N° 77/10



Washington, D.C., August 3, 2010—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern about the serious acts of violence that occurred during a demonstration on July 8, 2010, in Changuinola, Bocas del Toro, Panama.

According to information received by the Commission, workers from banana plantations in the province of Bocas del Toro called a general strike beginning July 2, 2010, to protest the approval of Law 30, which was passed by Panama's National Assembly on June 12 and sanctioned by the President on June 16. The information available indicates that on July 8, a demonstration—organized as part of a protest against certain aspects of the law related to labor union rights and the right to strike—was suppressed by security forces, leaving several persons dead, more than a hundred injured, and another hundred detained. The Commission was informed that detention orders had allegedly been issued against at least 17 unionists, and that these orders had later been rescinded. Also, on July 21 the government of Panama reported that a special commission had been created to investigate the facts.

The Inter-American Commission reminds the Panamanian State of its duty to control demonstrations within the framework of respect for inter-American human rights standards. As the Commission has stated previously: “In the Commission's view, agents may impose reasonable restraints on demonstrators to ensure that they are peaceful or to contain those who are violent, as well as to disperse demonstrations that become violent and obstructive. However, the actions of the security forces should protect, rather than discourage, the right to assembly and therefore, the rationale for dispersing the demonstration must be the duty to protect people. The law enforcement officer deployed in such contexts must contemplate the safest and quickest methods of dispersal that cause the least harm to the demonstrators.”

The Panamanian State has the duty to investigate the acts that were in violation of human rights, in accordance with due process, until the facts are fully clarified, as well to prosecute those responsible and remedy the consequences of the violations.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.


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