The EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2019 is adopted by the European Council on 15 June 2020. This report, prepared annually by the EEAS and consulted with the Member States, provides an overview of EU activities to promote and protect human rights and democracy across the globe. The report is thematic and includes country specific examples of EU action.
Republic of Panama
Presidential elections in May 2019 elected Laurentino Cortizo, member of the Democratic Revolutionary party. Panama scores in the top 25% worldwide in terms of democratic performance. As regards the protection of human rights, the constitutional and legislative framework is adequate but the country´s performance is considered as mid-range according to the Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), as a number of important challenges remain such as fundamental rights, checks on government, or impartial administration. Despite efforts by the new government, corruption and nepotism remain a problem. The National Assembly and the judiciary require improvements to reinforce separation of powers, and the Ombudsman lacks financial means and government support. Panama is in the 10 most unequal countries worldwide with sharp regional disparities remaining as poverty prevails in rural areas, mainly inhabited by indigenous peoples. Access to basic services is not universal and remains linked to factors such as education levels, ethnicity and income levels of households.The 2019 UNDP Gender Inequality Index ranks Panama 108th proving that progress remains insufficient. Violence against women is the second most common crime (15 cases of femicide were recorded). Since 2017, there has been a rise of sexual violence against women, (most of these victims being girls). The new government has been working towards further equality through legislation and announced the creation of a Ministry of Women. When it comes to children in Panama, 1 in 3 live in multidimensional poverty and child labour remains high. The LGBTI community faces challenges, especially on same sex marriage. Prison conditions (overcrowding, medical assistance, hygiene, reintegration, working conditions of prison officials and the extensive use of pre-trial detention) pose a real challenge.
2. EU action - key focus areas:
• Improving citizen security and the justice system;
• Gender equality, fight against violence and discrimination, including vulnerable groups and minorities such as indigenous peoples;
• Defence and awareness-raising on human rights.
3.EU bilateral political engagement:
A shared commitment to human rights and democracy is at the core of the EU's engagement with Panama. Both the EU-Panama Memorandum of
Understanding on International Cooperation and Development signed in 2018 and the EU-Central America Association Agreement are based on the respect and promotion of human rights and democratic principles. The opening of a fully-fledged EU delegation to Panama at the end of 2018 has provided the opportunity to deepen bilateral engagement also on human rights. The EU delegation has started talks with Panama´s National Assembly in order to support and share best practices on constitutional reform, internal rules and transparency, gender, experience with citizen's participation and capacity building in the field of legislative techniques, and climate change through the INTER PARES project and in this way strengthen democracy.
4.EU financial engagement:
The EU supports human rights projects and contributes to awareness raising. Since 2014, the EU funds SECOPA (Security cooperation in Panama), a major project which aims to strengthen the security and justice sectors.
On violence prevention, SECOPA funded the first study on school violence, identifying risk factors and improving, based on empirical evidence, prevention actions in schools. Through the ‘Together for a Community without Violence’ initiative, 36 schools in four municipalities - Panamá, San Miguelito, Colón and David-Chiriquí - received support, benefiting students, teachers and parents. More than 4500 students, 95 teachers and 53 psycho-pedagogical cabinet specialists have been trained in mediation and leadership. Moreover, a protocol, which is now compulsory for use in all the country's schools for the protection and the detection of minors in risk within the educational system, has been developed. A primary prevention model was developed for children, which benefited nearly 3000 children in different districts. On May 9 2019, on the occasion of Europe Day, the Head of the EU Delegation and EU Member States Ambassadors inaugurated two prevention centres for children and teenagers in the districts of Belisario Porras and Pedregal. In November 2019, the Head of the EU Delegation inaugurated together with the Director for citizens security of the Minister of Security and the deputy director of National Police, a football pitch and a children playground in San Miguelito.
On the fight against gender-based violence, thanks to resources from the SECOPA security cooperation project, the National Women's Institute centres in Colón, Panama and San Miguelito (CINAMU) have been remodelled, equipped, provided with protocols and information systems and have had their staff trained to provide effective psychological, legal and social assistance to women victims of gender-based violence. Between 2015 and 2019, 735 women have been treated in Colón, 1602 in Panama and 837 in San Miguelito. Besides SECOPA, the EU delegation has been working with the Institute for Women (INAMU) to promote gender equality and supported the organisation of the Women´s forum in March 2019.
Concerning the prison system, SECOPA has consolidated the model of comprehensive intervention for teenagers in conflict with the law and has trained custodians and technical staff in issues related to this new model and the treatment of drug dependency.
5. Multilateral context:
Panama is signatory to most international agreements on human rights. However, Panama has not yet been ratified several International Labour Organisation Conventions, the last one being the Violence and Harassment Convention adopted in June 2019.