Salas v. United States – International Human Rights and Solidarity – Fall Docket 1998

The 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama left an estimated 2,000 civilians dead, and 18,000 homeless. The following year, CCR filed a complaint with the organization of American States (OAS) on behalf of 272 civilian victims, charging that the invasion was illegal under international law, and demanding a full investigation and compensation for victims.

The plaintiffs include relatives of Dionisia 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 in Panama City.

At two evidentiary hearings held in 1995, international human rights experts and witnesses presented evidence of the illegality of the U.S. invasion, the devastation visited upon the civilian population of Panama by U.S. firepower, and the methods, by which U.S. authorities deposed of bodies. Independent Panamanian human rights organizations estimate that more than 2,000 civilians were killed  in the invasion–many buried in common graves containing hundreds of corpses–and may thousands wounded.

For more than two years the U.S. government tried to deny the Commission’s jurisdiction, but the OAS agreed to hear the case in 1993. Three years later, however, the organization told CCR attorneys it had “no time” to decide on the merits of the case.  Survivors of the invasion held demonstrations and yearly vigils at OAS headquarters in Panama, and the organization at last met to discuss the case in may 1998, with a decision expected in September.

Gilma Camargo, José Luis Morin, Sara E. Rios, Mary Boresz Pike, Peter Weiss, Beth Stephens, Michael Ratner