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Committee on the Rights of the Child reviews the report of Panama under the Optional Protocol on Children and armed conflict

Committee on the Rights of the Child 

12 September 2019

The Committee on the Rights of the Child this afternoon considered the initial report of Panama under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. 

Committee Experts said Panama was one of the few countries that did not have a standing armed force.  There were no armed forces and therefore no recruitment of children.  To be on the safe side, they asked the delegates to confirm that there was no exception to the age requirement for persons wishing to join Panama’s civil security forces.

There were reports of recruitment of children by non-State armed groups at the border, including Afro-descendants and indigenous children, the Experts said.  Could the delegation comment on this matter?  They noted the strict provisions of article 448 of the Criminal Code, which criminalized recruiting children, and sought clarification about its application to non-State armed groups.  Should these groups not be prohibited from recruiting children under any conditions?  Did the State party intend to promulgate an explicit ban on the recruitment of children by non-State armed groups, including private security forces.

Sara Rodriguez, Director of the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Families, said the Constitution stipulated that Panama did not have an army.  The organic laws of the security forces required any persons to be over the age of 18 as a requirement for joining them.  The Government would certainly use the Committee’s recommendations as a guide. 

In concluding remarks, Philip Jaffé, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Panama, said the exercise had been extremely important as it had enriched the Committee’s understanding of the application of the Optional Protocol in Panama, as well as, more broadly, the situation of the rights of children.  It would be a nice gesture to think about ways to raise the voices of children through the good work that the Government was doing.

Ms. Rodriguez, in concluding remarks, said Panama’s ratification of this instrument had allowed the advancement of the promotion and protection of the rights of children.  It had been a positive and constructive dialogue, in which the delegation had reported on its achievements, which it presented with pride and a commitment to deepen and strengthen.  Panama also recognized with openness and sincerity the challenges it faced. 

Luis Ernesto Perdernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its openness to engage in a dialogue.  The Committee sought to assist Panama in implementing the Optional Protocol. 

The delegation of Panama consisted of representatives of the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Families, the National Commission for Human Rights, the Ministry of External Relations, and the Permanent Mission of Panama to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m.  on Monday, 16 September, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of Panama under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/PAN/1).

Presentation of the Report

SARA RODRIGUEZ, Director of the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Families of Panama, said the report and the answers submitted to this Committee had been prepared on the basis of data, documents and information provided by representatives of relevant institutions that comprised the National Permanent Commission on Human Rights, the national mechanism for the monitoring of the commitments and recommendations of the treaty bodies.

The Constitution stipulated that Panama did not have an army.  The organic laws of the security forces required persons to be over the age of 18 as a requirement for joining them.  Panama had ratified 16 agreements of The Hague which applied to the conduct of hostilities and nine agreements of Geneva on the respect of victims of armed conflicts.  The Criminal Code included offences against collective security and crimes against humanity.

There was no civil war nor any international armed conflict in Panama.  Both peace and democracy were paramount to preserve solidarity.  Panama therefore defended vehemently the spirit of the Optional Protocol in all circumstances.  In that regard, it was implementing plans with foci on prevention. 

The Government had adopted a law which created housing facilities that were used to provide protection to foreigners who needed it.  As per the 2018 Executive Decree number 5, Panama adapted its legislation to international standards on the protection of children.  The Executive Branch had established guidelines on public safety and security which acknowledged vulnerable migrants.

The Government was developing an Inter-Institutional Protocol for the comprehensive protection of children and adolescents in the context of international migration.

On dangerous child labour, she added that in 2016, the Government had reviewed the classification of the worst forms of child labour.  In line with Convention 138 and Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization, the Directorate against Child Labour and for the Protection of Adolescent Workers was carrying out actions and implementing prevention measures.

The Government would certainly use the Committee’s recommendations as a guide.  They would support efforts to bolster coexistence and understanding – the bedrock of human rights.

