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United Nations Expert on Indigenous Peoples denounces human rights violations committed against the Charco la Pava community in Panama


8 August 2008

Geneva: - - The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Mr. James Anaya, expresses concern about information received from various sources regarding the arbitrary displacement and other abuses suffered by members of the Charco la Pava community, which is part of the Ngöbe indigenous community, in the Changuinola District, Bocas del Toro Province, Panama, in relation to the construction of the Hydroelectric Project CHAN 75.

“I observe with concern the human rights violations suffered by members of the Charco la Pava community, such as arbitrary displacement from their lands, loss of housing and destruction of agricultural crops, and other abuses such as the excessive use of force and detaining of members of the community that have opposed the construction of the Hydroelectric Project, including women and children.

Likewise, I express profound concern that the situation is apparently deteriorating and, given the presence of an armed police force in the area, the situation could worsen and place the lives and physical integrity of the members of the Charco la Pava community at risk. Also, I have received information that the company is moving forward without the control or supervision of government authorities. In light of this situation, I urgently appeal to Panama to adopt all the necessary measures to: (1) protect the rights and freedoms of the affected indigenous communities, (2) seriously investigate the alleged violations of human rights and punish those responsible, (3) repair any damage caused to the victims, and (4) adopt the necessary measures to prevent the reoccurrence of similar acts.

I also insist that political, social, and business actors consider the recommendations made by various institutions in charge of ensuring compliance with human rights obligations. In this context, I would like to call the attention of the Government to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted on 13 September 2007, and in particular article 10, which states that ‘Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.’”

At the end of 2007, the AES Changuinola Company initiated construction of the Hydroelectric Project CHAN 75, which could result in the complete flooding of the indigenous Charco la Pava community and other neighboring indigenous communities, without obtaining the informed consent of the affected communities, in accordance with international standards.

On 8 April 2008 and 3 June 2008, the Special Rapporteur sent urgent appeals to the Government of Panama about the situation in Charco la Pava. The Special Rapporteur regrets not having received an answer from the Government of Panama to the questions and concerns expressed in those communications.

On March 26, 2008, the Human Rights Council appointed Professor James Anaya as the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people for an initial period of three years. Mr. Anaya is the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona, College of Law in the United States.

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, see the website: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/indigenous/rapporteur/

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