REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has kept a particularly
close watch on the situation of human rights in Panama.
Since the date of approval of its last special report on Panama, on
November 9, 1989, a number of significant events have transpired that call for
Hence, this section is devoted to an account of the developments in the
human rights situation in the period between the approval of the previous
special report and the date on which this annual report was approved.
The period under examination was an unusual one; hence the events to be
analyzed here occurred either under the previous political regime, in the
interval when there was no clear cut control of Panamanian society because of
the situation created by the invasion of the United States troops, or during the
current administration's period in office.
It should be noted that since approval of the last report, the
Inter-American Commission's relations with the Panamanian government have
improved; at the Government's invitation, the Commission went to Panama for a
visit from July 9 to 13, 1990.
It is useful to note that in the special report it approved on November 9, 1989, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had recommended to the then Government of Panama that the violence, harassment and torture on the part of security forces and armed groups be stopped immediately; that all political prisoners, including military who had served more than the maximum sentence allowed under the law, be released; that exiles be allowed to return with full guarantees; that authorization be given for the media to function freely; that the exercise of political rights be restored by reinstating the constitutional system, and finally, once the constitutional system has been reinstated, that the judiciary be strengthened by consolidating the guarantees for the exercise of human rights and making the military institution subordinate to civilian power. The previous Panamanian Government did not comply with these recommendations. Its activities were conducted in a highly controversial context, as described bellow.
The general situation
As for the general situation during the period under consideration, it
should be noted that between November 1988 and December 20, 1989, when the
United States invasion occurred, tensions between the Government of Panama and
the Government of the United States mounted; Panamanian society in general
suffered greatly, the human rights situation in particular.
In this last respect, the Government took a more hardline attitude toward
any form of internal opposition and to the need to find formulas to give the
Government legitimacy. With that
end in mind, on December 14 the Assembly of Corregimientos, consisting of 510
representatives from the country's geopolitical units and elected by the central
Government, designated General Manuel Noriega as Panamanian Head of State on
December 15, 1989.
In the meantime, there were a number of incidents between troops of the
Panamanian defense forces and United States troops stationed in the Canal Zone.
On October 3, 1989, a military uprising lead by Colonel Moises Giroldi
failed; its leaders died as a result. This
incident will be discussed at greater length under the section on the right to
On the night of December 19 to 20, 1989, United States troops invaded
Panama. The organized armed combat
continued throughout the day of December 20.
In the fighting, the invading forces destroyed the Central Headquarters
of Defense Forces and took over the major centers of military resistance.
In the two days that followed, the other military centers and the Dignity
Battalions that were still fighting surrendered.
At the same time, widespread looting began, targeted at business
establishments. That looting lasted
three or four days, during which the United States military police refrained
from intervening. In the days that
followed the Panama City police force was put together gradually, basically by
United States military patrols.
Many arrests were made on December 20 and in the days that followed.
The prisoners were originally housed in ad hoc detention facilities,
which were policed by United States forces.
In all, over 3,000 persons were confined in these facilities.
Eventually they were either released or transferred to Panamanian prisons
under the authority of the Public Prosecutor's Office.
The detention facilities were dismantled in February.
On the night of the invasion, the opposition candidates for the offices
of President and Vice Presidents of the Alianza Democrática de Oposición
Civilista--Guillermo Endara Galimany, Ricardo Arias Calderón and
Guillermo Ford--were sworn into office.
There had been overwhelming evidence that they had, in fact, won the
elections held on May 7, 1989. Shortly
after being sworn in, the new Government, with the support of the United States
forces, took control of the country. General
Manuel Antonio Noriega was arrested by United States troops and taken to the
United States to stand trial on charges of crimes related to drug trafficking.
Right to life
a. Violations of the
right to life that occurred prior to December 20, 1989
On October 3, 1989, there was an uprising against the Government, led by
Major Moises Giroldi. His followers
consisted of a considerable number of officers and rank and file soldiers.
