Doc. 12
22 February 1991
Original:  Spanish







          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 careful

consideration.  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.


2.       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 life.


          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.


3.       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 supplied.


          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 unidentified.


          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.


          c.          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 under investigation.


          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. 


4.       The right to a fair trial, to due process of law and to personal liberty


          a.          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 civil servants.


          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.


          b.          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 pre-trial phase.


          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.


          c.          Prison conditions


          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 rebellions.


          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.


          d.          Personal liberty


          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.


5.       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 management personnel.


          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 guarantees.


          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 dismissal.


6.          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 quickly.


          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 administrator.


          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 remedied.


                   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 multi-family dwellings.


          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.


          b.          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.


8.          Political rights


          In its Special Report on Panama, of September 1989, in the chapter on political rights, the Commission concluded the following in connection with political rights:


          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:


          Polling stations           3,536  83.1%

          Missing                       719     16.9%

          Number of Voters          757,797        64%


          Roll-call Results          Presidential Votes


          ADO Civilista          473,838        62.5%

          COLINA                  188,914        24.9%

          Panameñista    2,822          0.4%

          Void and blank ballots 92,223 12.0%


          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.




A.          Conclusions


          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 economic strata.


          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 government authorities.


          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.


B.          Recommendations


          Based on the background information supplied in this report, the Commission believes it is advisable:


1.       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.


2.       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.


3.       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.


4.       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.



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