Salas v. United States – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Fall 1991

On December 20, 1989, the United States invaded the Republic of Panama, violating the integrity, sovereignty and self­ determination of  this nation.

Independent Panamanian human rights organizations estimate that over 2000 Panamanian civilians were killed and many thousands wounded during the course of the invasion and in military actions throughout the succeeding days. The violence produced approximately fifteen common graves, some containing as many as 200 corpses. The U.S. military destroyed residential areas, displacing at least 18,000 Panamanians. More than a year and a half later, thousands of people remain homeless.

CCR represents 70 Panamanian civilian victims before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) seeking a ruling on the illegality of the invasion under international law; compensation for the illegal intervention and human rights violations; and a thorough, independent investigation of all damages to Panama and its people. Plaintiffs include relatives of Dionicia Salas, who was killed by U.S. rocket fire in her home as she prepared a meal for her family, and relatives of Elizabeth Ramos Rudas, a 23-year-old civil engineering student killed the night of the invasion, whose corpse was discovered weeks later in a mass grave at Jardin de Paz cemetery in Panama City.

In August 1990 the commission preliminarily accepted the case and requested the U.S. government to reply to plaintiffs’ complaint. In its reply, the U.S. objected to the commission’s jurisdiction and the admissibility of the case, and CCR countered in June 1991, submitting briefs to the OAS commission on the issue of admissibility.

Meanwhile, Panamanians are resisting continual violations of human rights by U.S. troops. The OAS investigated one incident after receiving notification from CCR that U.S. soldiers had threatened and harassed homeless Panamanians occupying vacant property in Coco Solo (Colon Province) formerly held by the U.S. Southern Command. After confrontations and a hunger-strike by the squatters, the harassment stopped, and the Panamanian government permitted their stay. They pledge to remain in the buildings until the government furnishes adequate housing to replace the homes destroyed by the U.S. military invasion.

Jose Luis Morin, Beth Stephens and Michael Ratner