The uprising was put down by the Government and forces loyal to General
Noriega. According to the
Government, Major Moisés Giroldi Vera and nine other rebel officers (León
Tejada, Juan Arza, Edgardo Sandoval, Eric Murillo, Jorge Bonilla, Francisco
Concepción, Ismael Ortega, Deoclides Julio y Feliciano Muñoz) died in the
fighting; the abundant information supplied to the Inter-American
Commision on Human Rights during the on site observation conducted in
July 1990, nevertheless, indicates that Major Giroldi and the other officers
were executed after having surrendered.
During that most recent on site visit, the Commission received
information--which is now in the hands of the national
Government-- concerning of 56 individuals who have died since 1968
when General Torrijos took power, allegedly killed by agents of the State.
Some of these cases have been subjects of prior Commission reports (cf.
especially IACHR Report on Panama, Nov. 1989) and cases that were individually
processed. The Commission hopes
that the Panamanian Government and its present system of justice will be able to
ascertain the identity of the victims and, if possible, the circumstances of
their death and the identity of those responsible, so as to remedy a problem so
serious that it cannot be ignored.
b. The deaths that occurred on the occasion of the December 20 armed intervention by the United States
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has received a
considerable amount of information concerning a number of deaths that occurred
as a result of the invasion of Panama. The
official death toll given by the Southern Command of the United States Army is
202 civilians and fewer than 100 military.
The figures provided by other institutions, among them Americas Watch,
the Panamanian Human Rights Committee, the Office of the Attorney General of the
Panamanian Government, "Physicians for Human Rights" and spokesmen for
the Catholic Church all put the Panamanian death toll anywhere from 300 to 600. The
Commission also heard mention a suggestion that the death toll could be as high
as 3,000 or 4,000, although nothing to substantiate that figure has been
It is difficult to ascertain the circumstances of these deaths, among
other reasons because the Government and the United States forces have not
conducted investigations to determine the whereabouts of many of the victims.
In effect, a number of complaints submitted during the
Inter-American Commission's visit to Panama point out that there was still
some uncertainty concerning the circumstances under which the victims of the
armed combat died and the whereabouts of their remains.
In fact, many families had still not had access to those remains at the
time of the visit.
The Commission was informed that a common grave containing 124 bodies had
been opened in the Jardin de La Paz [Garden of Peace]; they had been put there
by agents of the State, with the help of United States forces.
The burial had been done in an orderly way but with no publicity.
The grave was opened on April 28 and May 6, 1990, and was done at the
initiative of a group of relatives of the missing persons, with the permission
of and in the presence of attorneys from the Public Prosecutor's Office and
forensic physicians, but without the cooperation of the Government.
The effort to locate the common grave and to undertake the measures
necessary to have it opened was taken by groups of relatives, who had to do the
contracting and pay for the excavation and other expenses.
As a result, 103 bodies were identified, while some 21 were still
According to information supplied to the Inter-American Commission,
two of the bodies, one a civilian and another soldier, were found with their
hands tied behind their backs and evidence of a number of bullet wounds.
According to information the Commission has received, no inquiry has been
instituted to establish the circumstances of these presumed summary executions
and to identify those responsible. The
Inter-American Commission was also informed that there might be other
common graves containing the bodies of the victims of the invasion.
Those were said to be located elsewhere in Panamanian territory, and even
in that portion of the Canal Zone that is under United States control.
The Commission did not receive, however, any specifics that would make it
possible to identify the places in question.
The Inter-American Commission urges the Panamanian and the U.S.
Governments to exhaust every effort so that the relatives of the victims of the
invasion may know how they died, identify their remains and give them a proper
burial. The Commission also urges
the Panamanian and the U.S. Governments to take urgent steps to pay compensation
damages to the victims' next-of-kin and thereby make reparation,
however partial, for the serious harm inflicted upon civilians who were not part
of the military conflict. Finally,
the Commission believes that the reported deaths call for the swiftest and most
thorough investigation, with all judicial guarantees, and that the authorities
should report their findings promptly.
