U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Panama
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Panama, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1b38.html [accessed 29 July 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
PANAMAPanama is a representative democracy with an elected executive composed of a president and two vice presidents, an elected 72-member legislature, and an appointed judiciary. President Ernesto Perez Balladares, elected in May 1994, is the chief executive. The judiciary is independent, but subject to corruption and political manipulation. Panama has had no military forces since 1989. In 1994 a constitutional amendment formally abolished a standing military, although it contained a provision for the temporary formation of a special police force to protect the borders in case of a threat of external aggression. The Panamanian National Police (PNP), under the Ministry of Government and Justice, are responsible for law enforcement. The Judicial Technical Police (PTJ), under the judicial branch's Public Ministry, perform criminal investigations in support of public prosecutors. National Maritime Service and National Air Service forces also perform police functions along the coasts and at the international airport, respectively. Credible reports of corruption within both the PNP and PTJ contributed to some police dismissals. Police forces respond to civilian authority, have civilian directors, and have internal review procedures to deal with police misconduct. There were reports of instances of abuse by some members of the security forces. The service-oriented economy uses the U.S. dollar as currency, called the Balboa. Gross domestic product grew by 2.5 percent in real terms in 1996, and its growth was projected to reach 3.5 percent in 1997. The Ministry of Economic Planning expects accelerating growth through the year 2000 as the effects of economic liberalization and the Panama Canal transfer become evident. Poverty persists, with large disparities between rich and poor, and income distribution remains skewed. Unemployment is estimated at 14 percent. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but there continued to be serious problems in several areas. Police and prison guards used excessive force against detainees and prisoners. Despite some modest improvements, overall prison conditions remained poor, with frequent outbreaks of internal prison violence. Prisoners were subject to prolonged pretrial detention; the criminal justice system was inefficient and often corrupt. In one high-profile case, Gerardo Gonzalez, president of the governing party, used improper influence to compromise the impartiality of trial proceedings against a former director of the PTJ, Jaime Abad, in order to affect the outcome of the separate trial of Gonzalez's son on murder charges. There were instances of illegal searches and political pressure on the media. The Government was severely criticized when it refused to renew the work permit of a prominent foreign journalist. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protested government repatriation in April of 200 Colombians, some of whom entered Panama fleeing violence in border areas. Discrimination against women persists, and indigenous people are severely disadvantaged. Violence against women remained a serious problem. Worker rights are limited in export processing zones. The Government continued to prosecute a small number of officials responsible for abuses during the years of dictatorship from 1968 to 1989. The legislature created the office of human rights ombudsman in December 1996 and elected the first incumbent in a fair and open process. After an initial delay in receiving funds, the ombudsman's office was expected to open in January 1998.