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El Salvador

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the state intelligence service tracked journalists or collected information regarding their private lives.

In many neighborhoods gangs and other armed groups targeted certain persons and interfered with privacy, family, and home life. Efforts by authorities to remedy these situations were generally ineffective.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. Although the Supreme Court investigated corruption in the executive and judicial branches and referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal indictment, corruption and impunity remained endemic.

Multiple officials in the executive branch were accused of engaging in corrupt acts. In many instances the government either ignored the actions or took steps to actively prevent prosecution of those officials unless the officials were political opponents or were members of previous administrations.

Corruption: On August 23, El Faro followed up on its September 2020 story accusing the Bukele administration of negotiating with senior gang leaders since 2019 to obtain electoral support and a reduction in homicides prior to this year’s legislative and municipal elections. Citing photographs and audio recordings, El Faro reported that former attorney general Raul Melara’s investigation found evidence that the Bukele administration negotiated with the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs and that the DGCP removed hard drives and hundreds of logbooks documenting the negotiations four days after the publication of the initial article.

On September 19, El Faro reported that the Attorney General’s Office under former attorney general Melara found evidence that Bureau of Prisons Director Osiris Luna embezzled $1.6 million worth of food between September and November 2020 from the Public Health Emergency Program, a government food program assisting families during the pandemic. There was also evidence that Luna then resold these goods to a merchant who was known to sell contraband.

According to media reports, President Bukele dismissed Minister of Justice and Public Security Eduardo Rogelio Rivas Polanco in March due to Rivas Polanco diverting public funds to a private account to finance his presidential candidacy in the 2024 elections.

On May 6, the Legislative Assembly approved the Law for the Use of Products for Medical Treatments in Exceptional Public Health Situations Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The law includes provisions to shield vaccine manufacturers from liability and allows the government to bypass procurement and transparency regulations. According to the NGO Democracy, Transparency, and Justice Foundation, the new law seeks to retroactively protect government officials from misuse of public money for pandemic spending that occurred before the approval of the law.

On June 4, President Bukele announced the termination of the cooperation agreement with the OAS, bringing an end to the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES). The president claimed the termination was in response to the OAS announcing the hiring of former San Salvador mayor Ernesto Muyshondt as an advisor to the OAS. The president explained that Muyshondt faced criminal proceedings for negotiating with gangs for electoral support and therefore the government could not continue to work with an organization that hired a criminal as an advisor. Analysts and media reported that CICIES was investigating Bukele administration officials and speculated that the president used the Muyshondt issue as a pretense to terminate the CICIES agreement to stymie the investigations into his administration. In July, OAS representatives stated they offered Muyshondt an honorary contract but did not formally hire him and that the contract was never signed. Head of CICIES Ronalth Ochaeta said CICIES sent 12 cases of possible corruption from five government institutions to the Attorney General’s Office on April 7. As of September 13, the Attorney General’s Office had not revealed the details of those investigations.

Officials from the Attorney General’s Office raided the headquarters of opposition party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) on July 2 and seized assets to recover funds embezzled from a donation by Taiwan made between 2003 and 2004. Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado stated that former president Antonio Saca financed his electoral campaign with $10 million donated by Taiwan for reconstruction projects following two earthquakes in 2001.

On July 22, the PNC arrested five former government officials on charges of illicit enrichment for having received illegal side payments that exceeded their salaries authorized by law. All five served in the administration of former president Mauricio Funes, who remained under political asylum protection in Nicaragua to evade charges of illicit enrichment. Attorney General Delgado also issued arrest warrants for four more government officials, including former president Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who left the country in December 2020 and became a citizen of Nicaragua on July 30. Funes, Ceren, the five arrested officials, and the other former officials with arrest warrants all belonged to opposition party FMLN.

As of August 10, the Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) failed to fulfill its legal obligation to publish the 2020 report on public entities. The report, approved in November 2020, evaluated the transparency performance of 98 government institutions and 60 municipalities and was expected to cover information related to purchases, contracts, or tenders made during the COVID-19 pandemic. After President Bukele appointed three commissioners to the IAIP, the institute decided in December 2020 to postpone publication of the report. As of August 20, the Ethics Tribunal reported that it had opened 170 administrative proceedings against 240 public officials. The Ethics Tribunal imposed sanctions on 19 cases and referred 18 cases to the Attorney General’s Office.

