OBSERVATIONS AND COMMENTS OF THE GOVERNMENT OF PANAMA
27 October 1978
My Dear Mr. Vargas Carreño:
At the instructions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Panama, Dr. Carlos Ozores T., I have the honor to convey to you observations and comments on the report on the situation of human rights in Panama, approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at its fortieth session.
First of all, we wish to take note with satisfaction of the recognition in the introduction of the report of the fact that the Commission's on-site observation was based on an express invitation by the head of the Panamanian Government, General Omar Torrijos Herrera, issued on September 13, 1977, as well as of the statement in the introduction to the effect that every facility was extended to the IACHR for the performance of its mission, which enabled it for the first time in its history to examine the functioning of a country's criminal justice system, and that this was due to the full cooperation of the Government of Panama.
We are also pleased to observe that the references made to the so-called "Legal Framework," although rather condensed, reflect quite objectively that the constitutional and legal provisions in effect in Panama are clearly aimed at guaranteeing the respect and observance of human rights.
According to the chapter on conclusions, the report intends to reflect the status of rights in Panama up to June 1, 1978. Without analyzing at this time whether that purpose is fully accomplished, and refraining from examining specific aspects of the report, we believe that to close it at that date would not give a suitable impression of the Panamanian situation. From June until the present date, basic changes have occurred which, in our opinion, should be included in the report. These changes which, in o7ur opinion, should be included in the report. These changes are of such importance that they cannot be left aside. The report, if published in its present version, would reflect some situations that no longer exist.
For example, on last October 25 the National Assembly of Municipal Representatives approved an Act amending the Constitution of Panama. This act amends Articles 41, 129, 140, 141, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 157, 163, 164, 172, 173, 180, 181, 235, 237, and added Articles 153A and 153B.
Next we should like to comment on the content of the constitutional amendments and other significant aspects, which in our opinion, should be taken into account for inclusion in the Commission's report.
Mr. Edmundo Vargas Carreño
Executive Secretary of the
Inter-American Commission on
Organization of American States
I. Constitutional Amendments
The amendments to the Constitution include matters of major importance, such as the following:
1) The legislative function shall be exercised by the Plenum of the National Assembly of Municipal Representatives and the National Legislative Council. In accordance with the amended Article 146, the National Legislative Council shall be composed in the following manner:
1. The President of the National Assembly of Municipal Representatives who shall preside. In his temporary absence, the Vice President of this body shall replace him;
2. Four (4) Municipal Representatives from each Province and one (1) from the Region of San Blas and the Municipality of Puerto Obaldía for a term of two (2) years. They shall be chosen by a majority vote of the Representatives of each province in an election among and by the Representatives of the municipalities of the respective province at a meeting to be convoked and chaired by the vice President of the National Assembly of Municipal Representatives of the Province every two (2) years within ten (10) days following October 11. Each of these members shall have an alternate representative who shall e a municipal representative and who shall be elected in the same manner.
3. Two (2) provincial representatives and one (1) from each political region or division created by law in the indigenous areas and their respective alternate representatives, elected by direct popular ballot for a term of six (6) years. The provisions of the Constitution contained in Article 133 and 134 shall be applicable to the provincial representatives, except that residence shall refer to the province; Articles 135 and 136 and, in the latter case, the restriction in the first paragraph is extended to the state; Article 137, except where prior authorization must be given by the National Legislative Council; and Article 139.
The provincial representatives referred to in paragraph 3 shall be elected in 1980 with the participation of the political parties.
2) As of 1984, the direct election of the President and vice President of the Republic is established.
3) Among the administrative functions of the National Assembly of Municipal Representatives, the following are established:
"to approve or reject the appointments of the Magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice and their alternates, the Attorney General, the Comptroller General and the Assistant Comptroller General of the Republic, the prosecutor and his alternate."
4) As of October 11, 1977, Article 277 of the Constitution ceased to be in effect.
The members of the Inter-American Commission on Human rights are surely not unaware of the impact of these amendments, and they will be able to make an exhaustive analysis of that impact on the basis of the text of the Reform Act, a copy of which is attached.
II. Political Parties
On October 5, 1978, the National Legislative Council approved Law 81 of October 5, 1978, governing the political parties and establishing January, 1979, as the time for them to receive legal standing through the corresponding registration process.
The text of Law 81 of 1978 is attached.
III. Practice of Journalism
Through Law 67 of September 19, 1978, the practice of journalism is given professional standing. A copy of this Law is also included.
Apart from the aforementioned aspects, we also wish to bring to the attention of the Commission the fact that the same day the United States Senate approved the resolution ratifying the Canal Treaty, the Head of the Panamanian Government announced that there are no limitations or conditions for the return of exiles to the country. This has been honored.
V. Pardon of Common Criminals
The attitude of respect for freedom maintained by the Panamanian Government is also demonstrated in specific actions such as Decree No. 3 of October 10, 1978, whereby a pardon was decreed in favor of 215 common prisoners who deserved a pardon for good conduct. A cop of this decree is also attached.
It is not our intention to comment on each of the individual cases referred to in the report. The Commission's requests for information have been amply and promptly met. She shall continue to respond in this manner.
Finally, we wish to state to the members of the Inter-American Commission on Human rights that the Panamanian Government continues to recognize that body's role, which is not only to investigate violations of human rights, but also to disclaim, through its reports, unfounded charges made against countries such as ours that respect those rights.
Please accept the assurances of my highest consideration.
Juan Manuel Castulovich
Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs