Panama: UN expert calls for dialogue between Government and indigenous people

7 February 2012

An independent United Nations expert on indigenous rights called today on the Government of Panama and the country’s indigenous groups to establish a dialogue process to stop the recent tensions and violence from escalating after recent protests.

“I urge the Government of Panama and the Ngäbe-Buglé, Emberá and Wounaan peoples to initiate a dialogue process as soon as possible with the purpose of finding a peaceful solution to this conflict situation,” said Special Rapporteur on indigenous rights James Anaya, referring to the recent clashes between indigenous representatives and the Panamanian police.

Last week, members of the indigenous group Ngäbe-Buglé occupied various points of the Pan-American Highway to protest against mining and hydroelectric activities in their lands. During the protests they quarrelled with police, resulting in the death of one indigenous person and many others being detained and injured.

Mr. Anaya called on the Government to “adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the safety of those participating in the protests and avoid circumstances that put their lives and integrity at risk.” He also urged for an investigation into the death of the indigenous protester so that those responsible can be brought to justice.

Meanwhile, representatives of the Emberá and Wounaan groups publicly denounced the lack of legalization for their lands, and said they would start their own protest movements in solidarity with the Ngäbe-Buglé people.

In a report delivered to the UN Human Rights Council in July last year, Mr. Anaya had warned that big development projects and the exploitation of natural resources were becoming one of the most significant sources of abuse of indigenous’ rights worldwide.


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