On September 8, the Legislative Assembly approved reforms to the criminal procedure code to remove the statute of limitations and apply the law retroactively to crimes of corruption.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, and the law’s definition of rape may apply to spousal rape, at the judge’s discretion. The law requires the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute rape cases whether or not the victim presses charges, and the law does not permit the victim to withdraw the criminal charge. The penalty for conviction of rape is generally imprisonment for six to 10 years. Laws against rape were not effectively enforced.

The law prohibits domestic violence and generally provides for sentences for conviction ranging from one to three years in prison, although some forms of domestic violence carry higher penalties. The law also permits restraining orders against offenders. Laws against domestic violence remained poorly enforced, and violence against women, including domestic violence, remained a widespread and serious problem.

According to a newly published survey, the first of its kind carried out by the General Directorate of Statistics and Census (DIGESTYC), six of 10 women older than age 15 suffered some type of sexual violence in their life. The data was collected in 2019 but not disclosed until March due to difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.) Sixty-three percent of women ages 15 to 19 and 72 percent of women ages 30 to 34 reported having suffered sexual violence.

Between January and April, the Attorney General’s Office received 441 complaints of domestic violence, which encompasses domestic violence toward any member of the family, including children. Observers noted this number likely did not capture most domestic violence cases, particularly those perpetrated against women. On November 3, several women’s organizations discussed in a forum the 2019 National Data System on Violence against Women of the Ministry of Justice and DIGESTYC, which showed that 68 percent of women older than 15 years suffered sexual violence, but only 5.3 percent sought help. The organizations attributed this low reporting number to women’s distrust of state institutions.

On January 15, the Specialized Sentencing Court for a Life Free of Violence for Women sentenced David Eliseo Diaz Ramirez to 35 years in prison for femicide. Diaz Ramirez and several gang members killed a woman in Tutunichapa, San Salvador Department, in 2019 because she refused to have sex with them.

On May 8, the PNC found more than a dozen bodies, most of them girls and women, buried in the house of former police officer Hugo Ernesto Chavez Osorio, who was arrested on May 6 for the murders of two women. According to the PNC investigation, Chavez Osorio raped his victims and then killed them before burying their bodies in his house.

The Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA) reported that the Ministry of Health registered 6,938 pregnant girls or adolescents in the first six months of the year, including 156 girls ages 10 and 11 who were raped and became pregnant. During the first half of the year, the number of pregnancies among girls between the ages of 10-14 increased 9 percent as compared to the same period in 2020. ORMUSA attributed this to several causes, including a lack of government policy for preventing pregnancies in girls and adolescents, a lack of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, and an increase in sexual violence. According to the Feminist Collective, families did not report the rapes to the PNC and the Attorney General’s Office because the rapist was commonly a relative of the victim and the families considered it an embarrassment.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and establishes sentences if convicted of five to eight years’ imprisonment. Courts also may impose additional fines in cases in which the perpetrator held a position of trust or authority over the victim. The law mandates that employers take measures against sexual harassment and create and implement preventive programs. The government, however, did not enforce sexual harassment laws effectively.

On March 11, the Second Sentencing Court sentenced Jose Misael Maldonado Palacios, a corporal of the Third Infantry Brigade of the San Miguel Armed Forces, to six years in prison for improper sexual conduct against two employees. The Specialized Attention Unit for Crimes related to Children, Adolescents, and Women stated that in March 2020, Maldonado Palacios offered to pay two women in exchange for sexual acts inside the barracks.

On March 19, the Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of Salvador Alcides Villegas, general manager of the Council of Mayors of Usulutan. Villegas was formally accused of sexual harassment of three women, including touching and improper sexual expressions. The victims told the authorities that Villegas touched their legs, breasts, and buttocks.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The law bans abortion. Civil society advocates expressed concern that the ban led to the wrongful incarceration of women who suffered severe pregnancy complications, including miscarriages.