Deaths that occurred subsequent to the invasion
The Commission has also received denunciations concerning deaths that
occurred as a result of actions of Panamanian or United States military
personnel. A Panamanian citizen by
the name of José Cubilla died on April 22, 1990, when he was shot by a member
of the Presidential security forces at the (Las Garzas) Government House.
The circumstances of his death have not yet been clarified.
One particularly serious event was the killing of seven individuals by
United States troops. According to
information supplied to the Commission, during the curfew on December 23, Mr.
Mario Alberto Iglesias, 25, was wounded as he was driving a yellow vehicle at
10:45 a.m., in the company of Miss Andrea Reid, 22.
He asked for help in getting to a hospital and five young men, Eduardo
Paredes, Ernesto Martínez, Luis Alberto Castillo, Henry
Leopold Bailey and Claudio de Roux, all from 3rd Street and
reportedly guarding a barricade at the time to defend their neighborhood from
attacks by Dignity Battalions, accompanied the wounded man in that vehicle to a
doctor, who sent them to the Río Abajo Clinic, where they were referred to the
Social Security Hospital. According
to the report the Commission received, they had a white flag flying outside the
side window to signal that they were noncombatants.
After passing through a United States military checkpoint en route to the
hospital, United States forces machine-gunned the vehicle, killing its
occupants. The report received by
the Commission indicates that the barrage of machine gunfire was a reaction to
gunfire from an unknown source, and that the United States Army has this case
The Inter-American Commission is current processing a case against
the United States Government in connection with the deaths of Panamanian
citizens during the invasion of that country.
A ruling will be given on each specific case when the proceedings in the
case have been completed.
The right to a fair trial, to due process of law and to personal
The situation of the Judiciary
In its 1989 Special Report on Panama, the Commission made reference to
the adverse conditions under which the Judiciary was functioning. At the time, those problems were attributable to the control
that the Executive Branch exercised over the Judiciary; the failure of military
and police authorities to carry out its decisions; the ineffectualness of the
remedy of habeas corpus; the fact that appointments to the bench were
politicized; and the failure to remedy such chronic problems as the slow pace of
proceedings, which caused overcrowding in prisons and undermined the prestige of
the Judiciary. Compounding these
very serious problems were those resulting from the fact that courts were burned
and vandalized during the invasion.
When the new Government took office, it replaced eight of the nine
justices of the Supreme Court with jurists elected with the Assembly's
agreement. It maintained Justice
Rodrigo Molina on the bench. Sixteen
of the twenty judges in the Courts of Appeal and approximately 70 per cent of
the other judges were also replaced. Two
arguments were used to support their removals from the bench:
that judges do not have permanent appointments; and the provisions of the
Cabinet Decrees issued on December 26, 1989, which repealed the job tenure of
As for the Office of the Attorney General, the new Attorney General kept
most of the 114 attorneys and asked the public to file complaints against any
illegal actions on the part of the previous government or persons attached
thereto. The result was that within
a few short weeks there were approximately 14,000 complaints, in addition to the
approximately 3,000 that the Public Prosecutor's Office already had under
investigation. Many of those
complaints constitute the grounds for the arrest and trial of certain prominent
members of the previous regime who are now in custody and others who, though not
in custody, are being prosecuted at the present time.
During the on site visit the Government told the Commission that,
for the first time, preliminary proceedings were underway for violations of the
provisions of international agreements in force so that the juridical rights
protected under international law were being effectively protected.
Due process of law
As for due process of law, the Commission has established that the new
judicial authorities no longer systematically deny petitions of habeas corpus,
which had been the practice in previous decades. In effect, at its most recent session the higher courts
granted the petitions of habeas corpus in cases that had attracted public
attention such as that of Lieutenant M. Gordon, Director of Prison Services, and
has even ordered the release of individuals being held in custody on orders from
the Public Prosecutor's Office.
