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Country Reports
Panamá, Landmine Monitor Report 2004


Key developments since 1999: Panamá became a State Party on 1 April 1999. Panamá has formally declared that it has never produced or exported antipersonnel mines, that it holds no stockpile, and that it is not mine-affected. Systematic clearance of the unexploded ordnance problem resulting from US military exercises and weapons testing conducted in Canal Zone military ranges until 1997 has not yet begun. According to UNICEF Panamá, over 1,700 children have received UXO risk education.

Mine Ban Policy

Panamá signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 4 December 1997, ratified on 7 October 1998, and the treaty entered into force on 1 April 1999. Panamá has not enacted new legal measures to implement the treaty, but reports that relevant provisions of its penal code, such as Article 237, are applicable to antipersonnel mines.[1] At the Fifth Meeting of States Parties, Ambassador Xiamara de Arrocha stated that Panamá had legislation that allows for penal sanctions for persons that contravene the Mine Ban Treaty.[2]

The government’s Permanent Commission for the Application of International Humanitarian Law (CPDIH) is engaged in an effort to incorporate a provision into the existing penal code, called “Crimes Against Humanity,” which specifically includes antipersonnel mines.[3] This legislation has been under consideration since February 2002.[4] In February 2004, CPIDH informed Landmine Monitor that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is preparing a new draft of the proposal.[5]

Panamá’s support for the antipersonnel mine ban dates back to September 1996, when its Foreign Minister endorsed a call to make Central America mine-free. Panamá participated in the Ottawa Process leading up to the Mine Ban Treaty and has subsequently attended every annual Meeting of the States Parties except in 2001, as well as some meetings of the intersessional Standing Committees, including in February 2004. It has voted in support of every annual pro-ban resolution by the United Nations General Assembly since 1996, including UNGA Resolution 58/53 on 8 December 2003.

Panamá submitted its initial Article 7 transparency report, due on 27 September 1999, more than two and one-half years late, on 16 April 2002. It covered an unspecified time period. It submitted an annual update on 7 May 2003, in the form of a letter. Panamá’s Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote to the UN that Panamá will not submit a formal report as it has no new information to provide, noting that Panamá has never produced antipersonnel mines, has domestic legislation in place, has no stockpiled antipersonnel mines, and is not mine-affected.[6] As of August 2004, it had not submitted the required annual update due 30 April 2004.

Panamá has not engaged in the extensive discussions that States Parties have had on matters of interpretation and implementation related to Articles 1, 2, and 3. Thus, it has not made its views known on the issues of joint military operations with non-States Parties, foreign stockpiling and transit of antipersonnel mines, antivehicle mines with sensitive fuzes or antihandling devices, and the permissible number of mines retained for training.

While Panamá is a State Party to Amended Protocol II (Landmines) to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, it did not participate in the Fifth Annual Conference of States Parties held in November 2003.

Production, Transfer, Stockpiling, Use

Panamá has stated that it has never produced or exported antipersonnel mines and that it holds no stockpile.[7] Panamá is affected by illegal trafficking of weapons destined for non-state actors in the conflict in Colombia. According to a media account, in May 2003, a Panamánian court sentenced four Panamánians and three Colombians to 20 and 60 months imprisonment for attempting to import into Colombia weapons acquired in Nicaragua, which included thirteen Russian antipersonnel mines.[8]

Colombian combatants sometimes cross into Panamá and engage in fighting. On 18 January 2003, Colombian AUC paramilitaries entered the indigenous Kuna village of Paya in Panamá’s Darién National Park on the border with Colombia. After killing two village leaders and a policeman, the AUC reportedly laid mines at the entrances to the village.[9] The President of CPDIH told Landmine Monitor that the Colombian FARC guerrillas may have laid mines in the Darién border region.[10]

Mine/UXO Problem

In its Article 7 reports, Panamá formally declares that it is not mine-affected. At the Fifth Meeting of States Parties, Ambassador Xiamara de Arrocha stated that Panamá had no knowledge of the existence of mines laid in the country, however, zones affected by UXO left by the foreign occupation have been reported.[11]

In February 2004, the head of the national border police told Landmine Monitor that the country’s southern border with Colombia may be mine-affected, especially Panamá’s border communities of Capurganá, Jaqué, La Miel, Puerto Obaldía, and Zapsurro, areas with many Colombian refugees.[12] La Miel is a forested area near the border where there are frequent confrontation between non-state actors and the border police.