In March the Inter-American Court of Human Rights concluded that the government violated the right to personal freedom, life, health, and justice of Manuela, a woman sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2008 for the aggravated homicide of her unborn child. Manuela died from cancer in 2010 after not receiving timely and appropriate treatment in prison.

On June 2, the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion in El Salvador reported that at least 17 women were in prison on charges of having an abortion after suffering out-of-hospital obstetric emergencies. One of the women, Sara Rogel, received early parole, and the Second Court of Penitentiary Surveillance in Cojutepeque, Cuscatlan Department, released her from prison on June 7. Rogel suffered an obstetric emergency in 2012 when she slipped while washing clothes and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide for allegedly having an abortion. The court commuted Rogel’s sentence to 10 years in January, and Rogel received early parole after the Attorney General’s Office declined to appeal the decision.

The government-run Institute for Women’s Development implements the National Care System which aims to improve the care, protection, and access to justice for victims of sexual and other types of violence. The specialized comprehensive care includes medical care, counseling, family planning, medical examinations, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections in victims of sexual violence and services were generally available throughout the country.

ORMUSA reported that the closure of Ciudad Mujer health centers throughout the country since June 2019, shortly after President Bukele became president, had created a barrier to women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons receiving timely health services. Following the closure of the centers, women and LGBTQI+ persons were subjected to long delays to see doctors, and the doctors were not specialized in the field of reproductive health and health issues specific to the LGBTQI+ community, as were the doctors in the Ciudad Mujer health centers.

Discrimination: The constitution grants women and men the same legal status in family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws. There were no reports of discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, education, and judicial processes. The law also provides equal rights for men and women in the areas of property rights, inheritance, employment, access to credit, business ownership, and housing. The law establishes sentences of one to three years in prison for public officials convicted of denying a person’s civil rights based on gender and six months to two years for employers convicted of discriminating against women in the workplace, but employees generally did not report such violations due to fear of employer reprisals.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Systemic racial discrimination existed towards those in the Afro-descendent community and indigenous groups. There are several laws to protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination. The law provides for individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples to practice ethnic minority traditions, participate in decision-making on issues that affect their rights, and for protection against discrimination. In 2018 the government implemented the Public Policy for Indigenous Communities in El Salvador, which focused on the inclusion of ethnic groups in all social and economic aspects. The government did not enforce the laws effectively, and the administration took no further action to implement the 2018 policy. The government did not recognize indigenous persons of the Afro-descendent community in the last population census in 2007.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution recognizes indigenous peoples and states that the government will adopt policies to maintain and develop the ethnic and cultural identity, world view, values, and spirituality of indigenous peoples. The law provides for the preservation of languages and archeological sites. The municipalities of Cacaopera and Yucuaiquin, in the eastern part of the country, have special laws to recognize their indigenous cultural heritage.

The law does not include the right to be consulted regarding development and other projects envisioned on indigenous land, nor does it provide indigenous peoples the right to share in revenue from exploitation of natural resources on historically indigenous lands. The government did not demarcate any lands as belonging to indigenous communities. Because few indigenous persons possessed title to land, opportunities for bank loans and other forms of credit remained limited.

According to the most recent census, from 2007, there were 60 indigenous groups, making up 0.4 percent of citizens, mainly from the Nahua-Pipl, Lencas, Cacaopera (Kakwira), and Maya Chorti groups. According to the Institute of the Faculty of Sciences and Humanities of the University of El Salvador, political parties did not consider proposals in favor of indigenous peoples as part of their electoral platforms.

On January 10, Nahuat language teacher Hector Martinez reported that the indigenous Nahuat language was only spoken in four municipalities: Santo Domingo de Guzman, Cuisnahuat, Nahuizalco, and Tacbua. The 2007 census showed there were only 197 Nahuat speakers, but Martinez said the number was drastically fewer because the Nahuat speakers were all elderly and living in extreme poverty. According to the culture law, Spanish is the official language of the country, but “the state is obliged to promote and conserve the rescue, teaching, and respect of ancestral languages throughout the territory.”

On October 17, members of indigenous groups marched against the current administration, demanding visibility of their complaints a stop to the destruction of their sacred places and ceremonial sites such as Tacushcalco and Nexapan archeological sites and the Sensunapan River.

