their timely fulfilment, before it is too late, is not only a legal duty but an ethical imperative in which, as part of contemporary civilisation, we all have a great stake.

    Alejandro Forero Cuéllar and Iñaki Rivera Beiras, from the Observatory of the Penal System and Human Rights at the University of Barcelona, and experts from the EUROsociAL+ Programme.