Panama joined the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2016. In its brief time on the Council, it has voted to condemn human rights abuses twice in Syria (abstaining once), supported a consensus resolution on North Korea, and voted to support a resolution on Ukraine. In the Organization of American States (OAS), it has been a solid supporter of democracy and human rights, cooperating with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on a case involving the rights of environmental rights defenders and voting in favor of a resolution demanding increased pressure on the Venezuelan government in June 2017. Panama also voted in favor of certifying a slate of NGOs for the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). While this vote was laudable, it stood in contrast to a series of laws and regulations restricting the operation of civil society in Panama.

Below is a breakdown of Panama’s actions and votes at the various venues we are monitoring. For more information, click on each title and summary.


Freedom House   
Freedom Status Free
Aggregate Score (100 is perfect freedom and protection of rights) 84
Political Rights (scores out of 40, with 40 being the best)  36
Civil Liberties (scores out of 60, with 60 being the best)  48
Reporters Without Borders   
World Press Freedom Index (scores out of 100, with 1 being the best) 29.78
Transparency International  
Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 35/100
 Global Rank 111/180
World Justice Project  [1]  
Rule-of-Law Index  0.52
 Regional rank  15/30
 Global rank 63/128
UN Human Development Index  
 Human Development Index 0.815
 Global rank 57
Americas Quarterly [2]  
 Social Inclusion Index N/A
Regional rank  N/A

United Nations System:

United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC or Council)

Panama has been on the council since 2016, and its term will expire in 2018. For the most part, it has voted in favor to the Council’s resolutions on Syria, North Korea, and Ukraine, with only one abstention on Syria.[expandableHeadline]Read more[/expandableHeadline][expandableContent]

UNHRC Resolutions on the conflict in Syria

Resolution 34/26 The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic voted Yes
Resolution 33/32 The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic voted Yes
Resolution 31/17 The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic voted Yes
Resolution 32/25 The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic voted Yes
Resolution S-25/1 The deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the recent situation in Aleppo Abstained

UNHRC resolutions on the conflict in Ukraine:

Resolution 32/29 Cooperation and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights voted Yes

UNHRC resolutions on the conflict in North Korea:

 Resolution 31/18  Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  Consensus


UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review

As part of its mandate to promote human rights around the globe, the UNHRC has instituted a Universal Periodic Review, where, once every four years, each country’s human rights record is examined. Other countries are invited to review the record and make comments and suggestions for improvement. The country under review then acknowledges each comment by either “accepting” the comment, meaning typically that they agree to focus on, or “noting” it, indicating that they disagree and will not be focusing on improvements in this area.

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As recipient: Panama received 125 recommendations; accepting 111 and noting 14. (only select topics listed below)

Area Received Accepted Noted
Civil society  1 1  –
Elections  –  –  –
Enforced disappearances  –  –  –
Extrajudicial executions  –  –  –
Freedom of association and peaceful assembly  2  2  –
Freedom of opinion and expression  –  –  –
Freedom of religion and belief  –  –  –
Freedom of press  –  –  –
Human rights defenders  –  –  –
Human rights violations by state agents  2  2  –
Impunity  1  1  –
Indigenous peoples  19  17  2
Internally displaced persons  –  –  –
International instruments  27  16  11
Justice  15  12  3
Migrants  12  2  10
Minorities  14  14  –
Racial discrimination  10  10  –
Sexual orientation and gender identity  8  7  1
Torture and CID treatment  6  6  –
Women’s rights  24  24  –
Total 125 111 14

Note: some comments are classified under multiple categories.

As commenter: Panama participates in the UPR process, with 126 comments made so far in the second cycle (for data available). 30.16% of Panama’s comments were made towards other Latin American countries, but Panama also consistently made two to four comments for most countries around the globe. The Solomon Islands and Thailand were the only exception, receiving five and seven comments from Panama, respectively.

Main topics of comments included: international instruments (45 comments), rights of the child (35 comments), women’s rights (27 comments), death penalty (14 comments), disabilities (11 comments).

Note: This data is for the second cycle of the UPR. However, the final round of countries were reviewed in November/December 2016, and that data is not yet available to include in our analysis here.[/expandableContent]

UN NGO Committee

Panama has not been on the Committee since at least 1993.

Inter-American System:

OAS Permanent Council

Under the new leadership of Secretary General Luis Almagro, the OAS has re-found its focus on promoting democracy around the region. This was shown most clearly in a meeting in June 2016 where Almagro presented his report on the state of democracy in Venezuela and proposed invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

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Panama voted in favor of hearing Secretary General Almagro’s report on the situation in Venezuela under the Inter-American Democratic Charter, joining Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the U.S., among others.

During the Foreign Minister meeting on the situation in Venezuela at the 2017 OAS General Assembly, Panama was one of 20 countries that voted in favor of a U.S.-backed resolution calling for the release of political prisoners and urging the Venezuelan government not to convene a constituent assembly that would rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. It also voted against a CARICOM-backed resolution calling Venezuela to reconsider withdrawing from the OAS. Neither of these resolutions managed to get the support they needed to pass.


Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR or Commission)

Panama cooperated in the two cases that came before the IACHR, concerning the rights of transgender persons and the rights of environmental defenders. It has not contributed any funds to the IACHR in five years.

