Panama: Support The Legal Registration Of Panama's First Lesbian And Gay Association

ACTION

IGLHRC is calling for letters to protest the Panamanian government's action in denying legal registration to that country's first lesbian and gay organization. This refusal violates basic freedoms to association and expression. Write to the Panamanian government requesting that they reconsider their denial.

Please send letters to (a sample letter can be found at the end of this action):

Ministerio de Seguridad y Justicia (Ministry of Security and Justice)
Dr. Winston Spadafora Franco
Calle 3ra. San Felipe, detrás del Teatro Nacional Panamá 1, Panamá
Fax (507) 212 21 26
Presidencia de la República (President)
Ms. Mireya Moscoso
Palacio de las Garzas, Corregimiento de San Felipe Panamá 1, Panamá
Fax (507) 227 42 78
Email: ofasin@presidencia.gob.pa
Defensoría del Pueblo (Ombudsman's Office) Dr. Italo Isaac Antinori-Bolaños
Av. Nicanor de Obarrio (Calle 50), Edificio Don Camilo, P.B. Panamá 1, Panamá
Fax: (507) 214 98 38
www.defensoriadelpueblo.gob.pa

If you have Internet access, you can submit a complaint directly to the Ombudsman's Office, both quickly and simply.. Enter the Ombudsman's web page (address above). Follow the instruction that reads "Pulse aquí para enviar una queja" (Press here to send a complaint). You can skip the personal information if you wish, and go straight to a box that "Detalle de la queja" (Detail your complaint). Once there, please type: "Protestamos por la negación de personería jurídica a Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá" (We protest the denial of legal recognition to Asociacion Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panama). In the following box, - Cómo contactarle"- you may type IGLHRC's address, if you do not want to be contacted yourself. Then press "Enviar": and it is done.

BACKGROUND

Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevas de Panama (New Men and Women Association of Panama, or AHMNP) was created in April 1998. As the first lesbian and gay organization ever founded in Panama, it had to work under conditions of extreme difficulty to confront social prejudice, and to educate both the general public and gay and lesbian communities about the need for the organization's existence. It has worked tirelessly toward these ends, organizing workshops and seminars, distributing informative materials, and speaking public as gay and lesbian people in various fora.

In February 1999, AHMNP submitted a request for legal recognition to the (then) Minister of Government and Justice, Ms. Mariela Sagel. The request was accompanied by every legal document required for such submissions. The aims of the organization as specified in its constitution were: 1) to conduct activities aimed at raising awareness among those sectors of the population facing discrimination due to their sexual orientation; 2) to contribute to the defense of those populations' rights, and to the assumption by them of their responsibilities, in such a way that they can develop their full professional, cultural, socioeconomic potentials; 3) to identify educational, legal, labor-related, and social problems suffered by populations discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, and suggest solutions.

In January 2000 recognition was denied by Minister Winston Spadafora F. on the grounds that AHMNP was an association contrary to "moral and good habits." The Minister cited, in support of his decision, Article 39 of the Panamanian Constitution, which forbids the creation of "companies, associations or foundations that are contrary to moral or legal order." He also cited Articles 64 and 69 of the Civil Code. Those Articles merely indicate that "private non-profit associations" can be legally registered if the executive authority of Panama approves of them (64) and that those associations must be managed according to statutes previously approved by the executive branch (69). In citing these wholly instrumental Articles which articulate nothing but the executive's authority, the Minister virtually acknowledged that his denial was a pure assertion of arbitrary power.

IGLHRC is gravely concerned by the denial of legal registration to AHMNP. Legal recognition is a means by which gay and lesbian organizations, like other segments of civil society, can acquire and own property, pay salaries, and take part in legal disputes. It also gives such organizations (and their constituencies) a place and face in society as a whole; it gives their membership the power to enjoy their full status as citizens, their full belonging in their communities. To deny legal registration to a gay and lesbian organization--besides seriously damaging its capacity to continue its work--is a none-too-subtle way of conveying the message that gays and lesbians have no place in civil society as a whole.

