Head of state and government: Ricardo Martinelli
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 3.6 million
Life expectancy: 76.1 years
Under-5 mortality: 22.9 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 93.6 per cent

Safeguards of the human rights of Indigenous Peoples remained inadequate, especially in the context of large infrastructure projects built on Indigenous land. There were concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression.


In December, France extradited former de facto head of state Manuel Noriega who was serving a prison sentence for money laundering. In 2010, Manuel Noriega had finished serving a 20-year sentence for drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering in the USA. During this time, Panamanian courts tried and convicted him in his absence for the killing of political opponents, including Major Moisés Giroldi Vera, the leader of a failed coup attempt in October 1989, and Hugo Spadafora, former Deputy Minister for Health in 1985, as well as other offences including unlawful detention. He was due to stand trial for the enforced disappearance and execution in 1970 of Heliodoro Portugal, a trade union activist. Manuel Noriega's role in many other human rights violations committed both during and before his rule had yet to be investigated.

In March, the UN Human Rights Council urged Panama to improve the protection of women and girls and, in particular, to combat people-trafficking, domestic violence and discrimination. The Council also called for an investigation into the July 2010 violence during protests in Bocas del Toro province, when four protesters were killed, and 56 police officers and at least 700 protesters injured. No progress had been made in implementing these recommendations by the end of the year.

Indigenous Peoples' rights

Concerns were raised about lack of consultation and the failure to ensure the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples in the context of development proposals.

Throughout the year there were protests against a mining law that facilitated new mining projects on the traditional lands of Indigenous Peoples, but did not include sufficient safeguards for the environment or ensure adequate consultation with local communities. In February the UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous people called for dialogue between the government and Indigenous Peoples and a genuine consultation process on the draft law. The law was passed in February, but repealed in March following protests in the capital. A new draft law was proposed in October amid concerns that it would negatively impact on Indigenous communities. The law had not been passed by the end of the year.

  • In May, flooding commenced in the district of Changuinola, Bocas del Toro province, in order to construct the Chan-75 dam, amid allegations that there had been a lack of consultation with the Ngöbe Indigenous Peoples living in the area affected. At the time of the flooding, some members of the Ngöbe community were still living in their homes and engaged in negotiations about their relocation.

Freedom of expression

Two journalists who had been critical of government policy were deported. The UN Human Rights Council raised concerns about reports of intimidation of the press and urged the authorities not to exert undue political pressure on the media.

  • In February, Francisco Gómez Nadal and Pilar Chato, Spanish journalists with permanent residency in Panama and active members of a human rights organization, were arrested, deported and prohibited from re-entering the country. Both had covered protests against mining policies and for labour rights and had been accused by the government of manipulating Indigenous Peoples.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.