Press Release

IACHR Publishes Report No. 121/18, Case 10.573—José Isabel Salas Galindo and Others, Concerning the United States

December 3, 2018

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Report No. 121/18, Case 10.573, José Isabel Salas Galindo and others

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights published Report No. 121/18, of Case 10.573 – José Isabel Salas Galindo and others, concerning the United States of America. The case relates to the military invasion of Panama by the United States in December 1989, known as Operation Just Cause. The IACHR has concluded that the United States did not take sufficient measures to adequately warn Panama of this, to safely evacuate civilians, or to prevent or respond to the plight of people who were brought into harm’s way. The IACHR also deemed that the way the operation was carried out did not comply with the basic principles of distinction, necessity, proportionality, and precaution established by international humanitarian law (IHL). The IACHR thus established the United States’ international responsibility for violating the rights to life, integrity, and personal security enshrined in Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, to the detriment of those who lost their lives and were injured during the invasion. Furthermore, given that several of the deceased victims were children at the time of the events, the IACHR also ruled that the United States violated Article VII of the American Declaration.

The IACHR established that civilian property was damaged in the course of Operation Just Cause. This included the destruction of homes and personal property within them, which contravenes the relevant regulations. It also observed that as a consequence of this damage, the rights of the owners of this property to use and enjoy it have been compromised over time. By virtue of this, the IACHR concluded that the disproportionate effects caused by the United States Armed Forces on movable and immovable property and other civilian assets in the areas of Panama City, Viejo Veranillo, Los Andes, San Miguelito, the Patio Pinel complex, and particularly El Chorrillo constituted a violation of the right to personal property enshrined in Article XXIII of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

The IACHR deemed that the United States had not proved that it had taken sufficient concrete steps toward conducting an appropriate investigation into the events in question, especially the deaths and injuries that were caused, in accordance with its obligations relating to the right to justice. Likewise, the IACHR noted that the state also failed to comply with its obligation to guarantee victims and their families access to appropriate, effective mechanisms for exercising their right to the truth.

Likewise, the IACHR is of the opinion that the state failed to comply with its obligations to respect and guarantee victims the right to justice, truth, and reparation, as stipulated in Article XVIII of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, because it did has not taken steps toward conducting serious ex officio investigations into use of force that contravened the principles of international human rights law and international humanitarian law; and because it did not adapt existing legal structures to enable victims to reach a clear understanding of the events in question and receive appropriate reparation for the harm that was caused to them. In the case of the victims who lost their lives, the IACHR deemed that this violation was to the detriment of their families.

On December 6, 2017, the IACHR approved Merits Report No. 169/17 and recommended the United States make comprehensive reparation for both the tangible and intangible aspects of the human rights violations set out in the report, including economic compensation and redress. To implement this, the IACHR deemed that the United States should act swiftly to create a special mechanism on its own initiative that is independent of any initiatives that might be taken by the state of Panama, in order to provide appropriate reparation for each group of victims. Given that the victims do not live in US territory, the IACHR urged the state to deploy all diplomatic or other types of efforts needed to implement this recommendation effectively. The IACHR also observed that reparations for deceased victims should be given to their relatives or heirs, as appropriate.

The IACHR recommended that physical and mental healthcare be provided to help victims with the recovery process, should they so wish. Given that the victims do not live in the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, the IACHR instructed that they should be paid a specific amount to cover the medical services they must pay for in their country of residence. It also recommended that a careful, effective investigation be carried out within a reasonable period of time to fully clarify the facts, identify all responsible parties, and impose the appropriate sanctions on them.

In March 2018, the United States informed the IACHR that it had “taken the nonbinding recommendations set out [in the report] into consideration” and reiterated its objection to the manner in which the IACHR interpreted and applied the law on armed conflict in the merits report in question. The state indicated that the only international instrument that it holds as being relevant in relation to the IACHR is the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, which does not include customary or conventional law on armed conflict.

The United States also objected to the recommendation that it establish a special mechanism to enable reparations to be made for deaths, injury, or property damage suffered by civilians during Operation Just Cause. It insisted that neither the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man nor customary international law establishes a right to compensation for persons who suffer death or injury in the course of a lawful international armed conflict. The state indicated that it provided substantial financial assistance to the government of Panama for reconstruction and recovery in the years after Operation Just Cause and that it had met with the December 20 Commission to identify potential areas for cooperation with Panama.

On May 10, 2018, the IACHR approved Merits Report No. 70/18 (Final) and sent this to the United States on August 16, 2018, with a request that it report back within a month on the measures it had taken to comply with the recommendations. The IACHR has yet to receive a reply. As the United States has not complied with the recommendations set forth in the merits report in question, on October 5, 2018, the IACHR approved Report No. 121/18, which it decided to make public and include in its Annual Report to the OAS General Assembly. As stipulated in its mandate, the IACHR will continue to assess compliance with the recommendations in this report until they are fully implemented.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 258/18