IACHR Takes Case Involving Panama to the Inter-American Court
OAS press release, 4 April 2013

WASHINGTON D.C., USA: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human rights in Case No. 12.354, Kuna Indigenous People of Madungandí and Emberá Indigenous People of Bayano and their members, Panama. The facts of this case refer to Panama’s failure to meet its obligation to provide the Kuna and the Emberá, and their members, with adequate, effective procedures for gaining access to their ancestral territories and for obtaining a response to the numerous complaints of third-party interference in their territories and natural resources. From the standpoint of the right to equal protection of the law and to non-discrimination, the sequence of violations committed against these two indigenous peoples constitutes a form of discrimination. This is seen in the application of laws that reflect an assimilationist policy that contributes to the violation of indigenous peoples’ right to property over their ancestral territories and natural resources.

Specifically, the case refers to the ongoing violation of the right to collective property of the Kuna and the Emberá, as a consequence of Panama’s failure to pay economic compensation stemming from the dispossession and flooding of the victims’ ancestral territories that began in 1969. The case also has to do with the lack of recognition, titling, and demarcation of the lands granted to the Kuna and the Emberá. Along with the breach of the State’s obligations concerning the collective property of indigenous peoples was a systematic disregard of numerous legal commitments made by the State as recently as 2010. In addition, Panama failed to comply with its obligations of prevention with respect to the invasion of colonists and illegal logging, as a corollary of its obligation to effectively protect the territory and natural resources of the Kuna and Emberá.

The IACHR believes that this case provides an opportunity for the Inter-American Court to analyze the scope and content of the obligation of compensation of indigenous peoples when it has been established that it is not possible to restore the lands and territories occupied and used by their ancestors. This case is also representative of the intrinsic relationship between the effective and timely fulfillment of the obligations to recognize, grant title to, demarcate, and delimit the lands and territories of indigenous peoples and the situation of vulnerability and defenselessness in the face of actions by third parties, with significant impacts on their traditional ways of survival and on their social and cultural life. Read the press release …