Panama: Fresh investigations urged after Manuel Noriega extradition

Panamanian authorities must launch new investigations into Manuel Noriega’s role in a string of human rights violations dating back to the 1960s, Amnesty International said today after the former military leader was extradited from France. Upon his arrival in Panama on Sunday night, the 77-year-old former general was taken straight to a Panamanian prison, where he faces multiple jail terms for the killing of political opponents and other charges. Amnesty International is calling for investigations to reveal the full extent of his involvement in crimes against humanity – including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.“Fresh investigations are needed into Manuel Noriega’s role in serious human rights violations both during and before his rule,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Researcher on Central America for Amnesty International.“The courts owe it to the victims to clarify the extent of his involvement in these violations that took place over several decades.”Noriega served as Panama’s de facto military leader from 1983 to December 1989, when US troops invaded Panama and deposed him.Since he was deposed, Panamanian courts have investigated, tried and convicted him in absentia for the killing of political opponents, unlawful detention, and various other abuses. Among these killings are the assassination in 1985 of former Deputy Minister for Health Dr. Hugo Spadafora and the execution of Major Moisés Giroldi Vera, the leader of a failed coup attempt in October 1989. Other violations include the excessive use of force by security forces against public protests in 1987, deadly electoral violence in May 1989, and the October 1989 “Albrook Massacre”, in which 12 others were summarily executed for their part in the coup attempt led by Major Moisés Giroldi Vera.Amnesty International is calling for fresh investigations into those crimes, as well as into Noriega’s alleged role in crimes under international law committed before his military rule. These include the enforced disappearances of Everett Clayton Kimble and Luis Quiroz Morales in 1968 and 1969, as well as the abduction and extrajudicial execution of Heliodoro Portugal by state agents in 1970. Amnesty International believes that trials in absentia should be avoided as they are unjust, except when the accused deliberately absents him or herself after the trial has begun.   “Manuel Noriega should be present to hear the full prosecution case and be able to refute facts and present a full defence. With anything less, the reliability of the verdict will always remain in doubt and justice will not be seen to be done,” said Sebastian Elgueta.   In 2010, Noriega was extradited from the USA to France where he had been sentenced in absentia in 1999 to seven years in jail. He was convicted of laundering millions of euros through French banks.Before that, Noriega served 20 years in a US prison after being convicted on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.