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Volume 14, Number 24
December 24, 2008

culture

Also in this section:
Special Cool Internet sites: Panama Jazz Festival preview
Photography, José Ponce's urban scenes
Sparky the Wonder Dog
Ballet, Post-Christmas Nutcracker performances
Movies, Milk
Books, Panama Before the Inter-American Human Rights Protection System




Panama's most important rights report since the Truth Commission's
A book review by Eric Jackson

Panamá frente al Sistema Interamericano de Protección de los Derechos Humanos
a Spanish-language book by Andrés Pizarro Sotomayor
Instituto de Estudios Políticos e Internacionales (Panama 2008)
322 pp in paperback
ISBN 978-9962-00-194-2

So what's a review of a non-fiction book, and a law book in Spanish at that, doing in the culture section of The Panama News?

Can you think of anything that has much more to do with the culture of a place than the extent to which and the peculiarities of how human rights are respected? For you unilingual anglophones, maybe one of these days this book will be translated into English, and for you gringos who are imperfectly bilingual, this may be the Spanish practice you need. This is a rather complete outline of Panama's experiences in and standing with human rights law and the inter-American institutions designed to protect people against abuses against it.

The book starts with an introduction that gets into the basic concepts of human rights, the structure of the inter-American human rights system and the principles of jurisdiction that guide which cases the Inter-American Human Rights Court will hear.

By treaty, this latter institution, which has its seat in San Jose, Costa Rica, is the court of last resort for many cases arising in Panama, but only those involving internationally protected human rights where in the proceedings in Panama's courts there were either substantial breaches of due process of law or the substantive law in the case is arguably in violation of international human rights law. "I didn't shoot the guy --- the witness lied" will generally not get your appeal from Panama's Supreme Court heard in this forum, but "They shot my husband and wouldn't even investigate it because they said he was an anti-government troublemaker" probably would, if all possible means of Panamanian justice had been exhausted.

There follows an outline of the inter-American human rights treaties to which Panama is a party and their provisions and a history of when Panama adhered to them and some general principles of how they are interpreted and applied.

There follow summaries of each Panamanian case that has come before the Inter-American Human Rights Court, and the reports of each special report by an OAS commission or special rapporteur about human rights situations in this country.

The final chapter is a detailed history of the Baena Ricarcdo case, about 270 workers for the old state-owned IRHE electric utility who were fired for going on strike in 1990. The workers won before the Inter-American Human Rights Court after years of litigation, and there followed years of defiance of the verdict by successive Panamanian administrations. This chapter at least should be translated into English and copies distributed to members of the US Congress who would vote on a US-Panama free trade pact.

Although this book is about the law and involves some legal terminology, it's not written in "legalese," but rather in straightforward Spanish prose that someone who's not perfectly fluent in the language can understand with a dictionary at his or her side for the only occasional reference.

And you won't understand Panamanian culture unless you know this part of it.


Also in this section:
Special Cool Internet sites: Panama Jazz Festival preview
Photography, José Ponce's urban scenes
Sparky the Wonder Dog
Ballet, Post-Christmas Nutcracker performances
Movies, Milk
Books, Panama Before the Inter-American Human Rights Protection System



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© 2008 by Eric Jackson
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