Press Release

IACHR Urges Panama to Guarantee Protesters' Physical Integrity and Security

February 7, 2012

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the State of Panama to guarantee the physical integrity and security of leaders and members of the Ngöbe Buglé indigenous peoples, who protest against legislation related to the execution of investment projects in their territories.

According to publicly available information, members of the Ngöbe Buglé indigenous peoples blocked for several days the Inter-American highway in a protest related to the discussion in Congress of bill No. 415, “Which establishes a Special Regime for the Protection of Mineral, Water, and Natural Resources in the community of Ngöbe Buglé”.

According to information received, on February 5th the security forces of Panama conducted an operation in order to lift the blockade of the highway. In this context, information was received about the death of Jeronimo Rodriguez Tugri, and that other dozens of persons were allegedly injured. In addition, it was informed that inhabitants of the conflict area declared to local radio stations that armed police agents entered into several homes.

Also, the IACHR and its Special Rappourtership on Freedom of Expression received information that indicates that the Government has ordered to suspend cell phone services as a measure to control the protest. As a consequence, the area is allegedly incommunicated, seriously affecting the right to freedom of expression of the people in Panama.

The Inter-American Commission reminds the State of its obligation to conduct a judicial inquiry into these acts of violence and repair the consequences. In addition, the IACHR calls on the State to take the steps that are necessary to guarantee access to health care for all the injured. In the light of information received according to which several persons were allegedly detained during these incidents, the IACHR urges the State of Panama to respect the rights to personal integrity and to judicial guarantees.

Furthermore, the Inter-American Commission reminds that it is necessary to adopt mechanisms to prevent excessive use of force on the part of public agents in marches and protest demonstrations. In this regard, the IACHR calls on the State to urgently adopt all necessary measures for the due protection of the protesters within the framework of respect of inter-American human rights standards.

As the organs of the Inter-American Human Rights System have reiterated, States must guarantee that indigenous peoples are consulted on all matters that may affect them, taking into account that this consultation must be aimed at reaching agreement with regard to the administrative or legislative actions that have an impact upon their rights.

On February 5, 2012, the IACHR sent a request of information to the Government of Panama related to these events.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 13/12