In its 1990/91
Annual Report the Commission referred to the human rights situation in
Panama both before the invasion of December 20, 1989, and after the
events that took place at that time and in the subsequent months of
transition and organization of the new authorities.
Among its main recommendations, the Commission then pointed to
the need for reparations for the families that were victims of the armed
struggle of December 1989; for investigation and punishment of the
violations that have occurred in recent years; for strengthening and
modernizing the system of justice; and for guarantees of political
rights and the rights to association and expression.
In 1991, the
various state powers functioned in accordance with constitutional
precepts and in general there was respect for the separation of
governmental powers, the normal operations of the political parties, the
press and communication media, and civil associations in general.
During its second year of government, the administration headed
by President Endara had to face certain minor attempts at disruption of
order by members of the armed forces, some of them retirees, which did
not succeed in interrupting the operations of the constitutional
government, and they were settled by means of the legal system.
On December 9,
1991, there was a riot organized by about 300 former members of the
defunct Defense Forces, most of them belonging to the Public Force
(Police), under the leadership of Col. Eduardo Herrera.
According to the Government, this riot sought to bring about a
coup d'etat and to put it down the government turned to the support of
United States forces stationed in the Canal Zone.
Throughout the year there were various reports on alleged
attempts at a coup, but there is no evidence that such attempts had
meaningful support from the security forces or that they seriously
endangered constitutional stability.
current year, the Executive Branch sent Congress a proposed
constitutional amendment aimed at, among other things, giving
constitutional status to the dissolution of the army, which had been
carried out by a decree in early 1990.
The first draft of this constitutional proposal was approved by
the Legislative Assembly on December 26, 1991, with the requirement
that, in order for it to enter into effect, it be approved by a new
legislative assembly and later by popular referendum.
aforementioned constitutional amendment would change 58 articles of the
Political Constitution, including, in addition to abolition of the army,
establishment of the institution for "defensor del pueblo,"
(ombudsman), aimed at defending the individual and social rights of
citizens and strengthening the Electoral Tribunal's full autonomy,
guaranteeing it 0.7% of the Central Government's current revenues.
Also envisaged are procedures whereby the Legislative Assembly
will be the entity to determine the number of members of the police
forces and whereby it will be able to judge the highest ranking national
government and administrative attorneys.
has not received any complaint concerning violation of human rights by
the new police force called the Public Force, which was established
during that same period, recruiting for the most part former members of
the defunct defense forces. Also
established at that time were the Technical Judicial Police, the Customs
and Border Police, and the Institutional Protection Service, aimed at
protecting the authorities and diplomatic corps.
measures aimed at demilitarization of the members of the Public Force,
the Government emphasizes establishment of the Police Academy, which is
attended by new members as well as the old members of the Defense Forces
who joined the new police institution. Included among priority matters
are human rights, police procedures, community relations, police ethics,
first aid, and techniques of protection.
final months of 1991 there have been several episodes involving a matter
of concern to the Commission because their evolution may cause
conditions that would provoke violation of human rights.
On November 28, 1991, state agents, including members of the
Institutional Protection Service, raided several private security guard
agencies, seeking weapons and evidence related to an alleged plot
against constitutional order. These inspections were allegedly made without the
corresponding judicial order, and when they were made state security
agents threatened to confiscate cameras of journalists who were
witnessing the activities. Although
the Government maintains that these raids and inspections were
authorized by the Ministries of the Interior and Justice, they do not
seem to have been carried out by court order.
On the other
hand, the Commission is concerned by information received on the current
proliferation of private security agencies, which now amount to about
105 enterprises with a total of 12,000 armed members, who number more
than the personnel of the three branches of the Public Force (air, sea
and police). Less than half
of these agencies are duly registered with the authorities.
In previous inspections numerous weapons belonging to the
disbanded Defense Forces were found in the hands of these agencies.
The numbers and
types of weapons involved are of concern to the Commission because the
situation could develop in ways that would lead to violations of the
Convention. A government
may be expected to anticipate and prevent such development.
has received information that an active legislator has been suspended
from his duties by order of the Attorney General of the Executive Branch
due to alleged crimes against the public administration and the
municipality of Panama City. In
this regard, the Commission has taken cognizance of the Legislative
Assembly's unanimous resolution condemning this event, which is an
attack on the guarantees of that branch of government.
that have existed for many years in Panama with the administration of
justice continue to affect the Panamanian people's human rights.
