Broad discussions on Panama’s NPM

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Panama ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture on June 2 2011. The process towards designation of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), an obligation imposed by the OPCAT, was stalled until early this year when national actors started to mobilize into different forum to reflect upon an effective and independent NPM for Panama.

Last June two important activities took place to move forward the OPCAT implementation process in the country. The APT, together with the Ombudsman Office of Panama (Defensoría del Pueblo), convened an informative workshop to raise awareness among national civil society organizations, academics and staff of the Ombudsman Office about the objectives and contents of the OPCAT, the specific obligations contracted by the State of Panama and the mandate and characteristics of the NPM. The session yielded many questions and concerns related to prevention of torture and visits to places of detention, such as the risk of sanction against people deprived of their liberty who have contact with the monitoring bodies and how the justice system applied by indigenous population in Panama can be conciliated with the traditional monitoring and the traditional criminal justice system.

The participants agreed that the NPM needs to be established through an open, transparent and inclusive process involving a wide range of stakeholders.  The working group should be expanded and sectors which were not yet represented should be invited to participate in the debate. Having taken this preliminary step on a long process toward identifying the most adequate NPM structure, the group decided to create a permanent discussion forum and meet regularly.


National OPCAT Subcommission

In parallel to this initiative, the National Permanent Commission to Follow Up on the Implementation of International Recommendations on Human Rights, which started operating past March, established a Subcommission for implementation of the obligations acquired under OPCAT.  This Subcommission, comprised of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ombudsman Office, Ministry of Government, Ministry of Public Safety, National Legislative Assembly and Public Prosecutor’s Office,  Ministry of Economy and Finances and the Judiciary held its first formal meeting on June 14t. The APT was invited to train the Subcommission on the mandate and requirements of an NPM according to OPCAT.

These initiatives were strengthened by the visit of a member of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture to the country, Mr. Emilio Ginés. Taking advantage of his presence in Panama, the APT organized a roundtable with relevant national stakeholders to share best practices from around the world on how to set up effective NPMs and learn more about the functioning of the SPT. During the debate Mr. Ginés stressed that “torture exists because society allows it to exist. Torture is applied against the most underprivileged members of our society”. The participants concluded that there is a need for a broad awareness campaign about torture and ill treatment in the country and that NGO’s that work with vulnerable groups need to be invited to the debate.