PANAMA CITY – The government of Panama approved Tuesday a bill that will penalize forced disappearance and torture with up to 20 years’ imprisonment in order to fulfill international commitments regarding human rights, according to a press release from the Presidency Ministry.
The Council of Ministers approved the bill and authorized Interior Minister Roxana Méndez to present it before the National Assembly in order to “correctly” classify these crimes in the country’s penal code.
The initiative, which establishes punishments ranging from two to 20 years, was scheduled to have been presented on June 1, but was held back in order to incorporate recommendations framed by the nongovernmental Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL).
The classification of these crimes is one of various points in a sentence imposed on Panama by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the disappearance of opposition leader Heliodoro Portugal in 1970.
On May 27, the president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, officially asked forgiveness of the Portugal family in fulfillment of the court’s sentence. He also announced the drafting of the bill to penalize forced disappearance and torture.
In order to guarantee human rights and successful prosecution of terror crimes and forced disappearances, the bill amends articles in the penal code that failed to adequately address these offenses.
The changes would establish a punishment of 15 to 20 years in prison for crimes of causing illegal loss of freedom of one or more people committed by agents of the state or by people or groups who act with its authorization, support or consent.
Refusal to recognize loss of freedom or to provide information regarding the whereabouts of victims is also listed as criminal conduct.
The amendment also would impose punishment of two to three years’ imprisonment for government agents who subject private citizens to unlawful punishments that affect their health or dignity, and sanctions of five to eight years if the punishment is slanderous or humiliating, or if the victim is a minor.
The bill also proposes punishments of 10 to 15 years for the crime of torture.