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Panama: Prosecution of Past Abuses Needed

Human Rights Watch today welcomed the release of a Panamanian Truth Commission report describing killings and "disappearances" committed under past military regimes. In a letter to President Mireya Moscoso of Panama, Human Rights Watch urged her to ensure that the perpetrators of the crimes documented by the commission are brought to justice.

The release of the Truth Commission report brings Panama an important step closer to ending years of impunity," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Americas Division. "Now the government must take action to ensure the human rights violations described by the commission do not go unpunished."

The report, released on April 18, documented 110 cases of political murder and forced disappearance carried out by the Panamanian security forces between 1968 and 1989, a period of military rule in Panama. It also detailed the brutal forms of torture that the military employed against political dissidents during those years.

Under international law, the government of Panama is obligated to investigate and prosecute human rights abuses, including those committed under prior regimes. A government that fails to investigate and punish abuses is, in effect, tolerating their practice.

In its letter, Human Rights Watch proposed that President Moscoso name a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute the crimes documented by the commission. The organization noted that similar prosecutors have been named in other Latin American countries, including Mexico and Peru.

Human Rights Watch also called on Panama's government to implement the report's other recommendations, which include making reparations to victims, ensuring civilian control over security forces, promoting the dissemination of the commission's findings, and pursuing further lines of investigation identified by the commission.

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