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Hearing Issue Score
169th Collective Land Titling and Protection for the Emberá, Wounaan, Kuna, Buglé, Ngöbe, Naso, and Bribri Indigenous Peoples in Panama
165th Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Panama
161st Situation of Environmental Rights Defenders in Panama 3/3
156th Trans persons 3/3

Voluntary financial contributions to IACHR (as of Sept. 16, 2016) 

Year Contributions by Panama Percentage of Total
Contributions to IACHR
2011 $0 0%
2012 $0 0%
2013 $0 0%
2014 $0 0%
2015 $0 0%
2016 $0 0%


Electoral Missions

Panama has had 10 OAS missions to monitor their elections. The latest one was in 2014 when the OAS monitored the general elections. The OAS has also monitored elections in 2009, 2006, 2004, 1999, 1998, 1994, 1992, 1991, and 1978.

Freedom of Information Laws

Since 2000 the right to information and freedom of information laws have expanded across the region. However, the existence of the laws on the books does not necessarily mean full enforcement.

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Signatory/Participant in MESICIC* Yes
Constitutional protection* Yes
Specific law enacted* Yes- enacted in 2002
Is there a presumption of right?* Yes
Scope/Exceptions/Overrides* Access to all information; but no mention if the right of access applies to State-owned enterprises; requires requestors to have an ID number, phone number, and address
Received information under FOIA law?** 63%
Received information within a week?** 34%
Received the appropriate information?** 57%

*Data taken from the Global Right to Information ratings, provided by the Center for Law and Democracy. 
**Information from the 2015 World Justice Project Open Government Index


Women’s Rights:

Protecting women against gender-based violence is a human rights issue often overlooked globally even though it crosses social, economic and national boundaries. And according to the United Nations Population Fund, gender-based violence undermines the health, security, dignity, and autonomy of its victims. Although 16 countries in Latin America had modified their laws to include a specific type of crime referring to the murder of women by 2015, they are not uniformly implemented, and practices to convict perpetrators of gender-based violence are still extremely weak. A 2016 report published by the Small Arms Survey found that Latin America and the Caribbean is home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world.

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The female homicide rate in Panama is 1.8 per 100,000 women. In 2013, Law 82 led to the adoption measures to prevent violence against women. It also reformed the penal code to criminalize femicide and punish acts of violence against women. Under Law 82, perpetrators of femicide serve up to 30 years in prison.  


Indigenous rights:

7.8 percent of the population in Latin America, roughly 41,813,039 people, identify as indigenous, 49 percent of them live in urban areas and 51 percent live in rural areas.

The Labour Organization’s Convention 169 (ILO 169)

The Labour Organization’s Convention 169 (ILO169)—which has the status of an international treaty—establishes the right of indigenous and tribal peoples to be consulted when a policy or project affects their culture or heritage through what is commonly called “previous and informed consent.” The vaguely worded treaty has been a point of contention in some countries, among governments, investors and communities; and progress in implementing it has been uneven. The Convention has been interpreted, in particular, as applying to issues of national resource extraction and infrastructure development that affect communal lands. In Latin America 16 countries have signed ILO 169.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s (UNDRIP)

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007, all Latin American countries, except Colombia, which abstained, voted in favor of this declaration. The only four countries to initially reject this declaration were the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. While it is not a legally binding instrument, it is an “important standard” for the treatment of indigenous people. The declaration sets out the collective and individual rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education, and other issues. It prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development. The end goal is to encourage countries to work alongside indigenous communities to solve global issues, like development, multicultural democracy and decentralization.

American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

In 2016, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples after a long negotiation of 17 years. The declaration recognizes the collective organization and multicultural character of indigenous peoples, the self-identification of people who consider themselves indigenous and special protection for peoples in voluntary isolation or initial contact. However, the declaration was met with resistance by members of the indigenous community, who complained that they did not have full participation in the negotiations and that the declaration rolled back several rights recognized in UNDRIP. The declaration does not mention the right to previous and informed consultation.

Previous to the declaration, in 1990, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had created the Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to devote attention to Indigenous Peoples in the Americas and to “strengthen, promote, and systemize the IACHR’s own work in this area. The current Rapporteur on the Right of Indigenous Peoples is Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli, Ambassador of Peru to Spain from 2012 to 2014 and Minister of the Office of Justice. He received a law degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru with a master’s degree in Constitutional Law and a PhD in Humanities. Former Rapporteurs include, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine a former IACHR Commissioner and Dinah Shelton an international law consultant for the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme among other organizations.

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According to data from 2010, 417,559 of Panama’s population are indigenous (12.2 percent of the total population). Twenty four percent were living in urban areas.

Panama is not a signatory to ILO 169, but voted in favor of UNDRIP and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


[1]WJP Rule-of-Law Index measures 4 principles: 1) The government and its officials and agents as well as individuals and private entities are accountable under the law; 2) The laws are clear, publicized, stable, and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property and certain core human rights; 3) The process by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced is accessible, fair, and efficient; 4) Justice is delivered timely by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
[2] AQ Social Inclusion Index uses 23 different factors to measure how effectively governments are serving their citizens, regardless of race or income, and is published annually by Americas Quarterly at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.
[3] Hearings were scored by Global Americans on a scale of 0 to 3 to evaluate government participation. 0 indicates that the government did not send any representatives to participate. If representatives were present, they were scored from 1 to 3 based on how engaged the representatives were, 1 indicating that they objected to the hearing, to the jurisdiction of the Commission to review the topic or dismissed there being any issue to discuss. A score of 3 indicates full participation of the government, including acknowledgment of the issue and its importance, the jurisdiction of the Commission to review and engagement on how this issue will be addressed going forward.
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