RIGHT TO LIFE
Constitution of Panama and its laws protect the right to life. Article 17 of the
Constitution recognizes that: “the authorities of the Republic are instituted
for the purpose of protecting all nationals in their lives, honor and property,
wherever they may be, and aliens who are under its jurisdictions: …” And
Article 29 states that in Panama, there is no death penalty.
most notorious case involving the right to life, in Panama, predated the period
covered by this report; however, given the impact of the homicide of Dr. Hugo
Spadafora Franco, physician and political activist on subsequent events, the
Commission has seen fit to refer to this crime which remains unresolved,
particularly in light of the absence of any investigation by the government into
the assassination, despite repeated requests from the Commission which have gone
murder and decapitation of Dr. Hugo Spadafora Franco took place on September 13,
1985. Dr. Spadafora, who had risen to the position of Director of the integrated
health care system for the provision of Colon, was also Deputy Minister of
Health of the Government of Panama, a position from which he later resigned to
organize the Victoriano Lorenzo Panamanian brigade, which fought against
Anastasio Somoza’s Government in Nicaragua. Years later, he worked in
cooperation with armed groups fighting against The Sandinista Government, under
Edén Pastora’s leadership. Since 1980 Dr Spadafora had been an active
opponent of the Panamanian Government.
assassination coincided with the date of his return to Panama from Costa Rica,
apparently to organize an opposition campaign against the Panamanian Government
and General Manuel Antonio Noriega. From the information made available to the
Commission at the time, it is quite apparent that Panamanian Defense Forces
military personnel were involved in the killing.
scrupulously investigated the matter, the Commission concluded that the
Government breached the following articles of the American Convention of Human
Rights, to which Panama is a party, with respect Dr Hugo Spadafora Franco:
4 (right of life); 5 (right to human treatment); 7 (right of personal liberty);
8 (right to a fair trial); and, 25 (right to judicial protection).
its resolution, the Commission recommended that the Government conduct a
thorough and impartial investigation into the incidents reported and that it
identify those responsible in order to bring them to justice, to receive the
appropriate punishment under the law. After confirming its resolution following
a request for reconsideration by the Government of Panama, the Commission
recommended that the Government accept the jurisdiction of the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights in this case.
years after Dr. Hugo Spadafora Franco’s assassination, Panamanian justice has
yet to shed any light on the incident. The perpetrators remain free. The
Government of Panama has shown no interest in getting to the bottom of this
crime by conducting its own investigation or doing so in cooperation with the
Commission. Nor has it accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of
Human Rights for purposes of litigating the case.
cases, involving violations of the right to live in which the Government of
Panama can be held liable occurred after June 10, 1987. In these cases, however,
the persons in question do not appear to have been previously designated to be
eliminated and then deliberately assassinated. Rather, in most instances
involving violations of the right to life, they have occurred when the police,
military or paramilitary forces have intervened to try to quash protest
demonstrations, or when repressive measures have been used, leading to the death
of demonstrators or even spectators.
of these cases for which the Commission has obtained information on violations
of the right to life, demonstrating, prima facie, liability on the part
of Government agents or of paramilitary groups which have acted with their
consent, or chronicled below.
Eduardo Enrique Carrera Sierra, university student, 24 years of age, who
died at 3:30 a.m. on July 26, 1987 in a confrontation, according to
eyewitnesses, with an intoxicated soldier named Eliécer Almengor. Witnesses
claim that a group of young people hurled an epithet against General Noriega at
Almengor and another soldier, with the surname, García. The two soldiers were
on their way from a party, drunk. García came out of the van he was in and
attacked a member of the group, named Edgar Muriel.
Almengor immediately joined in the attack and took out his revolver. When
the victim, Carrera Sierra, tried to pacify Almengor, he unloaded his revolver
into his stomach, at point-blank range.