Panamá has a problem with UXO as a result of US military exercises and weapons testing conducted in Canal Zone military ranges during the three decades prior to 1997. An assessment by the US Department of Defense in 1997 revealed the presence of various types of munitions, including Claymore mines, but not other antipersonnel mines.[13] Information gathered in 1999 by a contractor to the Tropical Test Center indicates, however, that the Center reportedly tested the XM86 antipersonnel mine (an experimental version of the Pursuit Deterrent Munition now in service with US Special Forces) and M15 antivehicle mines in the Empire, Fort Sherman, and Gamboa firing ranges.[14] In addition, in May 1998 consultants from Wolf's Flat Ordnance Disposal Company surveyed a section of the Empire range and found a World War II-era M2 antipersonnel mine.[15] Storage and detonation tests of VX-filled mines were conducted in the Canal Zone from 1964 to 1968. According to one test participant, the detonation tests (conducted on a beach in the Canal Zone) were with live agent.[16]

According to its 2002 Article 7 report, the government of Panamá has demarcated the areas formerly used for military purposes. It is prohibited to enter or use any of these areas.[17] According to the United Nations, approximately 3,250 hectares of land in the Piña, Balboa West and Emperador areas is contaminated, putting more than 100,000 individuals in 81 communities at risk.[18]

According a November 2003 media report, the government of Panamá estimated that 15,000 hectares of land required UXO clearance at a cost of approximately $600 million.[19] A member of the parliamentary committee investigating the clean-up, Daniel Delgado Diamante, has reportedly estimated the cost at $688 million.[20] The US Department of State is reportedly considering an additional aid provision to Panamá for clearance of the fourteen former US military firing ranges.[21]

It was reported in April 2004 that a contractor, Isthmian Explosive Disposal, cleared UXO on the western side of a second bridge under construction across the Panamá Canal, which cuts through the old US Army Empire Range. After the contractor completed the clearance task, construction workers reportedly encountered 14 pieces of UXO during their work.[22]

UXO Risk Education

The Ministries of Health, Foreign Affairs and Education, in collaboration with the National Police, the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), and the Regional Inter-Oceanic Authority and Centro Juvenil Vicentino (CEJUVI) have conducted UXO risk education programs since 1999, when UNICEF provided $30,000 for workshops.[23] According to UNICEF Panamá, over 1,700 children have received UXO risk education briefings through projects that include workshops, theatre, puppetry, coloring books and radio broadcasts.[24]

In 2002, the UN stated that a new survey was needed to assess progress in mine/UXO risk education, determine the number of individuals in need of risk education, and help measure future impact, as the most recent survey information dated from 1998. This was especially needed in the areas of Isla Iguana in Los Santos province, Rio Hato in Cocle province, San José in the Pearl Islands archipelago, and Darién province.[25]

In Darién province, NGOs including Caritas, Vicariato del Darien and Fundación por los niños del Darien, have plans to initiate a mine risk education program for indigenous communities living near the border with Colombia.[26]

UXO Casualties

On 30 June 2004, a 42-year-old farmer was reportedly killed in a UXO explosion in Piña, a former US military range in Colón province.[27] Landmine Monitor has not reported any other mine or UXO casualties in Panamá since 1999.