During its on site visit, the Commission was informed that the
serious problem involving the slow pace of proceedings still persists. This
situation, which is in part a legacy from the past, has become worse with the
many new complaints filed, as mentioned earlier.
This has meant that many of the affected parties are being denied justice
because they are being held for prolonged periods, without any court ruling in
their respective cases.
The Commission received information from high-ranking officials of
the Ministry of Government and Justice, which is responsible for the Department
of Corrections, that out of a total of 2,984 individuals in custody as of July
4, 1990, only 275 had been tried and sentenced.
At the Modelo Prison, for example, there are 579 individuals being held
in cases under the ordinary system of justice:
of those, only 16 have been tried and sentenced; 367 were, at the time of
visit, standing trial before a competent judge and 196 are being held in custody
on orders from the Office of the Public Prosecutor, in other words, in the
The Commission received mixed information on the average length of
pre-conviction confinement, which put it at anywhere from two to four
years on average. To appreciate
just how serious this situation is, in the case of Panama it may be that after
this prolonged period of confinement, the individual is found innocent. This is clearly a violation of the provisions of the American
Convention on Human Rights, whereby an individual is entitled to trial within a
reasonable time or to be released while proceedings continue (Article 7.5).
The Commission has also taken notice that the legal counsel that
prisoners receive is such that
according to the study conducted by APRASO, a professional law association, at
the Modelo Prison ("La Estrella de Panama," July 19, 1990) 47% of the
prisoners had never been visited by an attorney.
During its visit in July 1990 the Commission had an opportunity to
compile information on the prison situation and to visit the "Modelo,"
"Colón" and "El Renacer" detention facilities.
During these visits it received many complaints from individuals being
held there concerning their treatment.
One of the principal problems, which has a long history, is overcrowding.
It is the result of the State's failure to invest in the construction of
proper facilities. The major prisons were built over sixty years ago.
The first women's prison facility was built as recently as 1964.
Reversely, there is no problem of overcrowding at "El Renacer"
prison, which is the most modern facility; only about 66 per cent of its
capacity is occupied at the present time.
According to information supplied to the Commission, Modelo Prison, which
was planned for 250 prisoners, now houses 789 people.
At the Colón facility, overcrowding is on a similar scale.
This is not only a systematic violation of the prison population's rights
to a minimum living conditions, but also lends itself to uprisings and
Article 4 paragraph 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights provides
that "Accused persons shall, save in exceptional circumstances, be
segregated from convicted persons, and shall be subject to separate treatment
appropriate to their status as unconvicted persons."
The Commission should point out that on the whole, for both convicted and
unconvicted persons alike, the prison conditions are an affront to the dignity
that every human being deserves. It
is the obligation of the Panamanian State, therefore to take urgent steps to
remedy this very serious situation.
The Inter-American Commission has been informed that a number of
measures are being taken to correct this very pressing problem.
Thus, the Commission was informed that the Supreme Court has taken steps
to move more swiftly on its cases. The
Commission has also learn that the Public Prosecutor's Office has done the same,
doubling the normal output of cases settled. The Commission has also learned that in January 1991 a law
was approved to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure. One of the most important aspects of that amendment is that
it seeks to have the principle of pressumption of innocence observed, to
simplify procedures and to establish other means of securing those accused in
Panama without resorting to incarceration.
As to the right to personal liberty, the Commission wishes to address the
matter of the prolonged confinement of persons within places that enjoy
diplomatic immunity, which could constitute a violation of the right to liberty
of those persons. This is the case
of a number of persons who have sought asylum in embassies in Panama City.
This Commission believes that these cases should be speedily resolved in
ways compatible with the human rights of all concerned.
The right of assembly and freedom of association
The Commission has received various reports concerning observance of the
right of assembly and freedom of association in Panama.
While it has established that in general the conditions are there to
assemble peacefully and conduct public demonstrations, even by opposition
sectors or to protest government measures, it has also received complaints
concerning harassment of unions.
