The condemnation of Panama in Vélez Loor case raises debate on torture prevention

Monday, February 27, 2012

What are the obligations of the State with regard to migrants and investigation of cases of torture? The case of Jesús Vélez Loor, an Ecuadorian who was held in prison for ten months for allegedly entering illegally into Panama, raises the issue of preventing torture through legal safeguards and of the commitments made by the State through the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture.

The case goes back to 2002, when Jesús Vélez Loor, an Ecuador national, was arrested by border police when entering Panama. Without access to a lawyer or contacts with his consulate, Mr Vélez Loor was sentenced to two years in prison. In a landmark ruling of 2010, the Inter-American Court declared the State of Panama responsible for violating the rights of Mr Vélez Loor to a fair trial, personal liberty and personal integrity, as well as for breaching the obligation to investigate allegations of torture.

The verdict of the Court established that the imposition of prison sentences to punish illegal migration is incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights and that "the detention of people that breach immigration laws should never have punitive purposes." To make sure that similar incidents do not happen again the Court established a number of measures, including education and training of Panamanian officials. In support of the implementation of the sentence, the APT, together with the Panamanian Ombudsman's Office and the Center of Popular Legal Assistance, therefore recently organised a workshop on "Obligations of the Panamanian State to the migrants and the obligation to investigate cases of torture: Vélez Loor Case". The workshop, which took place at the School of Human Rights on 16 February 2012, gathered officials of the Ombudsman's Office, the State Border Service, the National Immigration Service, the Prison System and the National Police.