According to the United Nations, six people have been killed, and up to 27 injured by UXO in the past.[28]

[1] This article provides for a prison sentence of two to six years for “anyone who attempts to commit a crime endangering collective security by manufacturing, supplying, acquiring, removing or possessing bombs and explosive materials, or materials intended for their preparation.” Article 7 Report, Form A, 16 April 2002.
[2] Statement by Amb. Xiamara de Arrocha, Fifth Meeting of States Parties, Bangkok, 15-19 September 2003.
[3] Chapter II of the proposed legislation’s first draft, states, “Anyone who develops, produces, stockpiles, conserves and transfers bacteriological and toxic weapons, chemical weapons or antipersonnel mines prohibited by International Conventions or treaties of which Panamá is part, will receive prison sentences of 10 to 15 years.” Interview with Angela Healy, President, Permanent Commission for the Application of International Humanitarian Law, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Panamá, 31 January 2003.
[4] Interview with Lorena Urriola. President. Human Rights Commision, Panamá, 27 February 2004.
[5] Telephone interview with Angela Healy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 17 February 2004.
[6] Letter to Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, from Harmodio Arias Cerjack, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ref. A.J/DH/No. 969, 7 May 2003.
[7] Article 7 Report, Forms B, D and H, 16 April 2002.
[8] “Desmantelan en Panamá red de traficantes de armas para Colombianos,” Notimex (Panamá), 16 May 2003.
[9] It is not clear if the mines were antipersonnel, antivehicle, or improvised explosive devices in media reports on the incident. Ben Ryder Howe, “An Impossible Place to Be,” Outside Magazine, September 2004, p. 120; “Four indigenous Kuna leaders assassinated by Colombian paramilitaries on Panamá border,” La Prensa (Panamá newspaper), 22 January 2004; Eric Jackson, “AUC invades Panamá, kills four Kuna leaders, abducts and releases three Americans,” The Panamá News, Vol. 9, No. 2, 26 January-8 February 2004.
[10] Telephone interview with Angela Healy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 17 February 2004.
[11] Statement by Panamá, Fifth Meeting of States Parties, 15-19 September 2003.
[12] Interview with Guillermo Pimentel, Director, Police Service of Borders of Panamá (Servicio Policial de Fronteras de Panamá), 15 February 2004.
[13] PRC Environmental Management, Inc. for Panamá Canal Treaty Implementation Plan Agency, Department of Defense, Unexploded Ordnance Assessment of US Military Ranges in Panamá: Empire, Balboa West, and Piña Ranges, Final Report, January 1997, Appendix A, p. A-15.
[14] Email to Landmine Monitor (El Salvador) from John Lindsay-Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation – Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean, 12 September 2004.
[15] Ibid.
[16] John Lindsay-Poland, Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the US in Panamá, (Duke University Press), 2003, pp.66-68.
[17] Article 7 Report, Form I, 16 April 2002.
[18] UN, “Portfolio of Mine-related Projects 2003,” October 2002, p. 213. See also Ricardo Leal, “Los Polígonos de Tiro y Áreas de Bombardeo de las Fuerzas Armadas Norteamericanas en la República de Panamá,” Instituto del Canal y Estudios Internacionales, 16 July 2002.
[19] “US Considers Additional Aid to Panamá for Firing Range Clean-Up,” AFP (Panamá City), 3 November 2003.
[20] Urania Cecilia Molina, “Una Vía Por Terrenos Minados,” La Prensa, 19 March 2004.
[21] “US Considers Additional Aid to Panamá,” AFP 3 November 2003.
[22] “UXO found in allegedly cleared bridge approach,” Panamá News, Vol. 10, No. 6, 21 March – 3 April 2004.
[23] UN, “Portfolio of Mine-related Projects,” February 2002, p. 196; interview with Xochitl MaKay, Director of Education in Health, Ministry of Health, Panamá, 19 February 2002.
[24] Interview with Miguel Cuellar, Program Officer. UNICEF Panamá, 16 February 2004.
[25] UN, “Portfolio of Mine-related Projects 2003,” October 2002, p. 215; UNICEF e-Bulletin, “Things that go bang!” Issue 9, 25 November 2002.
[26] Interview with Sor Maria Ardila. Executive Director, Vicariato de Darien, 26 February 2004.
[27] “Panamánian man killed in blast on former U.S. firing range” EFE News Service (Panamá City), 1 July 2004; Diomedes Sánchez, “Buscaba plátanos y encontró la muerte,” La Prensa (Panamá), 2 July 2004.
[28] UN, “Portfolio of Mine-related Projects 2003,” October 2002, p. 213. The time period of the casualties was not specified.