Members of indigenous groups said they do not feel represented by the government or any public official. They said that the government has not responded to their various requests, which included the return of indigenous lands taken by the government, respect for ancestral form of governance, and more access to health care, education, social welfare, and employment.

Indigenous communities reported they faced racial discrimination and economic disadvantage. On November 11, the EU, International Organization for Migration, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 27 percent of the indigenous population planned to migrate out of the country. According to the report, the main cause of migration intention was a lack of employment options.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Police and gangs continue to commit acts of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. These actions were tolerated by the government, and perpetrators were rarely prosecuted.

On February 20, the Attorney General’s Office announced three MS-13 gang members were convicted of homicide for the 2017 murders of two transgender women in San Luis Talpa, La Paz Department, and each was sentenced to more than 60 years in prison. The Prosecutor’s Office handled the case as a quarrel between gangs and not as a crime related to gender identity of the victims, and as a result the Prosecutor’s Office did not categorize the homicides as hate crimes.

On April 25, Zashy del Cid, a transgender woman, died in San Miguel after she was shot in the back while walking down the street. As of June 5, police had made no arrests. A report by Association Communicating and Training Trans Women in El Salvador (COMCAVIS Trans) found that gangs were responsible for nearly two-thirds of the violence against the LGBTQI+ community.

LGBTQI+ activists reported to the Attorney General’s Office that they received death threats on social media. Police generally failed to act on these reports. NGOs reported that public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons. Persons from the LGBTQI+ community stated the PNC and officials from the Attorney General’s Office harassed transgender and gay individuals who reported cases of violence against LGBTQI+ persons, including by conducting unnecessary and invasive strip searches.

In 2020 the Bukele administration eliminated five presidential secretariats created under the previous administration, including the Secretariat of Inclusion. The responsibilities of the secretariat moved to the Gender and Diversity Office in the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, which has no authority to influence policy and insufficient support to implement programs. It did not provide any significant public services.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which applies to discrimination in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services. Gender identity and sexual orientation are included in the law covering hate crimes, along with race and political affiliation. Despite the existence of these laws, the government has not taken enforcement actions against violators.

As of August 31, the PDDH reported seven alleged cases of discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons. The PDDH confirmed on February 14 that they opened an investigation into the possible discrimination against an army officer who complained of being discharged due to his sexual orientation. On January 31, the Lieutenant Cristian Adalberto Castro Grijalva was discharged from the army for “public or private conduct that is notoriously immoral or contrary to good customs or public order.” Castro Grijalva said his sexual orientation was not a secret and that it never affected his performance.

Supreme Electoral Tribunal guidelines state individuals may not be denied the right to vote because the photograph on their identification card does not match their physical appearance. Nonetheless, media documented cases of transgender persons who faced harassment while voting in the municipal elections during the year because their name and photograph on their national identification document did not match their expression of gender identity.

COMCAVIS Trans reported that the LGBTQI+ community faced discrimination when obtaining health care. Lesbian women said their gynecologists only focused on HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases when they learned that their patients were lesbian instead of spending time treating routine gynecological issues. According to COMCAVIS Trans, transgender persons also faced discrimination from medical staff when they insisted on calling patients by their legal name instead of their chosen names.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution, labor laws, and state regulations prohibit discrimination based on age, race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin (except in cases determined to protect local workers), social origin, gender, disability, language, or HIV-positive status. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations, and penalties were not commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected in the constitution or labor law, although the PDDH and the Ministry of Labor actively sought to protect workers against discrimination on those grounds.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to age, gender, disability, and sexual orientation or gender identity (see sections 6 and 7.e.). According to the Ministry of Labor, migrant workers have the same rights as citizens, but the ministry did not effectively protect their rights.

On January 27, the Legislative Assembly approved the Special Law for the Protection of the Elderly, which prohibits establishing an age limit for job applications, using age as a cause to dismiss an employee, or forcing an employee to retire due to age.

On August 31, the Legislative Assembly approved reforms to the Law of the Judicial Career, establishing that all judges older than 60 years or with more than 30 years of service must be removed from their position. The law affected 156 judges across the country but excluded the Supreme Court of Justice, which may grant exceptions to the judges of their choosing (see section 1.e.).

