Panama under international scrutiny

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

In August 2017, Panama was exposed to unprecedented international scrutiny on its detention practices by UN bodies. For the first time, the Committee against Torture was able to review Panama’s periodic report – which had been submitted with an almost 20 years delay – while the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture made its first visit to the country since the State ratified the OPCAT. The APT accompanied its national counterparts to engage strategically with these two UN bodies, to ensure that international recommendations contribute to meaningful changes on the ground.

Panama faces similar challenges as other Central American countries in relation to deprivation of liberty. Panama has one of the highest prison population rates in Latin America (421 persons per 100’000 habitants) generating problems such as violence and lack of access to basic services. In this context, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) recently raised several concerns, including overuse of pre-trial detention (55 % as of July 2017); pervasive violence; lack of oversight of the implementation of fundamental safeguards in the first hours of detention; and the need to promptly establish an independent National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). As suggested by APT, the Committee also recommended Panama to amend its anti-torture legislation to make it compliant with the UN Convention against Torture.

A few weeks after the CAT’s examination, Panama received its first visit from the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT). The SPT’s visit aimed mainly at assisting Panama authorities with the establishment of the NPM, following the adoption of the NPM law in February 2017. Prior to the SPT’s visit, the APT trained more than 100 penitentiary staff on the OPCAT and the SPT, and mobilised both Panamanian civil society and the Ombudsperson’s Office to provide first-hand information to the SPT members to help them prepare their visit.

At the end of its visit, the SPT expressed concerns regarding the delay in establishing the NPM – as an implementing decree is yet to be adopted and the NPM members selected – and asked Panama to establish an independent and effective NPM as soon as possible. The SPT shall present a report following its visit to the authorities in the coming months, as a basis for dialogue with the authorities.

The APT will continue to support the process of OPCAT implementation in Panama, raising awareness about the CAT’s recommendations and accompanying the Selecting Committee in its important task to designate the first NPM Director and Deputy Director.

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© APT. Prison staff training session on the OPCAT, 28 June 2017, Ministry of Government of Panama.

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© Ministry of Government of Panama. APT Latin America Office Director, Audrey Olivier Muralt, provides opening remarks at the OPCAT training for prison managers, 12 July 2017.

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© Ministry of Government of Panama. Prison staff training session in Panama, 12 July 2017.

Staff members