With regard to the right of assembly, the Commission was pleased to note
that the new Government repealed Decrees 26/88 and 71/88 and Decree Law No. 7,
of October 9, 1989, which severely impaired the exercise of this right.
The Commission also observed that associations that heretofore had not
been allowed to function or to obtain juridical personality, especially the
union of journalists, educators and health workers, have been accorded legal
status. However, the Commission has received complaints of
obstruction of the work of union leaders and members of certain unions or
political organizations by reason of that affiliation.
The complaint filed by The National Federation of Civil Servants and
Government Employees describes the alleged violations as follows:
Threats, persecution and repression targeted at leaders of organizations
of government employees.
Searches of premises; some have been closed by public authorities, thus
preventing leaders from entering.
Arbitrary arrest of leaders and threats against workers by armed
Dismissal of leaders of the following unions and organizations: ASEMITRAB, ASELONAB, ASEIMA, ASEMUSAN, ASEMBA, ASEBA, ADEMICI, and AFUSA. More than 300 middle-level FENASEP leaders have been fired by the Government as well as 8 members of the National Board of that Federation. All of this is in violation of Cabinet Decree No. 1 of December 26, 1989, which repealed Executive Decree No. 116, of October 10, 1984, which executive decree had guaranteed the job tenure of a civil servant.
A suit has been filed charging that Cabinet Decree No. 1 is
unconstitutional. However, the
trial has been delayed, which is depriving it of its effect as a legal remedy
and thus eliminating any possibility that those dismissed or penalized under
Cabinet Decree No. 1/89 might have to defend the claims they are asserting. As was pointed out to the Commission, this would not only
violate freedom of association, but would also violate the right to judicial
One situation that needs to be studied very carefully by the Panama's
authorities is the one that concerns the measures adopted against those who were
members of the Institutional Committees to Defend the Country and Dignity (CODEPADI).
These were created for the purpose of forcing allegiance to General
Noriega under the justification that they were necessary to deal with a
prospective invasion. Many of their
members engaged in activities that constituted true violations of the rights of
the Panamanian citizenry.
During the on site visit, the Commission was informed that the
mere fact of having belonged to those committees has caused many individuals to
be discharged. According to one of
the complaints, this is what happened to eleven physicians and five nurses who
were dismissed from the Social Security Administration and fourteen physicians
who were dismissed from the Ministry of Health.
All had anywhere from ten to thirty-five years of service.
In the Commission's view, measures that adversely affect an individual's
rights, in this case job stability, should be adopted in accordance with
established standards and procedures and, in the process, determine the
objective grounds to justify such action; under no circumstances can the
political affiliation of the individual in question be grounds for his or her
Freedom of thought and expression
Regarding the exercise of the right to freedom of thought and expression,
the Commission has found that there has been a significant improvement since the
present administration took office. In
effect, after the very negative conditions under the previous government, the
Commission finds that since December 20, 1989 radio stations Exitosa, KW
Continente and Radio Mundial, which were shut down by the previous Government,
have returned to the air. By the
same token, the assets of the newspapers "La Prensa," "El Siglo"
and "Extra" have been returned to their owners and the newspapers are
again in circulation; the legal or administrative proceedings instituted against
them have been closed. The
Commission has also established that newspapers and journals of various
persuasions are in circulation. These
include such magazines as "Opinión Pública", "Diálogo
Social" and "Este País" and newspapers like "El Periódico,"
and "El Istmo", which oppose the Government.
The Commission regards the repeal of Decrees 61 and 61A of June 24, 1987,
as a positive development. Those
decrees had established restrictions on freedom of the press. Also repealed was the requireement of authorization from
Government to change control or ownership of radio and television stations; and
now mere notification is required.
