REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
August 24, 1989, the Twenty-first Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of
Foreign affairs of the OAS requested through its President that that the
Commission conduct another visit to Panama for the purpose of updating the
information on the situation of human rights in that country.
The Government of Panama, then headed by Lic. Francisco Rodríguez, gave
its consent for an on-site visit to begin on November 20, 1989, that is, after
the session of the General Assembly.
Commission adopted a special report on the situation on human rights in Panama,
and submitted it to the nineteenth regular session of the General Assembly. In resolution AG/RES. 1022 (XIX-O/89), the Assembly decided
to receive that report “with great interest” (paragraph 1), to urge the
governments in question to “espouse the corresponding recommendations of the
Commission” (paragraph 2), and “ to express its concern over the persistence
of serious violations of basic rights and freedoms in the persistence of serious
violations of basic rights and freedom in Panama, especially the full
effectiveness of civil and political rights as noted by the Commission in its
special report on that country presented to the General Assembly at this
session” (paragraph …). An
operative paragraph with similar wording was approved as paragraph 2 of
resolution AG/RES. 990 (XIX-O/89). “The
Panamanian Crisis in the International Context.”
the new on-site mission could take place, the armed intervention of the United
States came about, during which the government headed by Dr. Guillermo Endara
Electoral Tribunal of Panama repealed its Decree No. 58/89 annulling the May 7,
1989, elections. In proclaiming
their validity, it declared the victory of the ticket headed by the new
President. That ticket, according
to international observers, was the one that won the majority of votes at the
Commission has received from the Government of Panama notes dated April 16 and
May 8, 1990 in response to a request from the Commission on the question of the
situation of human rights in that country.
In them, the Government mentions the actions taken for the purpose of
restoring the full effectiveness of human rights “vis-à-vis the persistence
of violations … during the past 21 years, a situation that had worsened in the
last two and a half years.”
The actions cited by the government included reopening of the news media that had been shut down and returning them to their legitimate owners; the freeing of former military men involved in failed military coups and of civilians detained on charges of endangering public safety, most of whom had been tortured.
Similarly, it points out the progress made along those lines during the past three months:
a. The creation of an office of the special prosecutor to investigate the killing of Dr. Hugo Spadafora Franco and other homicides, and the reopening of related investigations.
b. Decentralizing the Defense forces so that an armed institution can arrogate to itself functions beyond those established in the Constitution and the law and thus become an agent of repression.
c. Restoring the independence of the judiciary and the department of the public prosecutor by naming competent staff.
d. Restoring the full effectiveness of the judicial guarantees provided under the Constitution. It cites as examples several rulings where the Habeas Corpus Court found that arrests had been illegal and ordered the immediate release of the detainees. In this connection, the final paragraph of Article 2606 of the Judicial Code has also been repealed. It called for illegal restrictions on the use of the remedy of amparo for constitutional guarantees.
e. Decrees No. 26/88 and 71/88, which limited the right of association, have also been repealed.
f. The lifting of restrictions on the media permitting the reopening of the media shut down by the previous government; and its willingness to respect the full enjoyment of the right to free expression. On this matter, Decrees 61 and 61A of July 24, 1989 have been derogated. Those decrees established prior restrictions on the production and diffusion of news; and the recognition of juridical personality of the National College of Journalists, and the creation of a National Evaluation Commission on the still existing laws dealing with the media.
g. Recognizing the precarious state of the penal system in the country and the progressive establishment of means for its improvement, separating the accused persons from convicts, establishing a scientific unit in the field of criminology and increasing opportunities for prisoners to enjoy family visits in addition to training and rehabilitation aimed at preparing prisoners for their return to society.
After the government was inaugurated, the number of complaints received by the Commission dropped drastically. The Commission feels this is an indicator of the different attitude that the new government has toward respect for human rights. Similarly, the Commission must point out that the government responded or acted promptly and satisfactorily in those cases where the Commission brought specific complaints to its attention.
On the basis of the complaints and information it received, the Commission considers that there still remain aspects that need further clarification insofar as the situation of human rights of Panamanians is concerned, and trusts that the new administration will make every effort to bring about their solution. The chief concerns are:
a. The legal and procedural status of all persons deprived of their freedom after the U.S. military intervention and their treatment during imprisonment.
b. The possibility that relatives of the persons tragically killed in the fighting that took place on December 20, 1989, be given information and be given the remains of the victims, and government efforts to guarantee those rights.
c. Any possible violation of human rights that might have occurred during, after and as a consequence of the events of December 20, 1989.
d. That all necessary measures have been taken to avoid repetition by government agencies or officials of the practices denounced in the Commission’s special report of September 1989, which violated the rights set forth in the Pact of San José, and particularly those concerning mistreatment, torture, and violations of the right to life, to personal integrity, and to property, and the right of association.
e. The establishment of a competent judiciary, impartial and responsive, that is able to guarantee the observance of the rights recognized in the Pact of San José and in Panamanian law and, in particular, to strengthen the bench to ensure impartial and independent judges.
f. That the government make every effort to ensure the full effectiveness of Article 23, on political rights, of the American Convention on Human Rights so as to fully institute representative democracy as provided in the Constitution of Panama, which has been so seriously violated for the last two decades, as the Commission has stated in previous reports.
Lastly in the light of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the areas if Economic, Social, and Cultural rights, currently in the process of ratification, the Commission wishes to point out the negative consequences that the former Panamanian government’s policies and the economic sanctions imposed by the Government of the United States have had on the low-income population of Panama.
In this connection, the Commission hopes that the Government will give special consideration to reparation of the right to property of those victims whose basic economic and social living conditions suffered the most. It also hopes that in its reconstruction effort, the Government applies the guidelines established in the Additional Protocol concerning the minimum conditions necessary for preserving the general welfare and the rule of democracy.
On May 4, 1990 the Commission received a note from the Government of Panama which invites the Commission to conduct an on-site visit. It is indicated therein that: “The Government of panama is greatly interested in that the Commission verify, in a democratic, lawful and open environment, the situation in which the Panamanian people lived and the current circumstances in which they live.” The Commission is preparing its visit and shall report on it in due course.