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UN expert group on people of African descent launches first fact-finding mission to Panama

GENEVA / PANAMA CITY (10 January 2013) – The United Nations Working Group* of Experts on People of African Descent will visit Panama from 14 to 18 January 2013 to study a wide range of issues, challenges and progress made to the full realization of the rights of people of African descent in the country. This will be the first official country visit by UN Human Rights Council’s independent experts in the last ten years.

“Panama is a country of wide diversity. Like all other Latin American countries, Panama faces challenges connected with its history, its multi-ethnic, multicultural and pluralist nature, which are in themselves sources of the richness of Panamanian society,” said Verene Shepherd, who currently chairs the group of five human rights experts.

“We are interested to find out how Panama is meeting those challenges, what achievements have been made in the promotion of the rights of people of African descent, and collect positive practices that might be shared with other countries,” Ms. Shepherd noted.

The Working Group, which visits the country at the invitation of the Government, will travel to Panama City and Colon. It will meet with national and local Government authorities, as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations and civil society at large, people of African descent community members, academics, the National Human Rights Institution, the National Commission against Discrimination and others working in the field of equality and social inclusion.

The UN expert group has also requested to meet with various line Ministries in charge of issues related to people of African descent, and looks forward to engaging with all stakeholders. The Working Group also hopes to be able to visit various detention facilities.

“We are visiting Panama to engage constructively with the Government and other stakeholders and to offer assistance within the reach of our UN mandate,” Ms. Shepherd underscored.

At the end of their mission, on Friday 18 January, the Working Group will share with the media their preliminary findings during a press conference in Panama City at Hotel Continental from 3.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.

Following its visit, the Working Group will present a report containing its findings and recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. The UN expert body, among other activities, conducts country visits at the invitation of Governments in order to facilitate in-depth understanding of the situation of people of African descent in various regions of the world and focus on promoting full and effective access to health, education and justice by people of African descent. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/WGAfricanDescent/Pages/WGEPADIndex.aspx

(*) The Working Group is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Ms. Verene SHEPHERD (Jamaica), Chair-Rapporteur; Ms. Monorama BISWAS (Bangladesh); Ms. Mireille FANON-MENDES-FRANCE (France); Ms. Mirjana NAJCEVSKA (The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and Ms. Maya SAHLI (Algeria).

UN Human Rights, Country page – Panama: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/PAIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact:
In Panama City: Carla Covarrubias (+ 507 67800 890 / ccovarrubias@ohchr.org)
In Geneva: Sandra Aragon-Parriaux (+41 22 928 9393 / saragon@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en