Panama: Situation of sexual minorities, including treatment by society and authorities; implementation of legislation related to the treatment of sexual minorities; state protection and support services (2011-June 2013) [PAN104476.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Legislation

Homosexuality in Panama was legalized in July 2008 (AHMNP 2010, 16; AngloINFO n.d.a). According to an article published by AngloInfo, an English language website that provides general information to people living in a region which they are not totally familiar with (n.d.b), "gay couples [in Panama] have no official rights and same-sex relationships, marriages or unions are not recognized," which means that they are not entitled to the same protections and civil rights that heterosexual couples have (AngloInfo n.d.a).

According to AngloInfo, "[t]he constitution of Panama states that there can be no discrimination by gender, but there are no gay anti-discrimination laws in effect" (n.d.a). The leader of the New Men and Women Association of Panama [Asociación de Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá , AHMNP] which is the country's main LGBT organization (US 19 Apr. 2013, 25), explained in an article published by SentidoG, a news source from Buenos Aires, that [translation] "sexual orientation is not covered by Panamanian law, which 'produces a legal vacuum' that facilitates discrimination" (17 May 2010). Infobae América, a digital news source based in Buenos Aires, also cites the leader of AHMNP as saying that there is no law that protects sexual minorities in fields such as education, work or the health system (Infobae 15 Sept. 2010).

SentidoG reports that, on 17 May 2010, a group of gays and lesbians filed, before the Panamanian Congress, a draft bill to [translation] "'ban' discrimination and homophobia" proposing a punishment of six months to one year imprisonment for anyone who "'discriminates or physically or verbally assaults' a person for 'their sexual orientation'" (SentidoG 17 May 2010). According to Agencia EFE , a Spanish language news agency (n.d.), the bill has not been discussed (16 May 2012).

2. Treatment by Society

According to a survey made by Dichter & Neira, a company that provides market and public opinion surveys (n.d.), the results of which were published in 2010 in La Estrella de Panamá , a Panamanian newspaper published since 1853 (La Estrella de Panamá n.d.), almost 80 percent of the Panamanian population [translation] "rejected the idea" of homosexual marriages (ibid. 14 Sept. 2010). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

An article published by the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights (Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos , IIDH) states that [translation] "[h]omosexuals, lesbians and transgenders complain about the constant teasing and harassment that they suffer in the streets" (IIDH Oct.2010). According to the leader of AHMNP, there is a [translation] "'very strong institutional and societal discrimination and homophobia' in Panama" (Agencia EFE 16 May 2012). According to a 2010 national report by the AHMNP on the humans rights for the LGBT population in Panama, which is based on data provided by AHMNP, news articles, studies, articles, and court orders between June 2009 and June 2010, and which was sent to the Research Directorate by a representative, the presence of discrimination and homophobia in everyday life is [translation] "so ingrained and accepted that some [people] do not even notice [it]" (AHMNP 2010, 14).

The AHMNP 2010 report also indicates that LGBT people receive [translation] "rude and contemptuous treatment" when they ask for health services and that a great number of these complaints were received by the AHMNP in the last year (AHMNP 2010, 17). According to a representative from the VIH-AIDS program at the Ministry of Health, [translation] "discrimination in medical centers and in hospitals does not come so much from the doctors but rather from nurses and administrative staff" (IIDH Oct.2010, 2).

According to the AHMNP report, some people were transferred to other jobs because of their sexual orientation (2010, 18). The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010, 2011 and 2012 also indicate that people were "often" denied employment opportunities because of their sexual orientation (US 8 Apr. 2011, 25; ibid. 24 May 2012, 22; ibid. 19 Apr. 2013, 25). According to SentidoG, three students complained that they were barred from receiving their university diploma because of their sexual orientation (17 May 2010).

3. Treatment by authorities

According to AngloInfo, "gay men and women are banned from joining the armed forces or the police force" (AngloInfo n.d.a). Country Reportsfor 2012 and 2011 stated that

[h]arassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons by security forces was a major complaint of the [AHMNP], ... but formal complaints were rare due to the perception that the reports were not taken seriously or that complaints could be used against claimants in the absence of non-discrimination legislation. (US 24 May 2012, 22; ibid. 19 Apr. 2013, 25)

In addition, "regular incidents in which security forces refused to accept complaints of harassment of transgender individuals" were reported by the Panamanian Association of Transgender People in 2010 (US 19 Apr. 2013, 25).