Gays and lesbians exist. So do their rights, as clearly and unequivocally as the rights of any other citizens or human beings. . Gays and lesbians need and demand to organize in their own interest and defense. Their existence, like their needs and rights, will not conveniently vanish because the law elects to close its eyes to them. Justice must be blind to prejudice, influence, and fear. It must not be blind to the lives and reality of the human beings it serves.

AHMNP has made very clear through its statutes that its work is aimed at public education, community awareness, and the attainment of full citizenship for lesbians and gays in Panama. To read such goals as contrary to "moral and good habits" is a bizarre and dangerous interpretation. The very Article 39 of the Panamanian Constitution invoked by Minister Spadafora F. in the denial clearly specifies the kind of association unworthy of legal registration--"associations inspired by pretended racial superiority, or that promote or justify racial discrimination." Nothing could be more remote from the aspirations of AHMNP. The Panamanian government should desist from proclaiming its supercilious concern with "good morals": instead it should pronounce itself clearly in favour of organizations which actively fight against discrimination.

Article 17 of the Panamanian Constitution states that public authorities hold their offices to --among other functions--"ensure the effectiveness of individual and social rights and obligations." The right to freedom of association for "ideological ... social, cultural... "ideological ... social, cultural ... or other purposes", is recognized by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22) and by the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 16). Both covenants permit, in the enjoyment of this right, "only such restrictions established by law as may be necessary in a democratic society, in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights and freedom of others". Associations working against discrimination enhance rather than threaten the latter interests. They contribute to a debate by which the moral standards of any society can only grow; they promote core democratic values such as respect for diversity and dialogue. Moreover, the Minister's decision, reliant as it is on the assertion of an arbitrary power, stands utterly opposed to the needs and procedures of a democratic society.

Please write to the Panamanian authorities supporting the reconsideration of the denial of legal registration to AHMNP.

SAMPLE LETTER

Minister of Security and Justice
Dr. Winston Spadafora Franco

Dear Sir,

We write to you in order to request you consider the denial of legal registration on behalf of the Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panama (AHMNP), issued by you on January 2000.

Legal registration is a fundamental tool for gay and lesbian organizations, as for other segments of civil society: it allows them to to own property, to pay salaries, and to take part in legal disputes. It also gives such organizations (and their constituencies) a place and face in society as a whole: it gives their membership the power to enjoy their full status as citizens, their full belonging in their communities. To deny legal registration to a gay and lesbian organization--besides seriously damaging its capacity to continue its work- is a none-too-subtle way of conveying the message that gays and lesbians do not belong in the society at all.

AHMNP has made very clear through its statutes that its work is aimed at public education, community awareness, and the attainment of full citizenship for lesbians and gays in Panama. To read such goals as contrary to "moral and good habits" is a bizarre and dangerous interpretation. against discrimination.

Article 17 of the Panamanian Constitution states that public authorities hold their offices to -among other functions- "ensure the effectiveness of individual and social rights and obligations". The right to freedom of association for "ideological ... social, cultural... "ideological ... social, cultural ... or other purposes", is recognized by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22) and by the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 16). Both covenants permit, in the enjoyment of this right, "only such restrictions established by law as may be necessary in a democratic society, in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights and freedom of others". Associations working against discrimination enhance rather than threaten the latter interests. They contribute to a debate by which the moral standards of any society can only grow; they promote core democratic values such as respect for diversity and dialogue

In two previous cases that took place in Latin America (Argentina, 1992; Costa Rica, 1995), following an initial denial, governments finally granted legal recognition to lesbian and gay organizations, understanding that they fulfill socially useful goals. Such measures had no negative consequences: rather, they promoted the organizations' and their members' full integration into civil society. In other countries (such as Brazil, Peru, Ecuador) there are no obstacles to these organizations' legal recognition, and the work they do has them the respect of the national community.

We trust the Panamanian government will reconsider this unjust decision, and grant AHMNP the legal status its deserves, as a step toward recognizing its gay and lesbian constituencies's full citizenship and membership in Panamanian society.

Respectfully,

cc. President Ms. Mireya Moscoso
Ombudsman's Office - Dr. Italo Isaac Antinori-Bolaños

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