FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT AND RESIDENCE1
Article 27 of the Constitution of Panama establishes that:
Every person may travel freely through the national territory and change domicile or residence without restrictions other than those which the traffic, fiscal, health, and immigrations laws or regulations may prescribe.
Despite the aforementioned provision of the Constitution, the Commission has viewed with concern a number of complaints and reports describing mechanisms utilized in Panama to violate the right to residence and the right to enter and leave the country freely, as well as the forced exile and harassment of exiled persons as an instrument of repression.
A number of persons and institutions have presented documented complaints to the Commission, which are typical of the various ways this type of violation manifests itself. Together they constitute prima facie repression of leaders of different sectors of Panamanian society or of persons associated with them.
The persecution of family members of opposition politicians, which leads to the break-up of families and exile, is another element typical of these complaints. In the case of the family of Humberto Ernesto Reynolds Unamuno, Eng. Reynolds, who retired at 57 years of age, was persecuted for his opposition activities and managed to escape and seek asylum. His wife, Dilsa Espino, and his son, Carlos Humberto, were detained for 43 days, in an effort to force Reynolds (father) to give himself up. His daughter, Annette Reynolds de Córdoba, Chief of Computer Programming at a bank, and his son-in-law, Jorge F. Córdoba, a car salesman, were persecuted. Their houses were broken into and looted. At the moment part of the family is in exile, and the other part is in Panama.
In several cases the complaints refer to journalists or owners of media. Some cases have received wide coverage in the press, as in the case of Roberto Eisenmann, owner of the newspaper “La Prensa”; Alberto Conte, President of the National Board of Journalists and of an important advertising firm; and, Mayín Correa, a popular news commentator, who retransmitted via Radio KW Continents (now closed) the charges made by Colonel Roberto Díaz Herrera against General Noriega. Mrs. Correa was also a legislator. Nevertheless, she was persecuted, shot at while in her car and finally detained; her family was harassed. As in other instances, she cannot return because the threats continue and a warrant has been issued for her arrest.
Other complaints involving newspapermen who had to go into exile refer to media people such as the aforementioned Homero Londoño, or Iris Adames, a producer with Channel Eleven, among others.
The complaints denouncing the torture of exiled opposition activists who return to the country are particularly brutal. Dr. Carlos F. Alfaro, an obstetrician for 18 years at Santo Tomás Hospital and an active leader in the medical syndicate, was forced to seek exile. He had been suspended from his duties and harassed, and a warrant was out for his arrest. On October 6, 1988, during a recent trip to Panama from New York where he has settled, he was arrested and tortured, after which he was put on an “Ecuatoriana de Aviación” plane and forced to leave the country.
In other cases, the complaints concern groups of persons who have been persecuted, arrested or threatened and who are finally forced to seek exile, because of their connection with some opposition activist. Such is the case of the relatives and friends of Major Moisés Del Río, a military officer accused of conspiring against General Noriega, who managed to escape and went into exile. According to the complaints, his sister, Diana Del Río Batres, a teacher, was arrested and mistreated in prison and in the hospital to which she had to be taken. According to allegations made, she was arrested in order to hold her hostage so that her brother would give himself up, since she had never engaged in any political activity. After having been persecuted because of their relationship with Major del Río, his wife Maria Mellíllo de Del Río, his godfather Julio Chen Márquez, who was arrested and tortured, and a group of family members who were also persecuted, were all forced to seek exile, as well as businessmen who were his friends, such as Giovanni Carlucci, who was arrested and tortured. All of these people, as well as several friends who suffered persecution and threats, are now in exile. Del Río's property was either looted or destroyed.
The situation described above is aggravated by the lack of adequate remedy to redress the forced exile. Here, mention should be made of the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court of Justice on November 29, 1988, in the case of habeas corpus sought on behalf of entrepreneur Roberto Brenes, who was expatriated by the National Guard. The Court, in substantiating its finding, said the following:
It is public knowledge that on the date this habeas corpus was filed with this Court, Mr. Roberto G. Brenes Pérez was totally free, in the city of Miami, United States of America, so that in the opinion of this Court, the premise contemplated in Article 2572 of the Judicial Code is applicable.
Nevertheless it must be emphasized that the habeas corpus filed in this instance is intended, as the lawyer pleading his case clearly states, to enable “Lic. Roberto G. Brenes Pérez to return to the country…”. This means, firstly, that he is outside the territorial jurisdiction of the country and as far as the national authorities are concerned, completely at liberty. If this is the case, then the means chosen to achieve the return of Roberto G. Brenes Pérez to the national territory is not the appropriate one, since the purpose of these proceedings is to obtain the freedom of a person deprived thereof either unlawfully of arbitrarily. But contrary to what the lawyer who pleads his case would have us believe, such is not the case with Brenes Pérez.
The Plenary of the Court, with the dissenting vote of Magistrate Rodrigo Molina, decided that, in cases of expatriation the recourse to habeas corpus was not appropriate, although the law expressly mandates that, when a person is expatriated, he shall have the guarantee of habeas corpus.
After examining the abundant information received regarding cases of exile, the Commission is forced to conclude that Panamanians do not enjoy the right to freedom of movement and residence insofar as the right to enter and leave the country freely is concerned; many have had to leave under the pressure of threats and violations of their rights, or were directly expelled from their country. These unlawful measures have been used not only against opposition activists of various professions and social sectors, but also against their families, with no legal recourse to correct such abuses.
1. Article 22 of the American Convention of Human Rights establishes the following: “ Freedom of Movement and Residence. 1. Every person lawfully in the territory lawfully in the territory of a State Party has the right to move about in it, and to reside in it subject to the provisions of the law. 2. Every person has the right to leave any country freely, including his own. 3. The exercise of the foregoing rights may be restricted only pursuant to a law, to the extent necessary in a democratic society, to prevent crime or to protect national security, public safety, public order, public morals, public health, or the rights or freedoms of others.”