In 2013, three transgender people were detained in the airport over gender identity issues (ibid.). IIDH cites the leader of the Panamanian Association of Transgender Persons (Asociación Panameña de Personas Trans , APPT), an organization devoted to LGBT rights (ILGA n.d.), as saying that trans people sex workers are harassed by the police (IIDH Oct.2010, 1). She said that the police [translation] "exhibit them and laugh at them [and] sometimes [the police officers] take away their money when they are taken to the police station" (ibid.). The Country Reports 2010 also stated that some police officers refused to aid or to take to the hospital a stabbed transsexual who was a minor and that "[n]o known investigations were pending at year's end" (8 Apr. 2011, 25). Country Reports 2011 indicates that, according to the AHMNP, six transgender people where arrested in 2010, and later released, on the basis of the sodomy law which was repealed in 2008 (US 24 May 2012, 22). According to the AHMNP 2010 report, four people were arrested for [translation] "alleged violations of public morality" because they were "dressed as women" (AHMNP 2010, 15). The report indicates that, according to the complaints, the police have justified the arrests by arguing that "people who have changed their appearance have violated the law, but do not make any mention of which law or regulation" (ibid., 15). Agence France-Presse cites the leader of AHMNP as saying that, according to the annual report produced by his organisation and presented to the Office of the Ombudsperson, at least 25 people were [translation] "'unreasonably' arrested by the police, who argued that a man cannot go dressed as a woman on the street" (AFP 11 Aug. 2010). Further information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

La Estrella de Panamá reports that six lesbians were denied child custody because of their sexual orientation (18 May 2011). The 2010 AHMNP report indicates that a lesbian was barred from adopting a child because [translation] "the situation of lesbianism is a social risk that harms the best interest of the child" (AHMNP 2010, 23). In March 2011, two women were arrested by the police for kissing in public (La Estrella de Panamá 30 Mar.2011; US 24 May 2012, 22). La Estrella de Panamá reports that, according to one of the women involved, the police used [translation] "excessive force" and considered the kissing as a "serious lack of public decency and public morals" (La Estrella de Panamá 30 Mar.2011). However, in their report, the police claimed that the women were arrested for drinking in public (ibid.; US 24 May 2012, 22). La Estrella de Panamá cites the leader of AHMNP as saying that [translation] "this type of situation is seen everyday and in many times police officers have hit many trans[gendered people] and lesbians, because they tend to be more aggressive with them than with homosexuals" (La Estrella de Panamá 30 Mar.2011). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

4. Support Services

Information on support services for sexual minorities in Panama was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

According to AngloInfo, the AHMNP, which was founded in 1996, "remains the only lesbian and gay group in Panama" (AngloInfo n.d.a). AngloInfo adds that other attempts at creating lesbian and gay organisations have been defeated by an article in the constitution that forbids any association that is "'contrary to morality'" (ibid.).

According to PortalSida, an [translation] "Internet platform which provides tools to support global collaboration and knowledge sharing between networks and organizations responding to the AIDS epidemic" (n.d.a), the AHMNP


help[s] to improve the quality of life of GLBT people, MSM [men having sex with men] and WSW [women having sex with women], through the promotion and provision of comprehensive preventive health, education and counselling, with an emphasis on respect and defence of human rights and diversity of the Panamanian population. (n.d.b)

According to the Shadow Report 2009 presented to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by APPT and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHCR), the APPT was established in 2007 to assist transgender women (APPT and IGLHRC Nov.2009, 3). More precisely, they educate "transgender women on various topics that affect them so that they learn that if their rights are threatened they should go to their courthouse" (ibid).

