A political party leader whose detention was alleged to be politically motivated remained imprisoned. There were reports of ill-treatment by the police of protesters and detainees. A number of security force personnel were convicted of human rights abuses carried out under previous administrations. In the run-up to the first elections since the US invasion, scheduled for May 1994, there were widespread allegations of corruption and improper use of the courts to undermine political opponents. In response, and in an attempt to assure a fair and free electoral context, Panama s political parties entered into a pact, undertaking to refrain from using the courts and other institutions as mechanisms for persecution or repression and to avoid violence and intimidation in the lead-up to the elections. Controversy continued as to the identities, numbers and manner of death of those who lost their lives during the US invasion in 1989. The USA has repeatedly said that a relatively low number of civilian casualties were caused inadvertently when US troops were trying to take control of or neutralize military targets. However, some human rights groups in Panama and abroad claim that civilian areas considered supportive of Panama s then de facto leader, Defence Forces Chief Manuel Noriega, were intentionally targeted during the invasion, that many non-combatants died, and that they were buried in unmarked graves in order to obscure their identities and numbers. In October the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States decided to admit petitions filed on behalf of some 300 Panamanians seeking compensation from the USA for non-combatant deaths and injuries and property damage which they said were caused by US troops during the invasion. In January Panama acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. After being held in untried preventive detention for a period far exceeding the standard penalty of six months to a year provided for the fraud with which he had been charged, Jaime Simons was eventually transferred to house arrest in December on grounds of ill-health (he suffers from prostate cancer). A founder member of Manuel Noriega s political party, Jaime Simons had been arrested by US forces in 1989. Trial proceedings against him were finally initiated in his absence - he was judged too ill to attend - on 13 December, but suspended the following day to allow the authorities to carry out further inquiries. There were allegations - which were difficult to assess - that his continued detention and the authorities long refusal to transfer him to house arrest had been politically motivated (see Amnesty International Report 1993). Three leaders of the so-called Dignity Battalions, a disbanded paramilitary group allegedly responsible for human rights violations under Manuel Noriega s government, were released in September after serving almost four years in prison on charges of having threatened the legal personality of the state (see Amnesty International Reports1992 and 1993). Police allegedly used excessive force in breaking up peaceful demonstrations by trade unionists, families of victims of the US invasion, and indigenous peoples, leading to a number of injuries and one known death. In May a member of the Ngob-Buglé indigenous group died from his injuries after police in Chiriquí province forcibly dispersed indigenous demonstrators calling for complete demarcation of indigenous lands. Investigations into the killing had apparently not been completed by the end of 1993. In June former President Manuel Solís Palma, and four former military officials, were found guilty of having established the so-called Dignity Battalions. It was not clear whether all were present for their trial or whether they had been formally sentenced and jailed by the end of the year. Also in June the courts made the first award to victims of human rights abuses during Panama's two decades of military rule, ruling that the Panamanian Government should pay damages to demonstrators beaten in 1984 by the police. In October Panamanian magistrates sentenced Manuel Noriega and two others to 20 years imprisonment for the 1985 torture, murder and beheading of an outspoken opponent of his administration, Hugo Spadafora (see Amnesty International Reports1986, 1988, 1990 and 1991). Seven others were acquitted. Manuel Noriega, who was serving a lengthy jail sentence in the USA for drug-trafficking and money-laundering, was sentenced in absentia. The courts also ruled that Manuel Noriega was to be tried in absentia for the summary execution of a rebel army major who had led a 1989 coup attempt against him (see Amnesty International Report 1990). In November, three officers of the Panamanian National Guard were found guilty of murdering Colombian priest Hector Gallego. He had disappeared in Veraguas province in 1971 after being arrested by the National Guard, commanded at that time by Panama s then ruler, General Omar Torrijos. The three convicted officers had apparently not been sentenced by the end of the year.
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