Although the law provides for equal pay between men and women, women did not receive equal pay. In July the United Nations reported that women made 18 percent less than men in the same jobs. The report also stated that 53 percent of the population in the country were women and that one-third of households were supported only by the income of women.

On April 19, a Mr. Wings restaurant in Soyapango, San Salvador Department, fired an employee for being pregnant. On April 20, the Ministry of Labor confirmed that the employee had been reinstated after an intervention by a team of inspectors from the ministry. The ministry also warned the restaurant against seeking any retaliation against the employee.

Panama

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Corruption remained a serious problem in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches as well as in the security forces.

Corruption: In March the Public Ministry filed charges against 25 individuals accused of using $43 million in public funds to purchase the Editora Panama America newspaper group. In April the Public Ministry filed charges against two former presidents, Ricardo Martinelli and Juan Carlos Varela, and three former ministers, Demetrio “Jimmy” Papadimitriu, Frank De Lima, and Jaime Ford, for corruption related to the Odebrecht case. As of October the courts had not made a decision in either case.

In June a major scandal broke nationwide when journalists found a private clinic administering Pfizer vaccines for an alleged fee of $200. COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer and AstraZeneca) were solely managed – purchased, guarded, and administered – by the Ministry of Health. In December the Public Ministry pressed criminal charges against two individuals involved in the case. Separately, former president Ernesto Perez Balladares publicly admitted to being vaccinated prior to national availability along with 10 members of his family at his residence. Meanwhile, the rest of the country, including President Cortizo, awaited their turn as dictated by the ministry’s strict guidelines on age, health conditions, and place of residence. The Public Ministry did not open investigations into the matter or file charges for abuse of authority or corruption.

Corruption and lack of accountability continued in the police force. The public forces lacked an impartial investigative body for internal investigations. The absence of clear standard operating procedures allowed for discretion by agents on a case-by-case basis. The lack of periodic audits over operations to oversee efficiency, efficacy, accountability, and transparency contributed to the problem. In September authorities arrested a corporal and two agents from the Institutional Protection Service in a counternarcotics sting that revealed a network of individuals trafficking drugs from Colombia.

As of October investigations continued in the 2020 case involving weapons and weapons-trafficking charges against more than 25 individuals, most of whom were high-level security officials during the previous government. The charges involved the illegal distribution to the officials of legally imported weapons, some designated “weapons of war.” The Public Security Affairs Directorate, the office within the Security Ministry that regulates and licenses firearms, was associated with corruption in the past, and at least two former officer directors were facing charges, with one of them implicated in the case. Some defendants filed legal proceedings before the Supreme Court alleging courts’ restrictions to their right to defense by lower courts. As of October the court had not ruled on the writ of mandamus.

There were no developments in the 2020 Public Ministry investigations of national government institutions allegedly overpaying for ventilators and purchasing used ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence:The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and stipulates prison terms of five to 10 years. Rapes continued to constitute most sexual crimes investigated by the National Police Directorate of Judicial Investigation. In April the Supreme Court found National Assembly member Arquesio Arias, a Guna Yala native, not guilty in both of his 2020 charges for sexual assault, alleging a “lack of evidence.” Arias was a physician in his indigenous comarca (a legally designated semiautonomous area) and was denounced by several Guna Yala women for sexual misconduct and abuse. Arias returned to his legislative seat on July 1. The law against gender violence stipulates stiff penalties for harassment, gender-based violence, and both physical and emotional abuse. For example, the law states that sentencing for femicide is 25 to 30 years in prison, whereas penalties for other forms of homicide range from 10 to 20 years in prison. The law was not effectively enforced. Officials and civil society organizations agreed that domestic violence continued to be a serious problem.

As of October the Public Ministry reported 13,013 new cases of domestic violence nationwide, including 12 attempted femicides and 16 femicides. The province of Panama Oeste and the Ngabe Bugle comarca led the numbers with four femicides each, followed by the Panama Province with three cases. In August, Panama City’s deputy mayor Judy Meana pressed charges against her partner for domestic violence. The alleged abuser was detained for several hours. The judge released him while requiring that the accused release his passport to the court, appear before the court’s office every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and adhere to a restraining order from Meana. The prosecutor filed an appeal, but the judge upheld the decision.