An article published by La Estrella de Panamá indicates that [translation] "there are, in Panama, pseudo-doctors who offer treatments to "revert" from homosexuality [such as] hypnosis therapies to change the [sexual] orientation" of a person (La Estrella de Panamá 2 June 2013). There are also centers that "admit patients until they are 'cured' from what they consider a disease" (ibid.). Cited in this same article, a psychologist indicated that [translation] "hormones, hypnosis, psychotherapy and even less orthodox methods such as the electroshock have been and are used in Panama, and touted as a panacea to reverse homosexuality and cause a 'change in the patient's sexual orientation'" (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France-Presse (AFP). 11 August 2010. "Homosexuales panameños denuncian discriminación en instituciones y cortes ." < articulo/939577/Homosexuales+panamenos+denuncian+discriminacion+ en+instituciones+y+cortes.htm> [Accessed 4 July 2013]

Agencia EFE . 16 May 2012. "La diversidad sexual es un tema tabú en Panamá, donde persiste la homofobia ." <> [Accessed 27 June 2013]

_____. N.d. "Presentation." <> [Accessed 8 July 2013]

AngloInfo. N.d.a. "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communities in Panama." <> [Accessed 18 June 2013]

_____. N.d.b. "What is AngloINFO?" <> [Accessed 18 June 2013]

Associación de Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá (AHMNP). 2010. Informe nacional sobre la situación de los derechos humanos de la población gay, lesbiana, bisexual y transexual (GLBT) de la República de Panamá . Document sent to the Research Directorate by a representative.

Asociación Panameña de Personas Trans (APPT) and International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHCR). November 2009. Situation of Lesbian, Bisexual, Transexual, and Transgender Women in Panama in Relation to Discrimination: Shadow Report. <> [Accessed 8 July 2013]

Dichter & Neira Panama. N.d. "Quiénes somos ". <> [Accessed 4 July 2013]

La Estrella de Panamá [Panamá]. 2 June 2013. "Nacional: Condenados por su orientación sexual ." (Factiva)

_____. 18 May 2011. Carolina Ángel Idrobo. "Un Panamá homofóbico ." <> [Accessed 28 June 2013]

_____. 30 March 2011. Ana M.Pinilla V. and Alberto De León. "Lesbianas tras las rejas por besarse en la vía pública ." < lesbianas-tras-las-rejas-por-besarse-en-la-via-publica.asp> [Accessed 28 June 2013]

_____. 14 September 2010. Zelideth Cortez. "Amplio rechazo a matrimonio gay ." <> [Accessed 28 June 2013]

_____. N.d. "Quiénes somos ." <> [Accessed 8 July 2013]

Infobae América . 15 September 2010. "La homofobia podría ser delito en Panamá ." <> [Accessed 28 June 2013]

Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos (IIDH). October 2010. Ana Teresa Benjamín. "Minorías sexuales reclaman sus derechos ." < multic/UserFiles/Biblioteca/IIDH/10_2010/6135.pdf> [Accessed 11 June 2013]

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). N.d. "Asociación Panameña de Personas Trans ." <> [Accessed 3 July 2013]

PortalSIDA. N.d.a. "Sobre el PortalSIDA." <> [Accessed 4 July 2013]

_____. N.d.b. "Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá ." <> [Accessed 4 July 2013]

SentidoG [Argentina]. 17 May 2010. "Comunidad homosexual de Panamá pidió castigos contra la homofobia ." <> [Accessed 28 June 2013]

United States (US). 19 April 2013. Department of State. "Panama." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012. < 2012/wha/204467.htm> [Accessed 18 June 2013]

_____. 24 May 2012. Department of State. "Panama." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011. <> [Accessed 18 June 2013]

_____. 8 April 2011. Department of State. "Panama." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010. <> [Accessed 18 June 2013]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact the following individuals and organizations were unsuccessful within the time constraints of this Response: Asociación Panameña de Personas Trans; Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos en Panamá; Panorama Católico ; Inter-American Institute of Human Rights; International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; Panama – Defensoría del Pueblo ; The People's Movement for Human Rights Education.

Internet sites, including: Aid for Aids Panama; Amnesty International; British Broadcasting Corporation;; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Council for Global Equality; Council on Hemispheric Affairs;; Factiva; Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme ; Freedom House;; Global Rights; Human Rights Watch; International Crisis Group; International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; LegalInfo Panama; Minority Rights Group International; Norway – Landinfo; Panamá América ; Panama – Ministerio de Gobierno, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Ministerio de Salud ; The People's Movement for Human Rights Education; Pink Choice; Pink News; Prensa Latina ; UK Gay News; United Nations – ReliefWeb, Refworld, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, World Health Organization; United States – United States Agency for International Development.