Panama - OPCAT Situation
In 2006, the Ombudsperson's Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) first called for OPCAT ratification during a regional event on detention monitoring for National Human Rights Institutions. This call was repeated in its 2008 report on cases of torture and ill-treatment. In March 2008, the Human Rights Committee noted the intention of Panama to consider ratification, trusting "that such ratification will take place". In July 2009, the APT took the opportunity of its presence in Panama to meet representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Government and Justice. The authorities assured the APT of their intention to further analyse the implications of OPCAT ratification for the penitentiary system. In July 2010, the Ombudsperson's Office organised a public seminar to discuss the challenges of OPCAT ratification in Panama. The APT and one SPT member participated in the seminar. Later that year, on the 22nd of September, Panama signed the OPCAT during the UN Treaty Event in New York. In November 2010, following recommendations by several states and NGOs at the UPR, Panama stated that the law on OPCAT Ratification n°095-10 would be approved during the next meeting of the Council of Ministries and transmitted to the Congress for adoption. On 25 January 2011, the Minister of Foreign Affairs introduced the ratification bill to the National Assembly, where it was examined and approved on the 22nd of February 2011. On 30 March 2011, the ratification bill was published in the Official Gazette. On the 2nd of June 2011, the instrument of ratification was deposited with the United Nations in New York.
The NPM designation process was initiated in 2011 when the APT, along with the Fundación Friedrich Ebert, organized the first public event involving civil society on the steps needed to create an NPM in Panama. During 2012, similar informative sessions facilitated by APT and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took place with authorities. At the beginning of that year, the Ministry created a Permanent National Commission to implement national and international recommendations made to Panama. Several working groups were created within the new Commission, including a Sub-Commission on the establishment of the NPM. The same year, an alliance of local NGOs created a working group that regularly gathered with the intention of drafting a new NPM bill. During 2013 a number of separate meetings were held by NGOs and the authorities. Following a joint meeting facilitated by APT, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to incorporate civil society into the formally created Sub-Commission on the establishment of the NPM. This body agreed on creating a new institution as NPM. At the end of 2013, civil society sent a preliminary NPM bill of law to the Sub-Commission with the aim of moving towards a final text of law. In 2015, the inter-institutional working group drafted an NPM bill creating a new institution as NPM, with APT’s technical assistance. However, in 2016 the authorities decided to designate the Ombuds Institution as NPM and adapt the draft NPM law to the new model. The inter-institutional working group was convened in June 2016 to be informed of these changes and convey its observations. Finally, in January 2017, the NPM bill was adopted by the Parliament in its third reading. In February 2017, the NPM Law (Law N°6 of 22 February 2017) was signed by the President of the Republic and published on the Official Journal on 23 February 2017.
The NPM became operational in September 2018 with the appointment of the NPM Director and Deputy Director for 5 year terms (renewable once).
The SPT carried out a visit to Panama in August 2017. The SPT member who is the SPT Focal Point for Panama is available here.
According to the NPM legislation, the NPM is a new National Direction within the Ombuds Institution, headed by a national director and vice-director nominated by the Ombudsperson following the designation by a selection committee through a public process. The director and vice-director are elected for 5 year terms, renewable once.
The selection committee is composed of one representative from the government, one representative from the parliament, one representative from the judiciary and two representatives from civil society organisations.
The NPM is to be assisted by a Consultative Council made up of NGOs, though it is yet to be established.