Questions by the Committee Experts

PHILIP JAFFÉ, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Panama, said that Panama was one of the few countries that did not have a standing armed force.  There were no armed forces and therefore no recruitment of children.  To be on the safe side, he asked the delegates to confirm there was no exception to the age requirement for persons wishing to join Panama’s civil security forces.

Now that it had ratified the Convention as well as its Optional Protocols, the hard part remained, namely to find the best way to implement them.

He noted that Panama had signed the Safe School Declaration -- an important step for which the State party should be commended.

Could the delegation provide some clarity as to the composition of the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Families?  He asked for information on the consultation process that informed the drafting of the report.  Had it been a top-down exercise?

On the dissemination of the Optional Protocol, he noted that the State party had stated that each entity was responsible for promoting the dissemination of the Optional Protocol and providing training for the professionals who were involved in its implementation.  Could the delegation inform the Committee on the oversight of the training?  Was there a consolidated curriculum or was each programme constructed ad hoc?

There were reports of the recruitment of children by non-State armed groups at the border, including Afro-descendants and indigenous children.  Could the delegation comment on this matter?

Turning to children on the move, he noted that they were now registered individually.  Why did these records stop at the age of 17?

Asylum application evaluation forms included a section in which authorities could record if the children had been recruited by armed groups.  Were staff members who conducted such interviews sufficiently trained to elicit this information from the child?

AISSATOU ALASSANE, Committee Rapporteur for Panama, asked what actions the State had taken to disseminate the Optional Protocol and what impact they had had.  Concering protection, Panama was a destination for asylum seekers, including children who might have been involved or used in hostilities.  Which measures had been taken to identify, adapt, and provide support to children who might have been involved in armed conflicts?

PHILIP JAFFÉ, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Panama, noted the strict provisions of article 448 of the Criminal Code, which criminalized recruiting children, and sought clarification about its application to non-State armed groups.  Should these groups not be prohibited from recruiting children under any conditions?

Noting that the State party had stated that the Ministry of Public Security reports said that there currently were no non-State armed groups with a permanent presence in territory under Panamanian jurisdiction, he asked which non-State armed groups had a non-permanent presence in the State party.

AISSATOU ALASSANE, Committee Rapporteur for Panama, asked what measures had been taken to guarantee the right to special assistance and protection to former child soldiers.  What human and financial resources were allocated to the implementation of the Optional Protocol?

Did the State party intend to promulgate an explicit ban on the recruitment of children in non-State armed groups, including private security forces?

PHILIP JAFFÉ, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Panama, said there was one component that would benefit from more international cooperation, namely dealing with violent gangs.  These gangs were present in other countries, such as Honduras.  These organized groups were viciously violent.  What was the Government, including its security forces, doing to meet the challenges that they posed?  What measures had been taken on the regulation of the use of firearms that could affect how these groups carried out violent acts.  Had the activities of these gangs’ activities impacted children in poor neighbourhoods?  There were reportedly curfews being imposed in some neighbourhoods.

He requested information about the Office of the Ombudsman and the work it carried out that was related to the Optional Protocol.  Could the delegation elaborate on the level of cooperation between that Office and the Government?

He requested information about children who acted as human rights defenders and, more broadly, on children’s participation in social and political affairs.

AISSATOU ALASSANE, Committee Rapporteur for Panama, asked if sufficient resources were allocated to care for children involved in armed conflicts.

Replies by the Delegation

SARA RODRIGUEZ, Director of the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Families of Panama, said there were no exceptions to the prohibition of recruitment of children by civil security forces.

Regarding private security agencies, there was a clear requirement to be 21 years of age to participate in the activities of such agencies.

The delegation explained that the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Families was made up of 10 institutions and semi-autonomous bodies.  Meetings were held to review and prepare periodic reports.  It was also preparing a national human rights plan.  It worked to ensure the reports submitted to treaty bodies were as balanced as possible. 

On data collection, quantitative information was gathered to design policies that were effective and had a real impact on the ground.

The Office of Human Rights Defender had been established in line with the Paris Principles and had its own budget.

