Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Panama, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa0430.html [accessed 15 March 2014]
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Numerous cases of ill-treatment of prisoners and criminal suspects, and possible excessive use of force by the police were reported. An amnesty law was discussed in Congress. Eighty-eight Colombian refugees, who fled to Panama to escape political violence, were repatriated. In February, the Panamanian Government ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons. There were reports of ill-treatment of inmates in the overcrowded prison of La Modelo in Panama City, which although designed to house some 200 prisoners allegedly holds more than 2,000 people, most of them in preventive detention. Following a riot in the prison in July, in which two inmates died, scores of prisoners were ill-treated. Naked inmates were reportedly lined up in the prison courtyard by police officers and prison guards and severely beaten. The prison director and 12 members of the security forces were suspended from their duties. President Ernesto Pérez Balladares ordered an investigation into the beatings and an Interior Ministry spokesperson said that La Modelo prison would be closed. The prison was demolished in November, but the official investigation was not known to have been completed by the end of the year. There were reports of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police officers when detaining people suspected of criminal offences. In January, Julio Aznal Henríquez Meléndez, aged 17, was reportedly shot in both legs by a police officer who detained him for questioning about alleged criminal activities in Valle San Isidro, district of San Miguelito. According to a Public Ministry medical certificate issued in May, Julio Aznal Henríquez' injuries were life-threatening. In April, during a search for "delinquents", several police officers broke into Leonora Beard's house, without a judicial order. They beat her two sisters, Yolanda and Sandra Beard, when they asked to see a judicial order and attempted to telephone the police. Sandra Beard sustained injuries to her arm which required prolonged medical treatment. Little progress was made in the investigations into the death of four people in August 1995 during widespread protests against government policies (see Amnesty International Report 1996). In March, an ad hoc parliamentary commission was created to draft a new amnesty law and draw up a list of all those who would benefit from it. The commission was due to submit its report in June, but by the end of the year Congress had not finished discussing the drafts. If passed, the amnesty law will be the third such measure in two years. In September 1994, 222 former officials and military supporters were granted pardons, and in September 1995, 130 people were granted pardons (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996). The repatriation of 88 Colombian refugees, who fled to Panama in November to escape political violence in Colombia, raised fears for their safety and that of more than 200 other refugees facing deportation by the Panamanian authorities. According to reports, on arrival in Panama the refugees set up improvised camps in the province of Darien, but as soon as the Panamanian authorities became aware of their presence they organized their return to Colombia in collaboration with the Colombian Air Force, which provided an aircraft and returned the first group on 23 November. In February, Amnesty International wrote to President Pérez Balladares, calling for impartial investigations into human rights violations committed in the period covered by the amnesty law provisionally approved by Congress in December 1995 and urging that those responsible be brought to justice and compensation awarded to the victims. The law provides for the closure, one week after it comes into force, of all current judicial proceedings against alleged perpetrators of human rights violations. In March, the President responded to Amnesty International, stating his "intention to veto the proposed law if it is not changed". He also stated that "under no circumstances will common crimes such as ... torture and homicide be included". Amnesty International expressed concern about the repatriation of Colombian refugees and called on the Panamanian Government to fulfil its obligations under international human rights law not to deport anyone to a country where they are at risk of serious human rights violations.