In 2016, Panama holds, for the first time, a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. Panama won one of the three designations allocated to the region at the United Nations General Assembly in October 2015 and assumed its new role alongside Ecuador and Venezuela on January 1, 2016.
At the United Nations General Assembly on October 28, 2015, Panama was voted, along with 17 other countries, to sit as a member of the Human Rights Council for a three-year term beginning in January 2016. It received the most votes of any country in Latin America and the Caribbean, with support from 157 out of the 192 participating nations. Panama accompanies Burundi, Georgia, Togo, and Mongolia in becoming a member of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time in the country’s history and will occupy one of the eight seats allocated to the Latin American and Caribbean region, together with Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Panama will serve as the vice president of the council and will be represented by Ramon Morales Quijano, whose long career in international diplomacy includes such other high-ranking positions as Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Panamanian Ambassador to El Salvador, and Consul General appointments in both Egypt and Japan.
The United Nations Human Rights Council is a 47-member intergovernmental body created by the United Nations General Assembly in 2006. Its main aim is to promote the protection and assess violations of human rights around the world. Its members are elected by the General Assembly to serve three-year re-electable terms. The appointment, which will last until 2018, will allow Panama to raise concerns overs issues that it deems important to the country and the region. Panama has previously stated its commitment to supporting the UN’s efforts across a variety of areas such as immigration, rights for children and adolescents, acknowledgment of women’s rights and gender equality, and humanitarian aid. Its priorities will be focused primarily on integrating its efforts in strengthening human rights as a mandate for its citizens and improving the standard of living for the region and indeed throughout the rest of the world.
The decision was welcomed by the Panamanian government, and it comes in line with the government’s strategy to increase the country’s presence in international organizations. A number of other United Nations authorities, including the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have already established regional offices in Panama’s City of Knowledge, the government-supported cluster of technology companies, academic organizations, and non-governmental organizations managed by the Fundación Ciudad del Saber. The significance of so many of these United Nations authorities establishing local offices on the grounds of what was formerly Fort Clayton, the headquarters of the Unites States Army Southern Command that played a significant role in facilitating the US invasion of Panama in December 1989, sends a strong message both to the international community and to the people of Panama regarding the real progress made in the direction of greater prosperity and protection of basic human rights. The United Nations recently signed a MoU with Panama to establish its Latin America Regional Human Rights office in the country, further strengthening the country’s status as a hub for both global trade and international organizations.