According to information by the country's Attorney General
himself in December 1991, due to the judicial branch's work overload and
the complexity of procedures, 90% of the detainees have not received
verdicts and are still under investigation or are being prosecuted.
include 10 civilians and 26 military personnel who held high positions
in the previous Government and were prosecuted by this Government for
various crimes. More than two years after they were place under arrest, most
of them are still awaiting trial. The
Commission has received information to the effect that their trials are
being unreasonably delayed, past the legal time limit under Panamanian
has also been informed that some of those being held are in poor health
and that the authorities have not given them the opportunity to get the
medical care they need to ensure their personal integrity and right to
With regard to
the stability of judicial officials and independence of judges, the
Commission has received information on putting into force the Judicial
Career Law, which was suspended by the previous administration.
Nevertheless, this Career is not actually in effect because, for
technical and financial reasons, the Supreme Court of Justice, as the
administrative institution of the Judicial Branch, has not been able to
implement its precepts.
problem of prison crowding has not yet been solved. For example, at the
prison in David with allegedly more than 200 prisoners, there are beds
for only 70. In the case of
the Model Prison and the Colon Prison, there seems to have been no
perceptible decrease in the overpopulation pointed out in our previous
reports, which, as occurs in many other member countries, makes respect
for the prisoners' right to life and physical integrity an illusion.
first half of 1991, there have been five murders in the Panamanian
prisons. The Commission
wishes to stress that the state is responsible for the lives as well as
the health treatment of individuals under prison custody and
should be placed on the favorable fact that a law amending the Code of
Criminal Procedure has been approved.
This authorizes the imposition of penalties or precautionary
measures without the need for prison confinement.
It should also be stressed that the Government has begun steps
toward construction of a new penal establishment that would alleviate
some of this overpopulation, and toward the remodeling of several
Government has informed the Commission of the start-up of plans
for reorganization of programs for literacy training, work training, and
establishment of workshops and industrial areas geared to prisoners at
With regard to
the parties injured by the invasion of December 20, 1989 and the
subsequent struggle, the Commission has received information on efforts
by the Government to remedy some of the most distressing situations,
although in the opinion of various sectors, many of the cases of
injuries due to those events have not been satisfactorily resolved.
In fact, according to available information, there has been no
redress at all to the families whose members were killed or wounded
during the armed struggle.
government reports, the housing needs of the 2,860 families in the
Chorrillo area have been solved, whose dwellings were lost during the
events of December 1989. It
should be stressed that in late October new dwellings were conveyed to
some of the last 54 families that still live temporarily at Camp Albrook.
In August the Government also gave one million dollars to small
businessmen of that neighborhood who lost their businesses.
It should be
pointed out with regard to socioeconomic rights that, according to local
experts, the country is still experiencing the effects of a crisis that
began in 1987. According to
official figures, about 15% of the work force, that is 133,000 workers,
are unemployed; and 550,000 Panamanians live under the poverty line,
half of them in extreme poverty. The
Government points out in this regard that an economic growth process
that will create new employment opportunities is under way.
It points out that gross domestic product rose in 1990 by 6.1%,
and that similar growth is expected in 1991.
has received information on the dismissal of public sector trade union
leaders based on Law 24/90. This law was issued soon after installation of the
constitutional Government to remove from their duties individuals who
had committed crimes or had abused their authority during the previous
Commission stresses that the Attorney General of the Nation himself has
indicated that ILO Agreements 87 and 98, ratified by Panama, have been
violated by the dismissal of about 500 public sector trade union
leaders, whose employment stability was protected by Panamanian rules of
law and by the aforementioned international agreements, among others.
Commission has observed with satisfaction Panama's ratification of the
Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights with
regard to abolition of the death penalty, and the Inter-American
Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, which were deposited at the
OAS General Secretariat on August 28, 1991, and ratification of the
Inter-American Convention on Extradition by the Executive Branch
on December 26 of that same year.