From January through August, the National Institute for Women’s Affairs continued to operate its hotline to give legal guidance to victims of domestic violence and extended its services to include mental health services for women facing stress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hours of operation were reduced from 24/7 to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. due to a shortage of professional staff to support the hotline. If a caller were at risk during the call, the operator would make a connection with the Specialized Unit for Domestic and Gender Violence within the police department. After professional staff returned to in-person work in September, the hotline services were discontinued due to staffing limitations. The institute continued to work under a budget that did not allow for victim services and assistance.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in cases of employer-employee relations in the public and private sectors and in teacher-student relations but not between colleagues. Violators face a maximum three-year prison sentence. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine because convictions for sexual harassment were rare, pre-employment sexual harassment was not actionable, and there was a lack of formal reports (only 16 cases had been reported as of September).

Investigations at the Public Ministry continued in the 2020 case of a National Aeronaval Service (SENAN) female pilot who filed a criminal complaint for sexual harassment against her immediate supervisor. Both the man accused of the harassment and the victim were transferred to other departments and given new duties. For months during the year, many restrooms for women at SENAN remained locked due to the pending case. In these cases, women needed to obtain a key from a specific office to access their restrooms. Restrooms for men continued to be open and unlocked at all times.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The law permits medical professionals to perform abortions only if the fetus, the mother, or both are in danger, or, in some very limited cases, if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

The government provided sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, and women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men, but the law was not enforced. For example, SENAN permitted female pilots to fly only as copilots, while male newcomers with less seniority were allowed to fly as principal pilots without restrictions. The law recognizes joint property in marriages. The law does not mandate equal pay for men and women in equivalent jobs. Some employers continued to request pregnancy tests, although it is an illegal hiring practice. The law puts restrictions on women working in jobs deemed hazardous.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Minority groups were generally integrated into mainstream society. Prejudice was directed, however, at recent legal immigrants, the Afro-Panamanian community, and indigenous Panamanians.

The Afro-Panamanian community continued to be underrepresented in governmental positions and in political and economic power. Areas where many Afro-Panamanians lived lagged in terms of government services and social investment. The government’s National Secretariat for the Development of Afro-Panamanians focused on the socioeconomic advancement of this community.

As of August, the Ombudsman’s Office had received six complaints of racism. Five of the complaints involved the use of traditional African costumes at work sites. The sixth report concerned a public school that barred a student’s use of hair braids. After the ombudsman contacted the school principal regarding the matter, the student was allowed to attend his virtual classes in braids.

The law prohibits discrimination in access to public accommodations such as restaurants, stores, and other privately owned establishments. Lighter-skinned individuals continued to be overrepresented in management positions and jobs that required dealing with the public, such as bank tellers and receptionists.

Indigenous Peoples

The law affords indigenous persons the same political and legal rights as other citizens, protects their ethnic identity and native languages, and requires the government to provide bilingual literacy programs in indigenous communities. Despite the law’s requirement, the government failed to assign funds necessary for completion of the bilingual literacy project. Indigenous persons have the legal right to take part in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation and exploitation of natural resources. Nevertheless, they continued to be marginalized in mainstream society. Traditional community leaders governed comarcas for five of the country’s seven indigenous groups.

Several of the groups faced internal governance problems, since they either did not have legally elected authorities, or the government delayed the recognition of their duly elected authorities. This complicated the receipt of government funds, including those allotted to combat the spread of COVID-19. During the year the government issued an executive degree regulating elections in the Ngabe Bugle comarca, which had been on stand-by since 2017.

The government unofficially recognized eight other traditional indigenous government authorities, on the basis that these eight regions were traditionally organized indigenous settlements and territories that were excluded from the constitution when the original comarcas were designated in 1938. The traditional government authorities are organized under a national coordinating body for indigenous affairs, the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples. In August the coordinating body stated that high-level government authorities had ignored their meeting requests, which they considered discriminatory, since the government held meetings with other ethnic groups and associations. The coordinating body also expressed concern that the government was stalling full implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Development Plan.