In 2011, after having received temporary humanitarian assistance for about 20 years, refugees had had access to residency through executive decree 81/2011, in line with a request from the Human Rights Committee.
On preventive measures, the delegation explained that border patrol agents were provided with specific training on the rights and needs of children and adolescents.  The National Inter-Sectoral Committee on the Prevention of Violence against Children and Adolescents was responsible for creating and applying public policy on all forms of violence against women, children and adolescents.  It had taken into consideration the recommendations of the Committee in that regard.  It was working on the prevention of violence in different settings and communities, taking into account socio-economic factors. 

Efforts were being made to prevent children from taking part in conflicts, including those involving gangs.  There were currently no gangs in the country.
Education on human rights was obligatory in the police academy.  To reach the higher ranks in the police force, a certain number of hours of specialized training in human rights was mandatory.

SARA RODRIGUEZ, Director of the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Families, said that children who had been victims of armed conflict were treated on the same footing as any child in Panama and received specific support.  Programmes were carried out in schools and communities in that regard.

The Government was supporting the creation of participation mechanisms for children, through which they could, for instance, obtain training on their rights.  These mechanisms existed at the municipal level.  The Government was working on measures to more broadly disseminate the Optional Protocol.

The delegation explained that in Panama there were no children working in private security companies.  The Labour Code stated in article 118 that it was prohibited for any person under the age of 18 to carry out any such work. 

In 2018, the Government had adopted a protocol to attend to the needs of children under international protection.  This protocol sought to establish guidelines on how to best determine the best interest of the child and identify if a child being supported was a victim of armed conflict.

Further Questions and Answers

An Expert asked for information on children who were asylum seekers.  He noted that the rate of acceptance for adults was very low.

SARA RODRIGUEZ, Director of the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Families, said the rate of recognition of persons as refugees was not high.  More information on that matter would be provided in writing.  The National Secretariat for Children was working with the Office for Refugees on the provisions of psychosocial care.  A decree had been adopted to allow children and adolescents to directly apply for asylum.  There were only 15 to 20 such requests per year.

PHILIP JAFFÉ, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Panama, asked if children benefitted from any legal aid in the context of applying for asylum.  Was Panama equipped with a children’s parliament at the national level or another mechanism allowing for the national representation of children?

In response, the delegation said that concerning legal representation for children who were asylum seekers, there were a number of international organizations and non-governmental organizations that provided this service.
There was no children’s parliament at the moment, but this was a concern that the delegation could take back to the capital.

An Expert asked what percentage of the budget had been set aside to implement the Optional Protocol.

Another Expert asked for additional information on measures taken to prevent the recruitment of children by non-State armed groups.

The delegation explained that members of civil society had been involved in drafting the report, even though they had not been specifically convoked. 

It was important to look at every means of disseminating the Optional Protocol, as a means of prevention, the delegation stated.

Concluding Remarks

PHILIP JAFFÉ, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Panama, said the exercise had been extremely important as it had enriched the Committee’s understanding of the application of the Optional Protocol in Panama, as well as, more broadly, the situation of the rights of children in the country.  It was impressive that the Government had a forward-looking, proactive way of identifying and filling gaps.  The dialogue was there to reinforce actions that contributed to the implementation of the Convention.  And yet, within the report, the voice of children did not come across strongly.  It would be a nice gesture to think about ways to raise the voices of children through the good work that the Government was doing.

SARA RODRIGUEZ, Director of the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Families of Panama, said Panama’s ratification of this instrument had allowed advancement of the promotion and protection of the rights of children.  It had been a positive and constructive dialogue, in which the delegation had reported on its achievements, which it presented with pride and a commitment to deepen and strengthen them.  Panama also recognized with openness and sincerity the challenges it faced.  These challenges sometimes made it difficult to implement the recommendations of this Committee and those of other bodies.  The Government was committed to the respect of human rights and the promotion of their universal and binding nature.

LUIS ERNESTO PERDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its openness to engage in a dialogue.  The Committee sought to assist Panama in implementing the Optional Protocol.  The Committee extended its greetings to the children of Panama.

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