The Government has established the National Evaluation Committee to study
amendment of a number of laws currently on the books, laws that restrict freedom
of expression and allow government control and manipulation of the
communications media and media people. Among
these are Laws 67/78 and 68/78, which regulate the practice of journalism and
create the Technical Journalism Board; Law 11, of 1978, whereby measures are
adopted to restrict the mass communications media; Law 37, of 1980, governing
public relations; Law 36, of 1980, governing television operations; Decree 155,
of 1962, regulating broadcasting and amateur radio services; Decree 251, of
1969, creating the National Censorship Board to rate films and public shows.
The Commission hopes that the other measures restricting full observance
of this right will be rapidly repealed and that the new regulations will
guarantee pluralism and full media access to all sectors of public opinion.
The Commission must point out that the new Government intervened in ten
radio stations in January 1990 "to investigate their administrative
operations and establish their legal status."
In some cases, it was alleged that their owners had set them up by means
of loans from state agencies or that those loans had not been repaid; in other
cases, some other business or administrative reason was invoked.
It also took this same measure in connection with television stations,
saying that it was taking this action until the courts settled the question of
their real ownership. The Commission hopes that this situation will be remedied
The Commission was informed that something similar had happened with ERSA
Publishing Company, which was the principal press publisher favorable to the
previous regime. By court order,
its assets were transferred to Panama America Publishing Company because of a
dispute concerning the ownership of its stock.
The Commission was told that around 300 workers were dismissed at that
time, among them 79 journalists, allegedly because of their politics.
The Commission must also point out since the week of December 20, 1989,
ten radio stations had gone off the air: three
of them had been looted and vandalized in the days following the invasion (Radio
Verbo, Radio Tic Tac, and Radio Nacional, state-owned); another two lost
their antenna when they fell during a storm (Radio Mía and the Voz Universal),
and three went off the air because of labor or business problems (Radio Super
Hit, Radio Hit and Radio Rumbos). Some
of them--according to the complaints received--have had
their frequencies revoked by the State. The
radio stations have gone back on the air under a Government-appointed
The Commission has been informed of an alleged campaign to keep
journalists who are affiliated with the Union of Panamanian Journalists out of
the communications media, especially radio and television.
According to denunciations received, with the exception of Radio
Millonaria, no newspaper or television channel or radio station allows such
journalists to air their views. The
Commission finds that since there are State-controlled stations, some
thought might be given to the possibility of granting air time to individuals
who at present, for one reason or another, have no opportunity to express their
views. The Commission is deeply
concerned over the shooting in March of this year that hospitalized Mr. Balbino
Macías, owner of Radio Millonaria, the only radio station broadcasting views
that were at variance with the Government's position.
The Commission trusts that the assault will be investigated and that
those responsible will be brought to trial swiftly so that may receive the
punishment that such conduct warrants.
The Commission takes great satisfaction in the progress achieved with
respect to freedom of expression in Panama and hopes that the process of legal
reform will have the effect of allowing even greater enjoyment of that right.
It also hopes that the situations previously indicated that still persist
and whose existence detracts from the progress achieved thus far will be
a. The living conditions of the civilian population affected by the combat resulting from the United States invasion
During its visit, the Inter-American Commission was deeply moved by
the plight of the civilian population suffered as a result of the fighting that
took place at the time of the invasion. The
Commission cannot be indifferent to that situation.
Some brief observations follow. It
should be pointed out while in many regions of the country, especially in the
Colón area, there are people who have suffered losses, the complaints and
information received indicate that the main area of destruction was that
surrounding the General Headquarters of the Defense Forces in the Chorrillo
neighborhood of Panama City. Witnesses
indicated to the Commission that in the course of the aerial bombardment that
occurred between midnight and 3:00 a.m., approximately fifty civilians died
there, and several hundred were wounded.
While the bombardment caused property damage, apparently most of the
damage was caused by a number of fires whose origin is a much disputed point.
Many of the complaints attribute the most destructive fires to the
fighting that took place between the invasion forces and members of the Dignity
Battalions and paramilitary, who spread out among the civilian population and
fought the invasion forces from old houses or from the upper floors of
As a result, civilians whose homes and household effects had been
destroyed during the fighting had to be sheltered.