Officials from various government entities continued to meet with traditional organized authorities from indigenous communities, many of whom requested recognition of their land via collective titles. No collective land titles were granted during the year, however, and land conflicts continued to arise. Several Embera communities in Darien Province claimed that illegal settlers continued to enter their lands during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the nationwide movement restrictions, and that their complaints went unaddressed. The Supreme Court of Justice ruled the Naso comarca constitutional, and the legal process for its creation was underway. In June the Bri Bri people submitted a demand to the Supreme Court for protection of their human rights, requesting that the court overturn the denial of their application for collective title to their lands.

The Barro Blanco dam project, opposed by the Ngabe Bugle peoples, continued to operate unhindered. There were no plans by the government to halt dam operations.

Although the law is the ultimate authority in indigenous comarcas, many indigenous peoples had not received sufficient information to understand their rights. Additionally, due to the inadequate educational system available in the comarcas, many indigenous peoples were unaware of or failed to use available legal channels.

Societal and employment discrimination against indigenous persons was widespread. Employers frequently denied indigenous workers basic rights provided by law, such as a minimum wage, social security benefits, termination pay, and job security. Laborers on the country’s agricultural plantations (most of whom were indigenous persons) continued to work in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. The Ministry of Labor conducted limited oversight of working conditions in remote areas.

Access to health care continued to be a significant problem for indigenous communities, primarily due to poor infrastructure and lack of personnel and supplies. During the year the Embera health and sanitary infrastructure collapsed under the increased influx of migrants emerging from Colombia. The Ngabe Bugle people closed the Interamerican Highway on several occasions, demanding significant improvements to their comarca’s road system. Deficiencies in the educational system deepened at all levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the public school system remained operational through virtual education, the comarcas typically had very limited access to internet and radio signals. These technological barriers prevented indigenous students from accessing educational opportunities.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

During the COVID-19 pandemic, LGBTQI+ persons reported harassment by public-health officials, but there were no public reports of police harassment during the year.

In June, LGBTQI+ activists organized two Pride Month parades in Panama City. Early in the month, the private Museum of Liberty and Human Rights raised the Pride flag, but days later it was vandalized by a group of “profamily” and anti-same-sex marriage activists during a protest outside the museum. Part of the museum’s board decided not to raise the flag again. As a result, five board members submitted their resignations to the board’s president in protest. The Canal Museum also raised the Pride flag but later took it down upon receiving a government request citing a law that stipulate only the Panamanian flag can be flown in government buildings. The Canal Museum is a joint private-public venture and received public funding.

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which often led to denial of employment opportunities. Same-sex marriage continued to be prohibited by law. As of October the Supreme Court had not ruled on the 2016 class-action lawsuit requesting the article of the family code that refers to marriage as “the union of a man and a woman,” and thus forbids same-sex legal unions, be declared unconstitutional. Panamanian same-sex couples who were married abroad were not allowed to legally register their marriage. In September the Supreme Court did not admit a writ of mandamus filed by a local law firm against the Civil Registry’s decision not to register the same-sex marriage of a Panamanian citizen and his Colombian spouse held in Colombia in 2017.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, citizenship, disability, social status, and HIV status. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the country is a member of the International Equal Pay Coalition, which promotes pay parity between women and men, a gender wage gap continued to exist, and no law mandates equal pay for equal work. The law puts restrictions on women working in jobs deemed hazardous.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Despite legal protections, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, sex, disability, and HIV-positive status. During the job interview process, applicants, both citizens and noncitizens, must complete medical examinations, including HIV/AIDS testing. The law requires all laboratories to inform applicants that an HIV test will be administered, but private-sector laboratories often did not comply. It was common practice for private-sector human resources offices to terminate applications of HIV-positive citizens without informing the applicant. While private laboratories often informed law enforcement of HIV-positive migrants, the National Migration Service did not engage in deportation procedures based specifically on a migrant’s HIV status. NGOs noted that during job interviews, women were often asked if they were married, pregnant, or planned to have children. It was common practice for human resources offices to terminate the applications of women who indicated a possibility of pregnancy in the near future (see section 6, Women). Persons with disabilities continued to face discrimination in hiring and accessing the workspace.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future