November 01, 2014

ABA ROLI Concludes Programming in Panama

November 2014

On October 23, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) held a close-out event for its technical legal assistance programs in Panama. More than 150 prosecutors, judges, public defenders, police officers and other high-ranking government officials attended the Panama City event.

Attorney General Ana Belfon, second from right, spoke at the event to celebrate the work of ABA ROLI and its partners.

While ABA ROLI has previously worked in the country, the most recent program, which began in 2009 and closed on October 31, supported Panama’s implementation of a new criminal procedure code. To assist with the country’s transition from a partially inquisitorial criminal justice system to an accusatorial one, ABA ROLI’s work focused on helping the country build a more effective, transparent and accountable system. ABA ROLI collaborated with local partners, including the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court, the National Police, the Panamanian Bar Association, law schools and the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, to provide practical skills-focused trainings to more than 8,000 justice sector operators.

Speaking during the closing event, Attorney General Ana Belfon commended ABA ROLI’s teaching method, which “[emphasized] learning by doing, which allows the justice sector operators to be conscious of their own learning process and how their role fits into the larger justice system.” She added, “[The Attorney General’s Office] has observed the lessons that have been taught put into practice.”

Continuing on its phase-by-phase implementation of the criminal procedure code, which began in 2011, Panama is scheduled to complete the process in 2016. Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, ABA ROLI’s trainings promoted understanding of the accusatorial system as well as respect for both human rights and due process among the nation’s law enforcement agencies. Topics included investigative skills and trial techniques, such as opening statements and closing arguments, direct- and cross-examination of witnesses, and evidence presentation, as well as alternative dispute resolution methods, including plea bargaining. The trainings concluded with practical sessions and mock trials to allow participants apply what they learned. ABA ROLI also published training and reference materials for justice sector actors, including manuals on the protection and preservation of a crime scene, on pre-trial hearings and on oral trial.

Michael McCullough, director of ABA ROLI’s Latin America and Caribbean Division said, “After so many years of successful programing, ABA ROLI is extremely proud to be leaving behind a core group of such highly-qualified Panamanian professionals who will continue to advance Panama’s criminal justice reforms and help build a more just society for all Panamanians.”

To learn more about our work in Panama, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.