Displaced civilians (approximately 15,000 persons) were sheltered in
schools and then either moved on to private housing on their own or were
sheltered in encampments especially set up for that purpose.
The largest was in an enormous hangar at Albrook Base, in "reverted
territory" within the Canal Zone, thirty minutes outside the city; the
other encampments were smaller.
At the time of the Commission's visit, some 3,000 persons had been living
there for over six months. There
were also refugees or displaced persons in two smaller buildings nearby, and
many others have moved in with relatives or friends.
As of December 1990, the number of refugees at Albrook--according
to figures supplied by the Government--was 1,800 persons.
According to information supplied to the Commission, the situation at the
Albrook encampment--which at the outset was a reasonable solution to
the problem of shelter--had become a significant factor in family
and personal disruption. It had
made the refugees dependent in almost every respect, with no end in sight.
Those in the encampment found it difficult to lead a normal life; each
family lived for months at a time in one of some 500 cubicles, each of which
measured 10 square meters. While
they received basic health and sanitation services, they had little to do as
they were too far from places of work. They
were therefore particularly hard hit by the high rate of unemployment in Panama,
in an artificial milieu where productive activity was virtually impossible.
The Commission was informed of the plans underway to enable refugees to
obtain housing. It was also
informed of the options being made available to the families that suffered
losses. The Commission also
received information concerning delays and problems in correcting this very
painful problem. At the time of the
Commission's visit (July 1990), the claims of 1,173 families had already been
processed; the remaining claims were still under study.
From its observations, the Inter-American Commission is of the view
that although there are plans underway to relocate the families that suffered
losses, those plans have fallen behind schedule.
This has done considerable harm to those families.
Many have not even had the assurance of receiving the small amounts that
were to be awarded in the form of damages under the agreement between the
Government of Panama and USAID. The
Commission is deeply concerned over the precarious situation of the refugees in
the Albrook Camp and in other camps. Their
lives have already been seriously torn apart by the bombing and armed conflict,
and the loss of relatives and neighbors and of their own personal effects and
property was compounded by the reclusive lifestyle, unemployment, and the state
of indefinite dependence in which they found themselves.
Other damage that occured subsequent to the invasion
Many Panamanians have sustained serious property losses as a result of
the invasion, of the fighting that followed and of the looting of property and
businesses. Those losses range from
those experienced by many people of modest means, to those that large businesses
and companies will have to absorb. Since
the latter are much more able to get back on their feet and to take legal action
to protect their interests, the Commission would like to draw particular
attention to the defenselessness of the vast majority of those people of little
means who sustained property losses. The Commission was informed they can elect to file either an
administrative or judicial complaint against the Panamanian State, but that
process could take years. According
to that information their other option is to file suit against the United States
with regard to its alleged responsibility in these events.
The Commission is of the view that the Panamanian and the United States
governments cannot disregard the suits filed and that they must work jointly to
allocate the resources needed to directly aid those needy families and
individuals to recover from the property losses they sustained, without waiting
for judicial reparation that may take years. The Commission will continue to
follow this situation closely.
In its Special Report on Panama, of September 1989, in the chapter on
political rights, the Commission concluded the following in connection with
Inspite of the many restrictions that the government imposed on the opposition, the information provided to the Commission indicates that the results of the elections were in favor of the Alianza Democrática de Oposición Civilista, causing the Electoral Tribunal to nullify the elections. The Government, however, has not been able to overcome the prevailing situation and has been forced to resort to formulas lacking constitutional foundation to continue managing the country.
As indicated in that Special Report, the Electoral Tribunal nullified
those elections by Decree 58, dated May 10, 1989, citing, among other reasons,
the fact that "voting records and other documents were missing thereby
making it utterly impossible to declare any candidate a winner."
The Electoral Tribunal, which remained intact prior to the invasion,
subsequent thereto received copies and originals of the ballot counting records,
which had been in the custody of the Apostolic Nuncio.
