CIEL Urges Panama to Respect Rights of Indigenous Ngöbe Buglé People


28 February 2012

CIEL Urges Panama to Respect Rights of Indigenous Ngöbe Buglé People 
Repression Cannot Replace Consent, Organization Says 

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Center for International Environmental Law today expressed concern over the escalating confrontation between the Panamanian government and the Ngöbe Buglé people as they demand the right to decide whether to allow large-scale development projects in their territories. While negotiations continue between the parties, the Ngöbe Buglé people returned to their protests last night, frustrated with the progress of the talks. CIEL urged the Panamanian government to commit to an immediate non-violent resolution to the conflict and to make a firm and lasting commitment to comply with its obligations under international law and respect the rights of the Ngöbe Buglé people.

Nearly a year after the Panamanian government agreed to ban mining and hydroelectric dam projects in the Ngöbe Buglé territory, President Martinelli reversed the agreement in late 2011. On January 31st, hundreds of Ngöbe Buglé people blocked the Pan-American highway, one of the largest highways in Central America, in a week-long protest. In response, hundreds of state security forces were dispatched. On February 5th more than 40 protesters were injured, 100 detained, and at least one protester, Jerónimo Rodriguez Tugrí, had been killed in the confrontation.

“In addition to being reprehensible, it is naïve for any State to think these conflicts can be resolved with force while the whole world watches,” said Felix Wing, Executive Director of CIAM Panama. “One year ago, the government turned to violence to try to silence the same debate. It is time for Panama to uphold its obligations under international law so that we don’t find ourselves facing the same situation a year from now.”

Another 15 highways had been shut down temporarily in Panama as allies from indigenous groups, universities, and the labor movement joined the protest during the first week of February.

Meanwhile, expressions of solidarity have poured in from across Latin America. Groups in El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica staged solidarity protests in front of the Panamanian embassies in their respective countries, criticizing the Panamanian government’s response to the protests and urging authorities to respect the rights and ensure the safety of the protestors.

“This is part of a trend that spans far beyond Panama,” said Amanda Kistler, Program Associate at the Center for International Environmental Law. “Throughout the region, States are prioritizing profits over the rights of peoples, and in turn there is a growing movement across the Americas as people organize in defense of their rights to health, water, property and free, prior and informed consent. Unfortunately, without a firm commitment from States and corporations to respect rights, violence is likely to increase.”

In a press release February 7th, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urged Panama to protect protesters’ physical integrity and security and to “guarantee that indigenous peoples are consulted on all matters that may affect them.” That same day, the Martinelli government agreed to dialogue, temporarily bringing an end to the escalating violence on the highway.

Media Contact:

Amanda Kistler, Program Associate
Mobile +1 339-225-1623 Office +1 202-742-5832, or

About CIEL

Founded in 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL),, uses the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights and ensure a just and sustainable society. With offices in Washington, DC and Geneva, CIEL’s staff of international attorneys and experts work in the areas of human rights and the environment, climate change, law and communities, chemicals, trade and the environment, international environmental governance, biodiversity and international financial institutions by providing legal counsel and advocacy, policy research and capacity building.

1350 Connecticut Avenue N.W.  Suite 1100  · Washington D.C.  20036-1739

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Phone: 41-22-789-0500 · Fax: 41-22-789-0739 ·  Email: · Internet:


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