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Cablegate: Panama: Human Rights Roundup

VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0698/01 2342003
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 212003Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2439
INFO RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

UNCLAS PANAMA 000698

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: HUMAN RIGHTS ROUNDUP

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) Post plans to provide a regular human rights update
to supplement the yearly Human Rights Report in order to
track emerging changes in the human rights situation in
Panama. Below follows a summary of Post's most recent
contact with a number of groups advocating for the rights of
individuals, including women, homosexuals and persons with
disabilities. END SUMMARY

-------------------------
Women: Murders by Spouses
-------------------------

2. (SBU) More than 30 women were killed by their spouses
last year, according to Maribel Jean, Executive Director of
the Catholic NGO Justice and Peace, who met with POLOFF on
June 5. The concern that domestic violence was on the rise
was echoed by Dayanara Salazar Medina of the Human Rights
Ombudsman's Office of Women's Affairs on July 9. Salazar
noted that 20 more women were killed already this year in
domestic violence situations, the majority in impoverished
areas, and she speculated that the economic pressure on poor
families contributed to the spike. Jean noted that Panama
needed more shelters or other safe places for battered women
to go after making an accusation of abuse.

----------------------------
Quotas for Women in Politics
----------------------------

3. (SBU) Panama's electoral law states in article 239 states
that "political parties will guarantee that, at a minimum,
30% of their candidates for posts inside the parties or for
candidates for popular election are women." In June, a
women's political organization, the National Forum of Women
in Political Parties, filed a complaint with the Electoral
Tribunal (TE) that the parties were not complying with this
requirement. For example, for the primary elections, the
only 17% of Panamenista Party candidates were women and 16%
of Patriotic Union candidates were women. In reply, a
magistrate of the TE noted in an interview that it was not
obligatory for the parties to have 30% of eventual general
election candidates be female, but only that the list of
initial primary candidates have the requisite number of
females. Salazar of the HR Ombudsman's Office said that the
TE could - and should - take action to restrict the subsidies
received by political parties, part of which was earmarked to
create incentives to encourage women to become involved in
politics, until they complied. However, she expected the TE
to take no action, because they had in the past looked the
other way when parties subverted this rule by loading up long
primary lists with women who had no chance of winning a
primary election slot. (NOTE: The HR Ombudsman's Office has
no enforcement power, but exercises its "moral authority."

4. (U) The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the
constitutionality of this phrase. Attorney General Ana
Matilda Gomez on August 13 asked the Supreme Court to declare
this phrase constitutional, on the basis that this is a
positive and internationally accepted measure. She further
noted that this rule would eradicate traditional barriers
against female participation and the exercise of political
power.

--------------------------------------------- -------
Sodomy Decriminalized; Homosexuality a "Grave Fault"
--------------------------------------------- -------

5. (U) Sodomy was decriminalized by an Executive decree on
August 1, to little notice other than short articles in the
mainstream press. The reason given for this action was
complaints from homosexual rights groups.

6. (SBU) The internal regulations of the Panamanian National
Police (PNP) still described homosexuality as a "grave
fault," which was punishable by dismissal or no more than 60
days in jail, President of the Association of New Men and
Women of Panama (AHMNP) Ricardo Beteta told POLOFF on June 5.
AHMNP lobbies the government on homosexual rights. Judging
by the comments of the Minister of Government and Justice,
Daniel Delgado Diamante, this is unlikely to change. In an
interview on April 6, Delgado declared, "as long as I am in
this job, gays will not be permitted" in the police, and on
April 10 he said that "I cannot imagine a homosexual police
officer." Beteta also reported individuals being stopped and
harassed by PNP officers due to their supposed homosexual
appearance.

7. (SBU) In the area of health care, Beteta reported that
authorities had prevented his organization from distributing
condoms on the parade route during annual Carnival events and
had forced them to the margins of the event. Additionally,
medical privacy was generally not respected for persons with
HIV/AIDS, according to Orlando Quintero, Director of
Probidsida, a NGO that provides services to persons living
with HIV/AIDS, POLOFF learned on June 6. Additionally,
although pre-employment HIV testing was prohibited in Panama,
this law was not always followed, according to Quintero.

-------------------------
Persons with Disabilities
-------------------------

8. (SBU) Little has changed in the past year for most people
with disabilities, Maria Claudia Garcia of the HR Ombudsman's
Office of Disabled Persons told POLOFF on July 8. Although
Panamanian law prohibits discrimination and in fact
guarantees a host of rights, substantial discrimination
exists in employment and public schools. Most public schools
did not comply with the law requiring equal access to public
education, citing the high cost and lack of adequate funds
needed to offer sufficient services.

9. (SBU) Garcia personally intervenes when the Ombudsman's
Office receives any kind of complaint, and she claims that
employers are often willing to make accommodations that woul
permit a disabled person to work, but they usually make the
accommodations over a long period of time, due to cost. The
Ombudsman produces educational materials about the kinds of
disability and the rights of disabled persons and distributes
them at public events throughout Panama.

10. (SBU) SENADIS, the government agency charged with
integrating and coordinating the efforts of government
agencies on behalf of people with disabilities, is largely
ineffective, Fanny Wong, disability activist and Latin
American coordinator for the Christian Fraternity of Sick and
Disabled Persons, told POLOFF on August 14. SENADIS is
largely staffed by family members of disabled persons who
lack necessary expertise. For example, she noted that
although SENADIS is charged with making public areas
accessible, in accordance with Panamanian law, they have no
architects or city planners on staff and thus the ramps built
are often too narrow, or too steep, or placed where they are
inaccessible to persons using wheelchairs. SENADIS focuses
its attentions on children and equal education, and ignores
the needs of disabled adults, which is due to the fact that
President Torrijos has a developmentally disabled daughter,
according to Wong.
STEPHENSON

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