Armando Morán Nuñez, a bakery employee, who was shot on August 30,
1987, during a street demonstration in San Miguelito, a crowded neighborhood in
the capital. The march, which had been organized by the opposition, was
deliberately assailed by armed military men dressed in civilian clothing and
paramilitary forces. The march, which was to end with a demonstration in front
of the Roosevelt Statute in San Miguelito, was witnessed by a host of neighbors
and residents, who reported that the demonstrators were deliberately attacked by
men armed with baseball bats, metal pipes, knives, pistols and rifles. Shots
were fired by government agents seeking to disband the demonstration rather than
kill anyone taking part in it. Morán, according to accounts received by the
Commission, was killed by a bullet fired from a vehicle, at short range, by a
Efraín Guzmán, a native of the province of Chiriqui, 49 years of
age, who was killed in September 1987 in another demonstration against the
Government, also in Miguelito. This time, human rights observers from the
Catholic Church were stationed along the route of the demonstration and
instructed to observe the events in a systematic fashion. In their reports,
which coincide, more than 50 assailants using military tactics, descended on the
peaceful demonstrators and created an uproar, which led to numerous arrests.
Many among them, all of whom were dressed in civilian clothing, carried rifles.
Some wore masks. Initially, the paramilitary assailants threw rockets and stones
at the demonstrators.
Antonio González Santamaría, 21 years of age, a student at the
Technological University, who died during a peaceful demonstration on the
University compound. Troops in anti-riot gear attacked the students, and in
addition to killing González Santamaría, shot and wounded with bird shot three
On the day of the elections, Sunday, May 7, in Santa Marta, Bugabá,
Province of Chiriquí, Father Nicolás Van Kleef, paralyzed and generally
confined to a wheelchair, was going towards the Parish Church in his specially
equipped car, accompanied by an assistant. During the ride, he was intercepted
by a soldier of the Defense Forces, who forced him to stop and climbed into the
back seat. As they were approaching the David Barracks, a shot fired by the
soldier hit Father Van Kleef in the face. He died later at the hospital to which
he was taken.
Manuel Alexis Guerra, bodyguard for the presidential candidate, Guillermo
Endara, who was shot and killed on May 10 1989, in an Attack on the automobile
caravan, of the. ADOC Civil Crusade
by Dignity Batallions and police forces. In the same attack others were wounded
including the bodyguard of vice-presidential candidate Ford, Humberto
Montenegro. Mr. Montenegro was then arrested and charged for the murder of Mr.
Guerra. The Commission notes that both men were bodyguards for opposition
candidates on the same slate, one for Mr. Endara and the other for Mr. Ford, and
both were accompanying the candidates in the same procession which came under
attack by armed groups, allegedly the Dignity Batallions, and both were shot;
one was killed and now one is accused of having killed the other.
In the Commission's opinion, the Panamanian Government’s greatest liability, insofar as the right to life is concerned, is that it has failed to carry out investigations and trials through its judiciary or by some other means. On the contrary, it has torpedoed those investigations and covered up for those responsible for these violations.
Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights states:
“Right to Life. 1. Every
Person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be
protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one
shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
2. In countries that
have not abolished the death penalty, it may be imposed only for the most
serious crimes and pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent
court and in accordance with a law establishing such punishment enacted
prior to the commission of the crime. The application of such punishment
shall not be extended to crimes to which it does not presently apply.
3. The death penalty shall not be reestablished in states that
have abolished it. 4.
In no case shall capital punishment be inflicted for political
offenses or related common crimes. 5.
Capital punishment shall not be imposed upon persons who, at the time
the crime committed, were under 18 years of age or over 70 years of age; nor
shall it be applied to pregnant women.
6. Every person
condemned to death shall have the right to apply for amnesty, pardon, or
commutation of sentence, which may be granted in all cases.
Capital punishment shall not be imposed while such a petition is
pending decision by the competent authority.”
Resolution 25/87, Case 9726, September 23, 1987, published in the
Commission’s 1987-88 Annual Report on pp. 179-245.