RIGHT TO HUMANE TREATMENT1
28 of the Constitution of Panama provides that:
penitentiary system is based on principles of security, rehabilitation, and
defense of society. The application of measures that violate the physical, moral
or mental integrity of prisoners is prohibited.
Prisoners shall be given training that will permit them to be reintegrated into society.
shall be subject to a special regime of custody, protection, and education.
the crisis of June 1987 a pattern has emerged in the behavior of the Panamanian
authorities toward the opposition in the form of violations of the right to
Colonel Díaz Herrera’s revelations and the subsequent declaration of a state
of emergency, a large and growing opposition has taken to the streets of Panama
to protest peacefully against the Government. These demonstrations, frequent at
first and later at longer intervals, consisted of marches, convoys of vehicles,
honking of car horns, the use of symbolic colors, the waving o white
handkerchiefs, and banging on pots and pans.
These demonstrations have been met typically by two forces: the riot-control police, who have been dubbed “the dobermans,” and paramilitary goon squads, recently named the “Dignity Batallions.”
forces have routinely violated the physical integrity of Panamanian citizens. At
first the crowds were contained with rods and canes. With birdshot fired from
sawed-off shotguns–normally not fatal–they have wounded more or less
seriously about 1,500 persons, according to estimates of the Panamanian Human
is more, the leaders of the marches and the front-rank marchers have been
forcibly detained, brutally mistreated, and usually carried off to the Model
Jail in the capital city.
prisoners have been shoved into overcrowded cells and then singled out for
corporal punishment, including beatings with rubber hoses, and blows with fists
and rifle butts.
these large-scale operations, generally speaking, no sophisticated tortures have
been used. The rule has been indiscriminate brutality combined with the
withholding of food and drink.
have attacks been confined to protesting crowds in the streets. The riot-control
police (the “dobermans”) and paramilitary squads have entered hospitals,
secondary schools, and the premises of universities and other institutions.
Spectators and passers-by have suddenly found themselves caught up in the
violence, of which they received their indiscriminate share. Medical personnel
going about their task, and patients, including the children and the aged, have
been beaten up and tear gassed. The irony of these actions is that they have
been justified in the name of maintenance of order and peace.
and foreign physicians alike say that the use of birdshot to quell protesting
crowds has been a particularly barbaric practice in the violation of physical
integrity. Demonstrators and passers-by alike have been wounded
indiscriminately. During its visit to the scene last February the Commission
interviewed a man whose left foot and a third of his leg were so severely
damaged by the shots of the riot-control police that they had to be amputated.
His name is Felipe Pérez; his complaint is corroborated by Panamanian
practice worth reporting is the release of tear gas in enclosed places. Tear gas
has been shot inside the Children’s Hospital, the Cancer Hospital in Panama
City, and the Santo Tomás and Metropolitan Hospitals. The Commission has
received numerous reports of tear gas bombs detonated inside apartments, and in
one case thrown into a car through its window by soldiers wearing gas masks.
These and other reports are borne out by eyewitness accounts compiled by the
Commission and by Panamanian and foreign human rights groups, as well as by
Panamanian physicians, nurses and dentists.
the jails the prisoners have been placed in overcrowded cells together with
common criminals, and in some instances aggressive homosexuals. The Commission
was told that some political prisoners were sexually assaulted. This particular
practice obviously proved a considerable deterrent to later public
the mass detentions followed by beatings and other mistreatment intended to
intimidate and punish, but stopping short of killing, a considerable number of
individuals have been arrested and subjected to more systematic forms of torture
in the offices of the Defense Forces Intelligence–G-2–and in those of the
security forces as DENI (National Investigations Department). The Commission has
accounts of the use of electric shock on various parts of the body, including
the genitals, of people hung by their wrists, the use of masks, the removal of
all their clothing, prolonged sleep deprivation, being kept in handcuffs or
bound for long periods of time, cold showers in cold rooms, and solitary
a general rule, persons rounded up in attacks on protesters have been detained
for a short time: they were “taught a lesson” and released.
Persons singled out for individual arrest, however, have been frequently
kept captive for extended periods.
motive for this second type of detention has apparently been to obtain
information. At times, however, they have culminated in the prisoner being
compelled to sign a statement admitting guilt and expressing his personal
intention of exiling himself “voluntarily.” In some instances prisoners have
been put on commercial aircraft and sent out of the country with the warning
that formal police charges were outstanding against them and they would be
arrested if they returned.
is a sampling of specific cases that illustrate the patterns described above.
Hundreds of persons were detained in an opposition march on July 10,
1987. Many leaders were arrested, among them Carlos Valencia, of the
Industrialists’ Union; Guillermo Fernández, President of the Exporter’s
Association, and Lorenzo Hincapié, Director of the Chamber of Commerce. Most of
the people detained on this occasion were members of the middle and working
classes. The information supplied to the Commission indicates that beatings and
sexual abuse of prisoners were common. The Commission has videotapes that
provide photographic evidence of police brutality in the streets.
Jorge Cazasola, a radio announcer, was arrested by the G-2 on June 12,
1987, and beaten with rubber hoses during his interrogation. He was force to
drink large quantities of water. His captors threatened to hang or drown him. He
was transferred to the Model Prison and set free four days later.
Roberto Arosemena, university professor and General Secretary of the
Popular Action Party, was arrested on October 20, 1987 and taken to G2
headquarters, where the then Chief of Police struck him repeatedly. He was moved
to the Coiba prison and freed on October 30 of that year.
Ricardo A. Marrone Vergara, a 31-year old accountant, was shot in the
face and neck on April 28, 1988, by members of Government-organized paramilitary
groups as he sat in his car having stopped at a corner to buy cigarettes.
Fernando A Fernández was arrested on May 13, 1989, by DENI agents and
three members of the RRD, the Government’s political party, and was taken
blindfolded under the Pácora bridge, where his captors beat him and cut him
with a knife. A large “T”—for the “Triumph” of the Government--was
carved on his right thigh, in revenge, he was told, for his work on behalf of
the Christian Democratic Party during the election campaign.
foregoing accounts show that the right to humane treatment has been repeatedly
violated by Government agents in Panama. In the Commission’s judgment there is
incontrovertible evidence of degrading and at times cruel and inhuman treatment
of Panamanian citizens who criticize or oppose the Government.
Article 5 of the American Convention on Human Rights reads as
follows: “1. Every person has the right to have his physical, mental and
moral integrity respected.
one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading
punishment or treatment.
All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect
for the inherent dignity of the human person. 3.
Punishment shall not be extended to any person other than the
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. 5. Minors
while subject to criminal proceedings shall be separated from adults and
brought before specialized tribunals, as speedily as possible, so that they
may be treated in accordance with their status as minors.
consisting of deprivations of liberty shall have as an essential aim the
reform and social adaptation of the prisoner.”