Indigenous peoples in Panama protest for their lands and resources

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 7, 2012 Indigenous peoples in Panama protest for their lands and resources Indigenous peoples from across Panama are taking to the streets to protest what they see as growing infringements on their lands and forests. International human rights agencies call for dialogue. Panama City, Panama February 7, 2012 – indigenous peoples from Eastern Panama today declared a state of “civil disobedience,” joining protests begun last week in Western Panama. The situation in Panama has led the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to call for dialogue between indigenous leaders and the government. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also issued a press release today calling on the government to respect international human rights norms, including the right of indigenous peoples to be consulted about the decisions that affect them. The Ngäbe Buglé in Western Panama shut down the Pan American Highway for several days last week, protesting mining and hydroelectric activities on their lands. On Sunday, a young Ngäbe activist was shot dead during an eviction by the National Police. According to local news reports, thirty nine people have been jailed, and another 55 are missing. Indigenous leaders fear the numbers may grow higher. Indigenous communities from Eastern Panama, frustrated with repeated invasions of their lands, have decided to join them through protests in Panama City. It is possible that protests will spread in the coming days. In a declaration signed today (http://www.prensa.com/sites/default/files/comunicado.pdf), the leaders of the four main indigenous organizations from Eastern Panama called on the government of President Martinelli to respond to growing concerns about their lands and resources. They accuse his administration of disregarding their constitutional rights, as well as those enshrined in international law. They cite continued invasions of their lands by ranchers and loggers, and lack of government action to curtail these activities, or to protect their lands as called for by Panamanian law. “The Emberá and Wounaan peoples of Panama declare ourselves to be in civil disobedience; we call on the government to stop the invasion of our lands, and unite ourselves with the just struggle of the Ngäbe Buglé people”. The indigenous leaders further call on the government to create a high-level commission to deal with the situation; for the dismissal of the National Police Chief; for an independent investigation of human rights violations against indigenous peoples; and for jailed indigenous leaders and activists to be freed. The Rainforest Foundation US works in partnership with indigenous organizations in Central and South America to secure their rights to their lands, influence laws and policies to protect their resources, and build strong community leadership. RF-US is working with the representative organizations of the Emberá and Wounaan supporting their efforts to demarcate their lands and protect their natural resources. More information: Press release issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: http://unsr.jamesanaya.org/notes/special-rapporteur-calls-for-dialogue-i... Press release issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2012/013.asp