Baena, Ricardo et al. (270 workers v. Panama) [ENG]

Complaint with Inter-American Commission of Human Rights alleging arbitrary dismissal. Obligation to respect minimum due process guarantees in administrative proceedings. Use of right to adequate judicial protection to guarantee effective realization of rights to work and to freely associate for labor purposes.

Date of the Ruling: 
Feb 2 2001
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Type of Forum: 

Comité Panameño por los Derechos Humanos denounced the State of Panama before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for having arbitrarily laid off 270 public officials and union leaders who had taken part in several rallies against the administration's policies and to defend their labor rights. The lay-offs had followed an accusation made by the Government against the same individuals based on their participation in the demonstrations and on their alleged collaboration with a military uprising. Upon laying off the employees, a law passed after the facts had occurred was invoked, under which any actions started by the workers to challenge their dismissal had to be lodged with courts dealing with administrative matters –instead of labor courts, as required by the applicable law. None of the actions filed with the Supreme Court of Panama were upheld. As the action filed with the IACHR failed, the IACHR submitted the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Court concluded the State of Panama had violated the rights of freedom of association, judicial guarantees and judicial protection, as well as the principles of illegality and freedom from ex post facto laws in detriment of the 270 workers. The Court also stated that minimum due process guarantees set forth in article 8.2 must be observed in the course of an administrative procedure, as well as in any other procedure leading to a decision that may affect the rights of persons. Consequently, the Court decided the State had to reassign the workers to their previous positions and pay them the missed salaries.

Keywords: Baena, Ricardo et al.  (270 workers v. Panama), Access, Justice, Right

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

In its decision dated November 17, 2005, the Court noted that Panama had partially complied with the order to reassign the workers to their previous positions, and to pay them the missed salaries and moral damages. The Court requested the State to submit a report including all measures adopted to fully comply with the decision by March 31, 2006.

Groups involved in the case: 

Applicants: Comité Panameño por los Derechos Humanos and the Center for Justice and International Law(CEJIL) ( on behalf of the 270 workers dismissed.

Significance of the Case: 

This case is a valuable precedent, because it is the first time that the Inter-American Court has heard violations of labor rights. The case shows that due judicial protection, as well as unrestricted respect for due legal process guarantees at the domestic level, constitute an essential source of protection ensuring the effectiveness of the right to work.