Based on that information, on December 26, 1989, as the situation was not
covered under the electoral code, and invoking the authority that the
Constitution gave to it to interpret it, the Electoral Tribunal reversed its
earlier decree and ordered a recount and audit of the ballots on the basis of
those records. That recount yielded
the following results:
Number of Voters
Void and blank ballots 92,223
The Electoral Tribunal also declared the deputies for each of the
country's electoral districts, save for four districts for which it did not have
sufficient documentation. The
results gave 51 seats to the opposition coalition:
27 went to the Christian Democrats, 15 went to the Nationalist Republican
Liberal Movement headed by Guillermo Ford, 5 went to the Arnulfista Party to
which President Endara Galimany belonged, and 4 went to the Authentic Liberal
Party. The Democratic Revolutionary
Party, supported by the previous government, won seven seats.
The Legislative Assembly was thus constituted and with that the three
powers provided for under the Constitution were put in place.
The additional elections were held on January 27, 1991, without incident.
All of the political parties participated.
Six of the nine posts up for election went to the Democratic
Revolutionary Party, the governing coalition's opposition.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Commission has taken note of the fact that, in the wake of the
traumatic events which have taken place during the period under review, the
governmental institutions in Panama have begun to function, albeit with
difficulty, in the new democratic context.
In addition, it is clear that the Government is making efforts on several
fronts to improve the country's observance of human rights.
There is, nevertheless, evidence of a certain complacency in government
circles concerning violations of human rights which have occurred since the
present Government took office, affecting most directly persons in the lower
The Commission attributes particular importance to the fact that
additional elections were held on January 27, 1991, for representatives from a
number of voting districts. The
elections took place without incident, and the Democratic Revolutionary Party,
the governing coalition's opposition, won six of the nine seats up for election.
The Commission has also established that there were certain situations
that adversely affected the human rights of individuals who lost their loved
ones, homes, and personal effects during the invasion. While the victims
represented a small percentage of the Panamanian population, the failure to
remedy those aftereffects has made it all the more difficult to achieve peaceful
and democratic reconstruction.
The Commission must draw attention to the over-hardened court
system and the overcrowding in prisons. Partly
as a result of this, some prisoners are forced to live in sub-human
conditions. In January 1991, the
amendment of the Code of Criminal Procedure was approved.
That amendment is designed to expedite proceedings, ensure that the
rights of the acused in criminal proceedings are respected and, whenever
possible, avoid the incarceration of those who have been accused but not yet
tried and sentenced.
The Commission has also noted that, in general, freedom of association
now exists in Panama, and the political parties are functioning. Virtually all sectors of public opinion have access to the
media to express their views. Nevertheless,
there are situations involving certain labour organizations where the full
observance of the right of association is being impaired by actions taken by
In the light of these conclusions, the Commission hopes that the efforts
the various sectors of the Government and the citizenry are making to set in
motion the constitutional mechanisms and establish the climate of coexistence
and reconstruction so essential to the full observance of human rights, will be
furthered and consolidated. The
Commision believes that this should also include the observance of the economic,
social and cultural rights recognized in the Protocol to the Convention, in
particular for the most dispossessed sectors of the Panamanian populace.
Based on the background information supplied in this report, the
Commission believes it is advisable:
That the Government of Panama step up and complete its efforts to provide
reparation to families that have suffered human and material losses as a result
of the invasion and the armed fighting of December 1989.
That the Government of Panama conduct the investigation and trials
relating to human rights violations that occurred in recent years, especially
violations of the rights to life, humane treatment, and property.
That the Judiciary be given the resources needed to perform its function
to the fullest, to step up the procedural reforms now under study by the
Legislative Assembly to simplify and make the legal remedies more effective and
that the conditions be established to select and permanently install magistrates
who will guarantee an independent and impartial judiciary.
That the right of all organizations to fully exercise their lawful
activities be respected, while seeking to establish the conditions for
pluralistic coexistence and guarantees for freedom of thought and expression.